University begins to raise faculty salaries

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Keefe outlines plan, philosophy, difficulties of addressing this decades-old problem

Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor

The University of Dallas is preparing to begin its second phase of faculty salary increases this summer in an ongoing effort to address a problem that has irked UD for decades.

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 10.40.23 PMIn this phase, University of Dallas president Thomas Keefe expects that the salaries of the lowest-paid 40 full professors and associate professors will be raised to within 17 to 15 percent of the “national market average” for professors in the same field and with similar experience.

These “market averages” were established based on the 2012 College and Universities Professional Association (CUPA) National Faculty Salary Survey. The dollar amounts of these averages were not available for publication.

“Our goal is to this summer analyze what our enrollment looks like for next year, what our revenue flow is going to be, what our expenses are going to be, how our budget looks and then make a prudent financial decision on what we’re able to do to address the inequity in faculty salaries and make that adjustment that would start at the beginning of the school year, which would be September first,” Keefe said in an interview on Friday.

This second phase builds directly on Keefe’s first step, made last semester, which was the result of a process he began soon after he became president. The Board of Trustees has unanimously approved both phases.

“The first thing I did was I had a study done and an analysis of all professor and associate-professor positions against CUPA data. We now know what the CUPA average is for every faculty position on campus,” Keefe said, describing the study he commissioned two years ago.

“Now last year we had one professor who was in the 21st poorest-paid position and was [within] 19.5 percent of the national market average. So what we did was we moved everybody from zero to 20 up to where the 21st one was,” Keefe said.

Now the salaries of all professors and associate professors on campus are within 19.5 percent of the CUPA national average, according to Keefe.

This year’s study will include those 20 lowest-paid professors—relative to market average for their fields—as well as the next 20 lowest-paid professors, thus bringing all faculty within around 17 to 15 percent of the national average.

The final percentage will depend on the university’s revenue and budget for 2013-2014, but Keefe said that these 40 lowest-paid faculty will see at least some increase in their salaries beginning on Sept. 1. Keefe is scheduled to have a meeting with the Board of Trustees on May 31 to assess the revenue and budget for 2013-2014, and thus to determine precisely how much the salaries of these 40 professors will increase.

In this effort to raise faculty salaries by starting with those 20—and now 40—furthest below the market average, Keefe emphasized lifting the lowest first and then bringing others along.

“We won’t leap-frog people over someone else. We keep pushing up from the bottom. So the people who are the poorest-paid are going to be adjusted and are going to collect more people as they go along until we’re at 100 percent,” Keefe said.

“Your question is, ‘How long will that take?’ I don’t have the vaguest idea, because the closer we get, the more expensive it becomes,” Keefe said with a wry look.

“I would ballpark guess that if I wanted to adjust everybody’s salary to bring them to the national average, I would need somewhere between $750,000 and $900,000 each year,” Keefe said.

The administration looked to correct first the salaries of full professors and associate professors because they were the “longest” and “most egregiously underpaid,” Keefe said. In many cases, Keefe said, this low-balling had been taking place for decades.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t salary issues with assistant professors and instructors,” Keefe said. “But we had to start somewhere. And we decided to start where the problem was the most egregious.”

Keefe noted that not all professors fall short of this standard. Some professors on campus receive salaries that are 110 percent of the national market average, while others are very close to 100 percent, Keefe said.

Moreover, all professors and associate professors hired during Keefe’s tenure have been hired at the market average.

Using CUPA as the salary standard

Keefe chose CUPA as his standard because it is attainable and because he believes that CUPA allows UD to measure itself against comparable institutions.

“There’s any number of standards that you can compare it [faculty salaries] against. CUPA allows us to compare ourselves against comparable liberal-arts colleges. It doesn’t compare us against Texas A&M or University of Texas. There is a different pay scale at institutions that are primarily research institutions as opposed to teaching institutions. So we are comparing ourselves at a market that is most similar to ours,” Keefe said.

The 2012 National Faculty Salary Survey calculates the average salary for full professors and associate professors at participating institutions in each of the major academic disciplines. The survey divides these results into those for public institutions and those for private institutions, and takes into account the budget and enrollment of the institutions as well as the level—baccalaureate, master’s or doctorate-granting—of the institutions.

The actual dollar amounts of the averages within which Keefe is bringing faculty salaries to 19.5 or 17 to 15 percentage points were not available for publication from CUPA.

Keefe also declined to offer specific dollar amounts, thus leaving the actual standard unknown.

“There is some proprietary information that you won’t get. I won’t tell you what the median average is for the professors. That is oversharing, and quite honestly, I don’t know that that’s necessary,” Keefe said.

“This is more of a philosophical commitment,” Keefe said, seeking to reframe the discussion.

CUPA vs. AAUP as the standard

Some faculty have objected that CUPA is too low of a standard. They suggest using instead that of the American Association of University Professors. According to this standard, between 2011 and 2012, full professors at UD had an average salary of $67,900 per year and associate professors averaged $61,700 per year.

According to AAUP, both of these amounts are “far below” the median salary for full and associate professors, respectively, at master’s institutions, UD’s category for AAUP. UD’s average salary for full professors is in the eighth percentile; UD’s average salary for associate professors is in the 19th percentile. Most of these master’s institutions pay their full-time professors more than $80,000 and their associate professors over $70,000, and many pay both sets of professors far more than these amounts.

When presented with this criticism, Keefe did not challenge the numbers or the standard, but pointed to practical—and philosophical—considerations instead.

“There’s no question that they would like to have [such] a standard. We can use whatever standard we want to aspire to, but the thing is that philosophically and practically, it doesn’t change it at all,” Keefe said, setting the survey results down. “The lowest- paid professor is going to be the lowest-paid professor, irrespective of what standard you use. As we increase their salary, we will get them closer not only to CUPA but also to AAUP and closer to AACSB.”

“Philosophically, this is my position: I will address the people who are the most underpaid first. Once we get to CUPA—once everyone gets to 100 percent of CUPA—then I am more than happy to entertain the idea of changing the benchmark to which we compare ourselves,” Keefe said. “So if we want to then look at AAUP and see if that’s now a higher standard we have to aspire to, I’m more than happy to do that.”

Limited but positive faculty response

Faculty from multiple departments were asked for input on this issue. Most declined to comment, or did not respond.

The faculty who agreed to comment for this article applauded Keefe’s efforts.

“I think the proposal is excellent,” said associate professor of English Dr. Scott Crider, who added that Keefe should be “commended” for his work. “President Keefe is addressing a long-standing injustice. Although the UD faculty is underpaid as a whole, some have been even more so, and the president is rectifying that. We come here for the students, the curriculum and the faculty, not the money, but justice demands that people be paid fairly for their labor, even if it is a labor of love.”

Others, such as professor of English Dr. Eileen Gregory, agreed.

“It is a very good idea. All UD salaries are below national averages, but some more than others,” Gregory said. “It [Keefe’s proposal] seems a reasonable way to handle a desire to ameliorate faculty salaries without being able to afford an across-the-board pay raise.”

Raising revenue: the only viable solution for Keefe 

From Keefe’s perspective, the issue of faculty salaries is an issue of revenue and thus of the overall financial health of UD, not fundraising, donations or tapping into the endowment.

“The need for revenue is profound when you address faculty salaries, because every dollar more I pay the faculty this year, I have to pay them that next year,” Keefe said.

For Keefe, fundraising is not a viable option for addressing this problem.

“No matter how much money I raise, it can’t be solved—unless I can raise enough money in the endowment to be able to take income off the endowment to address faculty salaries,” Keefe said, pointing out that building something like the New Hall costs $16 million once, not that amount each year.

Tapping into the endowment is an equally nonviable solution in Keefe’s eyes.

“Our endowment has grown since I’ve been here from $45 million to now over $49 million. But we can’t take money out of endowment to pay faculty, partly because of the base budget issue and partly because our credit-rating is predicated upon debt-versus-asset ratio,” Keefe said.

According to Keefe, in order to maintain UD’s good credit rating, UD’s unrestricted endowment cannot drop below its debt level.

Currently, UD’s unrestricted endowment—money that was not given for a designated purpose such as scholarships or a particular building—is $17 million, a number that exceeds UD’s current debt of approximately $16 million. Were UD to pull from its endowment to raise salaries, its debt would exceed the unrestricted endowment and thus damage UD’s credit rating and overall financial health.

According to Keefe, this credit rating is essential for maintaining an affordable interest rate on the nearly $16-million loan UD still owes for the New Hall, as well as for ensuring UD’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which requires accredited institutions to be “financially stable.”

Keefe also pointed out that the university has several other financial obligations that prevent him from allocating all available resources to raising faculty salaries. Among these are the millions of dollars of deferred maintenance on campus, the upcoming expenses of replacing Carpenter Hall and Lynch Auditorium, and the financial aid that benefits 99 percent of students on campus.

“So the issue will only be satisfactorily addressed when we become more financially healthy at this institution,” Keefe said.

For Keefe, that means more revenue—a goal that he says he has marginally achieved.

“We’re growing the institution. GSM has gotten healthier, and Constantin undergrad has grown marginally. We’ve had three record years for undergraduate enrollment and hopefully next year, we will enjoy another record year of undergraduate enrollment,” Keefe said.

Throughout the interview, Keefe repeatedly emphasized the priority of this issue for his administration.

“We have to make sure that we attract and retain the very finest professionals … to make sure that our education is top-notch,” Keefe said. “That’s our priority.”

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UD by the numbers

19.5 percent: The salaries of all professors and associate professors were raised to within 19.5 percent of the “national market average” for their respective fields and positions after the 20 most underpaid were elevated to this level last semester.

17–15 percent: The salaries of all professors and associate professors will rise to within 17–15 percent of the “national market average” for their respective fields and positions by this September, once the most underpaid 40 are elevated to this level at that time.

$750,000–900,000: the extra revenue Keefe estimates the university would need each year to raise all faculty salaries to 100 percent of the “national market averages” for their respective fields and positions

The national market average for various positions and fields: unknown and not given by Keefe for publication or available online

$16 million: UD’s approximate debt, mostly comprised of its 30-year loan to pay for the New Hall

$17 million: UD’s unrestricted endowment

$32 million: UD’s restricted endowment

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