Sullivan presses Board to raise faculty salaries
President asks for 4.75 percent-per-year payout from endowment to increase operating budget
The understated elegance of the room the Board of Visitors met in Thursday disguised the tensions underlying many of its discussions.
Two days after the University found it had escaped the June ouster of President Teresa A. Sullivan with its U.S. News & World Report second-place public university ranking intact, community members continued to display dramatic differences in perspective regarding the summer’s events.
Law Prof. George Cohen, the chair of the Faculty Senate, addressed the Board Thursday afternoon, saying it seemed to hold an identical mindset to that which it possessed on June 9, the day before Rector Helen Dragas announced Sullivan’s resignation. The faculty, he said, had not been persuaded by the Board’s attempts to reconcile with the community.
“My sense of the faculty is that we are in a different place than the Board, and that if I put in front of the faculty a vote of confidence in the Board, it would not pass,” Cohen said.
Some Board members, however, said community members should put the past behind them.
“We need to leave the past alone,” said Bill Goodwin, a senior advisor to the Board. “You are trying to get answers you won’t get. The more you dig, the more you make the University look bad.”
Achieving this closure, though, has been more difficult than Goodwin suggested. Several events held in the past month, instead of answering questions, have raised more talking points about the University’s core values: honor, education, the role of faculty governance and student self-governance. Complicating the matter are the financial difficulties many public schools, including the University, currently face — particularly declining state appropriations. Virginia’s flagship university has become the leading example of an institution embodying many of the problems in higher education.
With a dearth of state funding, the University must do all it can to maintain quality education and to attract top faculty members. At Thursday’s meeting Sullivan announced a new goal of placing the University in the top 20 of the Association of American Universities’ list of institutions according to average faculty salary by the 2016-17 academic year.
But to reach this goal from the University’s current standing at 26 on the association’s list, Sullivan said the University needs at least $65 million in additional funds; it has already fallen behind other institutions by an average of $7,700 per faculty member’s salary. Sullivan said a 2 percent increase in faculty salaries is already built into next year’s budget. It will cost $15 million.
When Sullivan asked for a 4.75 percent-per-year payout from the University’s endowment to increase the size of the operating budget, some Board members expressed audible shock.
Sullivan’s plan includes the adjustment of salaries according to merit, a measurement to be established by peer review. “Not every faculty member will earn the same salary,” she said. “There are serious market differences among disciplines.”
To stave off criticism, Sullivan told the Board the peer review system would not eclipse the role of deans or department chairs.
Sullivan also said she would be willing to contribute funds from her discretionary fund for faculty salaries.