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University officials question state faculty salary goals even after funding increase

A 6.5 percent increase in state funding for faculty salaries went into effect Thanksgiving Day, but questions remain over whether this boost will be enough to keep the University on top of its competitors.

The increase is the final step in a state plan to bring the average faculty salary up to the 60th percentile of the average salary among its peer group institutions, which include Boston University, Duke University and the University of California at Berkeley, among others (see box). Members of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, who proposed the 60th percentile benchmark in the late 1980s, created the peer institution list.

But University and state officials disagree over whether the 60th percentile truly is the best target for which to aim.

"I don't think the 60th percentile is an adequate goal. Our faculty is much more accomplished than the 60th percentile, and we should pay accordingly," College Dean Melvyn P. Leffler said.

Faculty Senate Chairman David T. Gies said University faculty salaries sometimes are not competitive enough to lure top professors.

"One of our serious things is attracting the best people," Gies said.

He said prospective faculty members usually consider other factors in addition to salary when deciding where they will seek employment, such as quality of students, quality of facilities and institutional prestige.

These factors can make up for a lower salary, yet some faculty members still have left the University because salaries were not competitive enough, Gies said.

"We have lost people," he said.

Starting salaries for new faculty members also are often too low, he added.

"Many of our entry-level salaries are not competitive enough," Gies said.

A lack of state resources for faculty members was one of the major reasons the University fell behind UC-Berkeley and slipped to the number two position for public universities in the most recent U.S. News & World Report college rankings, Gies said.

Despite these concerns, General Assembly members from the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, who have the authority to raise the 60th percentile benchmark, said that figure is suitable and should not be raised in the near future.

State Sen. John Chichester (R-28th), co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said he was content with the current 60th percentile goal, as did Delegates Vince Callahan (R-34th) and Earl Dickinson (D-56th), co-chairmen of the Appropriations Committee.

"Four years ago we made it our goal to reach the 60th percentile and by the next paycheck, we'll reach that," Dickinson said. "That's our goal; we'd certainly like to be higher [but] at least we've reached that far."

Callahan also said the 60th percentile benchmark was sufficient for now.

"It puts us in the top half - that's our starting point - we can build from there," he said.

Rather than raise the 60th percentile goal, legislators should spend extra funds on non-recurring items - one-time expenses, rather than yearly expenses like salaries, Chichester said.

State officials expect that most Virginia colleges and universities will reach the 60th percentile goal by July 1, 2000, SCHEV spokesman G. Paul Nardo said.

Although University officials gave input when the peer institution list was created, George Stovall, director of Institutional Assessment & Studies, said not all University officials are satisfied with SCHEV's list.

"We don't agree with this peer group," Stovall said.

He said University officials consider a different set of schools as the ones most comparable to the University, and that some of the inclusions on the list were the result of University officials' compromises with SCHEV.

"We negotiated, but when you negotiate you give and you take," he added.

As a result, Stovall said, University officials would likely set University-wide faculty salary goals based on a different peer group.

Very recently, the average faculty salary has lagged seriously behind the 60th percentile goal. In 1998-1999, the University's salary average was in the 41st percentile compared to the SCHEV peer group, Stovall said. He said he will be able to assess whether or not salaries have reached the 60th percentile later this year.

The other schools in the peer group may be able to pay their faculty members more than the University does because of a variety of factors, such as higher tuition at private schools and differences between schools in the availability of funding from private donors.

In 1997, the Board of Visitors voted to supplement state funds for faculty salaries with private endowment funds.

"Donor money was key in that," Board Rector John P. Ackerly III said.

Board members took this action in order to keep salaries competitive, Assoc. Provost for Management Kathrine Reed said.

"You do what you need to do in order to keep your faculty," Reed said.

Ackerly said it was too soon to tell if the Board would vote on a similar action next year, and if it did, it largely would be due to a recommendation from University President John T. Casteen III.

This year the General Assembly appropriated enough funds to the University to allow an average increase of 6.5 percent in the salaries of full-time instructional faculty.

However, the actual pay raise that each teaching faculty member will receive depends on that faculty members' merit, which is measured in a number of ways, Reed said.

Department heads base salary recommendations for teaching faculty members on classes taught, grants earned, service to the University, published research, student evaluations, and several other factors, she said.

In addition to instructional faculty, classified staff members also will receive a pay increase.

Most classified staff members will see their paychecks swell by 6.25 percent, Chief Human Resource Officer Tom Gausvik said.

That increase includes a 4 percent increase for "structure adjustment" - a boost to make state workers' salaries closer to the market rate for similar positions in the private sector. It also includes a 2.25 percent performance increase, which only those workers who receive a performance evaluation of "meets expectations" or better will receive.

About 99 percent of staffers receive such an evaluation, Gausvik said.

(Cavalier Daily Focus Editor Nicola M. White contributed to this story.)

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