Problems in professor pay

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September 26, 2011

11:29 PM

By Walter Hickey

The College of William and Mary touts a world-class faculty, a high-quality education for students and affordable tuition. The question of whether the College can maintain these bragging rights with dwindling state aid emerges following the Board of Visitors financial meeting Thursday.

One of the more profound problems articulated at the meeting was the College’s decreasing ability to provide incentives for faculty to remain in Williamsburg. Faculty salaries have been frozen cumulatively for the past four years, and the College’s professors are in danger of being “poached” by other, richer institutions that have better weathered the recession.

“Our current financial model is broken, the result of many factors over a long period of time and exacerbated by the recent recession and anemic recovery,” Provost Michael Halleran said.

A 2009 faculty survey indicated that 84 percent of faculty reported being satisfied with their jobs, but only 18 percent reported being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with faculty salaries in general.

“Good faculty will start to get better and better offers as we fall further behind and as the market starts to move again after a couple of years of softness,” Faculty Assembly President and Mason School of Business professor Todd Mooradian said. “Good will and a love for the College will only keep people here so long.”

The measure used to determine the College’s salary competitiveness is one developed by Richmond policymakers to ascertain the relative health of the College. The faculty salary average calculates the average salary of an assistant professor at a college. When compared with a group of schools identified by the Commonwealth of Virginia as the College’s peers, a percentile can be calculated to determine how the paychecks College professors take home compare with the salaries of professors at schools such as Dartmouth, Wake Forest or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

According to a presentation by Vice President for Finance Sam Jones ’75, MBA ’80, the College was in the 23rd percentile of its peer group in terms of the faculty salary average in 2012. The state wants the College to be in the 60th percentile, despite a slashed budget.

Several College administrators alleged that the statistic is actually misleading. By their own calculations, the College sits at the 7th percentile.

“You’re looking at real salaries for everyone. Except us,” Halleran said.

The discrepancy stems from the source of the data; the information on other schools comes from statistics reported to the government, whereas the state used a metric developed internally to calculate the College’s figures.

“‘Real world’ versus ‘make up world,’” College President Taylor Reveley said.

Regardless of the discrepancies, even the state’s statistics paint a bleak picture. Richmond officials project that the College will be in the 17th percentile by 2013, then the 9th percentile by 2015.
Trying to convince faculty to stay in Williamsburg rather than accept offers elsewhere has become a losing battle.

“I thought our position had remained constant during the contraction. It had not. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage to recruit professors in the future,” BOV Secretary Dennis Liberson ’78 said. “It will affect the quality of faculty over time.”

The College decided to reappropriate rather than recycle the savings generated by replacing a retiring professor with an assistant professor, according to the Faculty Assembly Faculty Compensation Board report released last year.

“If that money is recycled in the salary pool, the average salary per faculty member would be unchanged. If that money is put to other uses, the average salary will go down,” the report reads.

The College administration is feeling the pressure to strike a delicate balance between raising enough money to support a financially fatigued faculty, while not raising tuition to the point where qualified students are discouraged by the price.

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About Author

Walter Hickey
  • Walter Hickey

Senior Staff Writer Walter Hickey '12 is an Applied Mathematics major from Harriman, N.Y. He was previously Online Editor.