When Knox College’s President-elect Teresa Amott visited campus during winter term, she mentioned in a student forum that she hopes to improve faculty salaries during her presidency iat Knox. Her goal might be a good one considering that in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s most recent data, Knox’s faculty salaries are considerably lower than that of many other schools in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM).
“It’s been a longstanding problem here, particularly since 2000,” Dean of the College Larry Breitborde said. “The salaries here have never been cutting edge.”
While faculty salaries have usually been close to national averages, Knox began to fall behind in this area in 2000, which corresponds with when the college started to have financial issues.
“Since that time, some progress has been made across the board,” Breitborde said.
The starting salary at Knox for someone who just finished their Ph.D or MFA is about 45 to 46,000 dollars a year, Breitborde said. Even now, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty at Carthage College earn 8.4 percent more than faculty at Knox, faculty at Lake Forest College earn 16.4 percent more and faculty at Grinnell College 38.4 percent more. These are only some of the schools that Knox is trailing in terms of faculty pay.
“[It’s] anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 less than schools we’re competing with for faculty,” Breitborde said.
Associate Professor of Biology Jim Mountjoy has been a faculty member at Knox for 10 years and now has tenure. He said that when he came to Knox initially, “I remember a lot of the deans saying, ‘I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you what the salary will be.’”
Breitborde acknowledged, however, that the salary at Knox is not the reason professors choose to accept jobs and stay here.
“Faculty come here because they like the school’s values and the students and the mission,” Breitborde said.
Mountjoy agreed, saying, “You don’t go into academics to get rich.”
The money used to pay faculty members comes from several places. The endowment, net tuition and the Knox Fund all contribute. The problem is that, according to Breitborde, Knox’s current endowment is only about $80 million. Other schools have much higher amounts, such as Grinnell, with an endowment topping a billion dollars.
“Within the ACM schools, we’re much too close to the basement,” Breitborde said. “The idea that we should be at least in the middle is not unreasonable.”
Tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics Andrew Leahy has been worried about the issue of salaries at Knox for some time now. He even spent time to compile a data chart that compares the pay scales of assistant professors, associate professors and full professors at Knox with other schools in Knox’s league.
“I’m concerned that for an institution of our caliber,” Leahy said, “that the salaries are extraordinarily low.” In his eyes, this will have a negative effect in the long run on the quality of education Knox provides its students.
After analyzing the data, Leahy did realize that Knox is not hurting as much as other colleges in the Midwest.
“It’s good that we’re where we are,” he said. Even so, he also stressed the fact that Knox is “not amongst the schools [it] should be.”
Leahy proposed that faculty members should be more involved in determining priorities for the budget, though he realizes that there are a lot of demands for funding on campus, many of which come from students.
After being an assistant professor for six years, a Knox faculty member comes up for promotion to associate professor and possible tenure.
“If you get promoted, you get some kind of bump,” Breitboirde said.
Every year, in accordance with inflation, there is usually an across-the-board adjustment on all faculty salaries. Also annually, half of the faculty is evaluated by the personnel committee, President Roger Taylor and Breitborde for “merit.” If the evaluators determine that they have earned merit in the last year, they get some sort of increment added to their base pay.
“Maybe they’ve published during that period,” Breitborde said as an example. “Merit increments are small, maybe $500, but it goes into their base pay.”
Faculty members can expect to spend another six years as associate professors before they are then made full professors.
Breitborde made sure to point out that it is not only professors that are affected by this low salary problem. It is also true, he said, for staff like those who work in the library.
“It’s an institutional problem,” Breitborde said.
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages Claudia Fernandez said she gave up a much better salary to come to Knox. Fernandez recently left a position at DePaul University in Chicago, where she earned $7,000 more annually. She said the choice was because of factors other than money.
“It’s a nice school, nice community,” she said. “The conditions are very good for faculty members to teach and for students.”
She, much like Leahy, said low salaries are related to what Knox prioritizes in its budget, but she said that it is only right to make sure the education that students get at Knox is on the top of the list.
While Fernandez enjoys the environment in which she teaches, she also mentioned a downside. Her husband is a faculty member at Monmouth College, and said that even between their two salaries, raising children would probably not be easy to manage.
“If I had kids, it would be very different. I think our salary is not good enough to live comfortably with kids,” she said. Fernandez also mentioned that it has not been unheard of for a possible faculty member to turn down the job because of the low salary.
Leahy said that most liberal arts colleges are experiencing an interesting predicament with regards to staffing their institutions.
“People don’t want to retire,” he said, “but graduate programs are still cranking out Ph.D [students].” Because of this, the market for people coming out of graduate school with a Ph.D is so bad, they cannot always afford to turn down an offer with a lower salary, such as an offer from Knox.
“It’s a question of balance,” Leahy said.
One complement that can be offered about the financial state of Knox is that, when the recession hit, unlike most other schools of its kind, Knox did not freeze its salaries. There were two years where the raises for faculty were only two percent raises, but it was happening at a time when other faculty members in the ACM were getting no raises at all.
Breitborde said that the main way to remedy the problem of low faculty salaries is to build the endowment, while another important factor is to make increasing faculty salaries a priority of fundraising.
“We have a faculty as good, if not better than much better-paid faculty,” he said.