Don’t expect the longstanding issue of inadequate faculty compensation to be solved overnight.
The issue comes up annually with the submission of a preliminary budget plan, which is answered by some dissenting opinions from faculty. But despite the disagreements on compensation, Knox faculty stick around.
President Teresa Amott recently outlined her first budget plan, which includes a “comprehensive capital campaign” will eventually allow Knox faculty and staff to receive pay similar to that of other Associated Colleges of the Midwest institutions, admitting that there is no short-term solution to the problem.
In response, Associate Professor of Mathematics Andrew Leahy, who each year does some data analysis of his own, expressed to the faculty his conclusion that although there has been a projected 3.4 percent raise in faculty salaries due to cost of living expenses, the number should be closer to 5 percent, due to increases in Illinois state income taxes that offset any increases.
“While I understand his argument and would certainly agree, people’s standard of living is dropping,” Amott said. “That’s not an argument that says Knox salaries should drop, but it makes it contextual.”
Amott pointed to a budget deficit near $3.6 million, stating that closing the gap is one of her top priorities. A significant budget deficit is again projected for next year.
Additionally, aging facilities and projects to rebuild them, such as the Alumni Hall restoration, are important to Amott in order to attract more students, and more money, to Knox.
“Our facilities are dated,” Amott said. “At the end of the day, some students will not come here because this is a problem for them.”
Leahy believes that closing the deficit itself is not going to be enough to improve the faculty salary situation. According to statistics provided by the registrar, student enrollment has increased between 2003 and 2011 from 1,100 to 1,405, or almost 22 percent. Yet, faculty salaries have largely remained the same.
“If this budget deficit is so big, a lot of the work they’re going to have to do is simply to close that deficit,” Leahy said. “And when we even hit that target, we’re still going to be left with probably higher revenue per student, probably more students, and yet, there is no plan there, that says nothing about the faculty salary problem.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Knox faculty salaries in comparison to 13 other schools, including Monmouth, Beloit and Grinnell, ranked toward the lower third in 2010.
Specifically, Knox finished 8th in professor and associate professor salaries, 11th in assistant professor salaries and 9th out of 11 reported numbers in instructor salaries.
Additionally, Leahy’s research has found that of 113 institutions in the Midwest, Knox ranks 49th, although he believes that, since the numbers are from 2009, Knox should be more toward the upper quartile of those colleges.
“Dollar for dollar, we are very comparable to schools that do pay a lot more to faculty,” Leahy remarked.
Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde admits that while salaries have “never really been where they have ought to be,” and the frustration by the faculty is justifiable, Knox has been safe from the recent economic downturn. In fact, Knox has not frozen or cut salaries during this time.
“If you look at the rest of American society,” he said, “we’re insulated from a lot of that. We’re not the 1 percent, but there’s a lot of job security.”
Amott hopes to engage faculty committees, including the Executive Committee and the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee, or FASCom, to determine the right goal in terms of creating a permanent solution to the faculty salary problem.
“This is a conversation to be had with faculty committees and faculty leadership,” she said. “And if we can figure out the goal, then the (capital) campaign is set to generate the revenues for that goal. And that should happen in the next year or so.”
Other faculty members besides Leahy have been disturbed by the chronic problems of being underpaid compared to other institutions. Associate Professor of English Gina Franco notes that the faculty has continually had to accept that they are not teaching for the money, although everyone agrees they deserve more.
“We absorb a whole lot of the college’s poverty,” she admits. “We’re talking about a very poor college, in a general way. It’s not that this is an injustice, but Knox needs money all over the place. And faculty salaries are just another aspect of the poverty.”
Professor of Philosophy Lance Factor, who has taught at Knox for 42 years, believes that the faculty salary trajectory does not exist how he thought it would 20 years ago.
Still, he has never thought about leaving Knox and believes that, as Plato once said, “Men are happiest when they do what they are well suited for doing.”
“I don’t suffer much from the greener pastures syndrome,” Factor said.
Professor of Physics Charles Schulz, a faculty member of 31 years believes that the salary situation would have been resolved if Knox had not dropped the ball on fundraising for 40 years. However, he’s quick to state his confidence in Amott’s administration.
“I want to be clear,” he said. “I feel we now have a very professional advancement staff, and they understand how to do what needs to done.”
As the February meeting of the Board of Trustees approaches, Schulz is, “quite confident” that faculty salaries, along with Leahy’s views, will be a major topic of discussion. Leahy himself, however, has no plans to do anything other than attend the meeting.
“I consider myself an observer at this, so I don’t feel like I should go there and protest,” Leahy said.
As the conversation continues, expectations as to finally solving the faculty salary problem range from Leahy’s “pessimistic” view to Schulz’s “cautiously optimistic” stance. And while it cannot be doubted that the faculty love teaching at Knox, there is some obvious frustration.
“It’s depressing,” Franco said. “What can I do about it? There’s not a lot I can do about it.”