As Knox officials scramble to cut $1.2 million by June — an effort that includes slashing retirement benefits through next summer — Knox professors remain chronically underpaid.
Faculty salaries this year are approximately $7,000 “below market value,” President Teresa Amott estimated in October.
And among Associated Colleges of the Midwest schools, full-time Knox professors earn an average of $16,000 less than their peers, according to data from the American Association of University Professors.
“This is something that’s on the minds of the administration, board and especially the faculty. But it’s the perfect example of our dilemma,” Amott said. “Is the answer to charge more tuition? These are the tradeoffs we’re forced to make every year in the budget.”
During a 2011 visit to campus, before the second-year president took office, Amott pointed to faculty salary increases as a top priority during her presidency.
In the last two years, however, non-personnel costs have grown by about $2 million, while faculty salaries have stayed the same.
“It’s been a longstanding problem here, particularly since 2000,” Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde told The Knox Student in 2011. “The salaries have never been cutting edge.”
Audrey Williams, a reporter with The Chronicle of Higher Education, said salary data helps both professors and potential employers determine fair pay.
“It’s a way for faculty to see what other colleges are paying professors and how their compensation stacks up. It’s helpful for people in the job market to study the trends,” Williams said.
On average, Knox associate professors earn $60,500 per year and assistant professors earn $49,600, while instructors earn $47,900.
At Amott’s previous college, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva, N.Y.), full-time professors earn $107,300 on average.
“We, thankfully, have substantial assets in competing for faculty,” Amott said.
She cited the quality of Knox’s student body, affordable housing and Galesburg’s proximity to Chicago.
“Faculty members who come to an institution like this are committed to teaching. All those qualities make a difference,” she said.
But Professor of Mathematics and Chair Pro Tem of the faculty Andrew Leahy worries that chronically low salaries may harm Knox in the long run.
“There’s restructuring going on, and it’s taking place largely on the backs of the employees,” he said.
Leahy believes low pay could discourage high-quality professors from choosing Knox in the future and also diminish the job prospects of current faculty.
“I think in the minds of some, it raises credibility questions about the caliber of the Knox faculty. And that shouldn’t be the case,” he said.