After a period of salary freezes and retirement cuts, Knox professors are finally seeing a salary increase.
A new salary step system introduced by Dean Laura Behling ensures all professors meet a minimum pay step. After it was implemented in 2014, full professors saw a 3.9 percent pay increase during the 2014-2015 school year, while associate and assistant professors were paid 3.2 and 2.5 percent more, respectively.
“So for some faculty members it’s been a significant increase, which unfortunately suggests that they were underpaid over the course of time,” Behling said.
For some professors, this could mean a $3,000 increase.
The step system looks at both internal and external factors. Because some fields are inherently more competitive, professors in a field like Computer Science are often paid more.
For years, Knox professors were chronically underpaid. According to Chronicle of Higher Education data, they made $14,433 less than the ACM mean in 2014, and in 2013, President Teresa Amott said salaries were $7,000 “below market value.”
This is common for a school with a low endowment, and cuts often reflect the economy — Knox also saw college-wide position and salary cuts in 2001.
“These things sort of happen. They’re not fun, but they seem to be part of business,” said Stuart Allison, Professor of Biology and Chair Pro Tem of the faculty.
Lower salaries can also point to lower faculty-wide morale, Allison said.
“There’s a lot of groaning and complaining. I think the hit to retirement benefits was especially unpopular because that hadn’t happened before,” he said.
Even as tuition increases, that doesn’t always correlate with salaries, especially because of Knox’s competitive financial aid packages. Even if students don’t pay the sticker price, prospective students may think that if Knox is more expensive, it’s a better school.
“So it’s the Mercedes-Benz effect. If we are significantly less expensive than similar institutions then maybe we’re not as good, and that was thought to have an effect on recruiting,” Allison said. “We’re sort of the Toyota in the field.”
Despite the last two years’ progress, Behling’s certain the college can continue to raise salaries.
“I think we still have some work to do in terms of what those salaries should be for this quality and this caliber of faculty,” she said.
Even so, the step system may not be a permanent fix. Knox will likely see another “tight spot,” Allison said.
“I can’t imagine Knox is ever going to be in a position where that’s not going to happen, just because of our endowment,” Allison said. “We’re going to have ups and downs.”