Faculty to administration: ‘I’m underpaid’

| December 3, 2015 7:32am

by Cheyenne Schoen |

A survey of UP faculty reveals that many are dissatisfied with their salaries, and some are having trouble making ends meet.

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Results of the anonymous survey, discussed at the Nov. 17 Academic Senate meeting, also showed that professors feel strained with growing class sizes and would like to see more transparency from administration in its decision making and in financial matters.

In all, the survey identified eight main areas where faculty would like to see improvement. But financial compensation outnumbered the next highest area of concern by nearly two to one.

“I do not feel fairly compensated for my work,” one faculty member said.

“I cannot stress enough how difficult it is with each passing year to make ends meet,” said another respondent. “It is a good thing I love my job as much as I do because otherwise I could get very depressed about how the compensation does not match the passion, time and energy I put into my job.”

Faculty pay at UP is low relative to other institutions. According to federal data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, UP professors’ salaries generally fall below the national average. The difference is especially seen among UP’s highest ranking professors, whose average salary in 2013-2014 was $87,264, while the national average for professors at four-year private colleges was $115,889. The mean salary for associate professors at UP was $74,227 while the national average for associate professors was $78,243.

The average pay for assistant professors at UP compared to the national averages did not show as big of a gap. The mean salary for assistant professors was $63,729, while the national average was $64,195.

While UP and national averages for assistant professor salaries were not far off, faculty took issue with the starting salary for assistant professors, namely within the College of Arts and Sciences. Data from UP’s Office of Institutional Research compares UP’s $54,000 starting salary for assistant CAS professors in 2014 to the starting salary of over 60 peer institutions. UP’s salary was nearly $5,000 below that of peer institutions.

Faculty expressed concern in the survey over UP’s comparatively low salaries.

“Our pay scale is not very competitive,” one faculty member said. “For a time we were committed as an institution to at least being average. I have not heard that for a time. People in Portland Public Schools or local community colleges make more than UP faculty.”

“UP has never had the highest salaries, just as we do not have the highest tuition,” University President Fr. Mark Poorman said. “We would love to pay more to the wonderful people who work here, but it's our responsibility to keep a balanced budget. We hate raising tuition.”

The salary problem is magnified by the cost of living in Portland.

According to recent data published by Forbes, the cost of living in Portland is 6.6 percent higher than the national average. Many professors noted that salaries and promotions do not keep up with the steep living costs, in addition to rising healthcare costs and inflation.

“The small cost of living raise we receive each year does not keep pace with increases in the cost of living, really, including the continuous increase in health care,” one faculty member said. “We have to pay very close attention to our budget each month to make sure that we do not go into debt.”

One respondent even said their salary is so low that they can no longer afford to work at UP.

“In addition to difficulties I have in meeting my financial obligations, I simply find it embarrassing,” the faculty member said. “I have a lower salary than almost anyone I know … I am actively looking for other employment, as reluctant as I am to leave this university I have worked so hard to support.”

Some responses revealed that the university’s low salaries limit UP’s ability to attract top quality tenure-track professors and adjuncts.

“Scientists with graduate degrees are unwilling to work for so little money,” one faculty member said. “I’ve had people respond and ask if the salary on job postings was a typo. If the University of Portland wants to compete with top tier universities, we need to be able to hire faculty who can deliver that kind of education.”

ASUP president Khalid Osman is troubled to hear that UP’s salaries make it difficult to bring in top professors.

“We put out these searches and we aren’t getting the best people,” Osman said. “The fact that we’re number seven in the west, and we have all these statistics about how great we are, yet we can’t attract the best professors. It’s concerning.”

Poorman said he is committed to examining these issues carefully.

“All of this is about addressing competing priorities,” Poorman said. “For example, do we want more faculty in order to keep small class sizes, or do we want to pay more to the faculty we have? The answer to that question is not easy.”

In addition to issues with pay, the survey revealed many faculty feel strained by increased enrollment.

Last year’s freshman class of 1,090 was the largest in university history. This year’s was the second largest, with 950 freshmen.

“The school is overloaded,” a faculty member said. “There aren’t enough classrooms, every term is a battle to try and get all the students that need classes registered. Overfull classes are difficult to get students to engage and participate in activities. Increasing class size is a very short-term mindset. Students choose to come to UP specifically because of the small class sizes and ease of making relationships with faculty.”

The respondents were also concerned with the lack of transparency in decision making.

More than one response said it is “demoralizing” when the administration makes decisions without consulting the faculty.

“It is demoralizing to have the upper levels of the administration (excluding the Provost) be so closed to co-governance with the faculty,” one respondent said. “I am exhausted by the number of decisions that are made where I am told that ‘all stakeholders’ have been consulted, yet faculty have not. This is so bad for morale and undermines good decision-making, as absolutely key players are closed out of giving input.”

“The biggest problem I see here is in communication,” another respondent said. “It is often secretive, triangulated, or non-existent. Decisions get made without faculty knowing who made them or why. This can be very demoralizing fosters distrust, lack of buy-in, lack of inclusion in the work of the University.”

Osman said the issue of transparency in decision-making stood out to him from the rest of the survey.

“The fact that these decisions are being made that affect teachers and they’re not even being informed I think that’s not fair,” Osman said. “It makes people feel like they’re just another worker rather than making them feel like part of this community and important.”

Provost Dr. Thomas Greene said he believes there is more transparency now under Poorman’s leadership than there had been in the past.

In fact, the survey states that faculty “approvingly noted” that Poorman, who began his term as president in July 2014, has shown an “obvious enthusiasm for learning, listening and engaging with faculty.”

Greene does take issue with the notion that faculty is excluded from administrative discussions.

“I can cite many examples where administration has sought faculty input and it has been honored and resulted in a new decision,” Greene said.

Examples he referenced included pushing out the grading deadline for non-graduating students and honoring several budget requests for new faculty members.

Osman said he plans to speak with the ASUP executive board about their thoughts on the survey to see if ASUP should weigh in more heavily on the issue.

Proposed Next Steps

Faculty Welfare Committee acting chair Bill Barnes said the administration has been “receptive and open” to the results of the survey. The committee had an initial meeting in the spring with Poorman and Greene, and will meet with Greene again in a series of four meetings over the course of the year to address the eight areas identified for improvement.

“One thing was crystal clear in our faculty survey: Faculty members are inspired by students on our campus. They are committed to them and they love teaching and the spirit of collaboration that exists at UP,” Barnes said. “I think the survey reveals that there is some tension as enrollment grows at the University, but I think that this often happens when institutions expand. Together we will all work through these tensions, and it will make the University an even better place to be.”

Cheyenne Schoen is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at schoen17@up.edu. Clare Duffy and Malika Andrews also contributed to this report.

DOWNLOAD the Faculty Welfare Committee survey (PDF)