BY AMANDA KEEFE & CARLOS RESTREPO
(Webster Groves, MO, April 27, 2011) In early April, tenured professor Linda Holtzman was shocked to find she was given a raise considerably lower than those given to other Webster University professors.
This got Holtzman wondering whether administrators considered individual professors when they proposed and eventually approved the new faculty salary compensation plan.
“With the disclosure of the specific salary information this week, I discovered that my salary is SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER THAN (sic) many of my peers, both within the School of Communications and in the wider university,” Holtzman wrote in an email she sent to faculty.
The plan was constructed after the administration hired Mercer LLC, a consulting firm, to conduct a compensation study. Mercer compared Webster faculty salaries to those of 53 similar institutions. The new salary plan would give teachers raises based on the kinds of raises other faculty are receiving within the market. The administration shared the results with faculty and staff, leading Holtzman to send her email.
Holtzman’s email went on to explain her tribulations in the last 10 years, whether it was supporting her two children as a single mother, battling a myriad of health issues and doctor’s bills and grieving the death of her 22-year-old daughter.
To support herself and her family, Holtzman has taught 12 classes a year and has taken on a volume of work.
“The Mercer report and recommendations don’t provide a way to turn back the clock and compensate any of us for those years of loss in salary,” she wrote in the email. “But given the circumstances, I strongly believe that we need to approve
what’s on the table and consider it a good start and with a commitment to continue working with each other and the administration for a more comprehensive solution for all of us.”
The Straws that Broke the Camel’s Back
In 2009, professors in the School of Business and Technology received contract adjustments, ultimately raising their salaries. The contract adjustments were developed under the Richard Meyers administration in 2008.
Once President Elizabeth Stroble took office in 2009, she approved those adjustments.
“Dr. Stroble became aware of this,” said Faculty Senate member Dan Hellinger, a political science professor. “She could’ve stopped it (the SBT contract), but chose not to. She made a choice not to say, ‘Wait, let’s stop and think about what changes we need to make in terms of compensation before we implement this.’ ”
In the aftermath of the SBT salary adjustments, and what seemed like an overly generous severance compensation to Meyers, Hellinger said the faculty was angered.
“After the board caught all of this criticism because of Meyers, they set aside (money) for next year to try to deal with some of the inequalities for staff and faculty,” Hellinger said.
Provost Julian Schuster said the money is a total of $500,000 in contingency funds in an escrow account, specifically geared toward compensation.
“It’s important not to think of this money as in, ‘This money has been taken at bay from our regular increases,’ ” Schuster said.
Chris Parr, professor of religious studies, said faculty were surprised by the amount of salary they and their co-workers were receiving. Parr, who has worked at Webster for 19 years, said this is nothing new. People were just unaware of it.
“Teachers were discovering quite big differences that have existed for awhile,” Parr said.
Kelly-Kate Pease, political science professor, said once the faculty discovered those salary disparities, the new administration attempted to appease them by introducing a new salary plan.
“So we get the new regime in town, they come in, and they say they’re gonna’ review our compensation practices,” Pease said. “Once we got the new provost on board, we brought in this Mercer group.”
Parr said Stroble had worked with Mercer at her previous university and, when Schuster arrived, he quickly understood problems with compensation.
“At this point, they’ve both got an iron in the fire on this one,” Parr said.
Motives and Issues Behind Mercer
Parr said, aside from the Meyers and SBT concerns, there are four possible motives behind the plan:
– to remove inequities and imbalances regarding faculty compensation
– to have more transparency about compensation
– to increase the number of faculty members
– to raise minimum salaries of any faculty to at least the median over time
Schuster said the motive behind the Mercer study was to develop a compensation system that can enable the university to attract and retain the best staff and faculty.
“Webster University will be an attractive place to be,” Schuster said. “Our compensation system and our compensation policy will reflect our underlining desire to create the best possible working environment that we can, and in which people will be prospering both intellectually as well as materially.”
Although these goals might prove beneficial for the university, discrepancies arose quickly among faculty. Questions of fairness and gender equity surfaced after the results of the Mercer study were revealed.
The Mercer study found that faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communications and the SBT were being paid below the median market pay compared to the other universities surveyed. The College of Fine Arts and the School of Education were paid above the median.
Though faculty in the first three schools mentioned earn below the median, they may make a salary higher than those in the latter schools mentioned. For example, a faculty member in SBT is currently paid below the median, though the SBT professor’s total salary is more than what a faculty member in the School of Education makes. Because the SBT professor’s salary is below the median, the SBT faculty member would be getting the bigger raise over time. Also, different disciplines within those schools may be paid unequal to their colleagues.
“Will I welcome a raise? Yes, very nice, thank you,” said Hellinger, who will be getting a raise based on his discipline of international relations. “Do I think it’s right that I should get a very big raise while other people in this hallway who are doing the exact same job as me … are getting less? No. The faculty is really divided on this.”
Those receiving the biggest raise within the next few years include faculty in the SBT and the School of Communications, which happens to be historically populated by men. Those in other schools, like School of Education and Arts and Sciences, where there are more women professors, will be getting a lower compensation, all based on discipline and market value.
“While it’s common practice, it does create inequities,” Pease said. “The concern of all of this is, ‘Are there gender inequities?’ If you do it by discipline, it just turns out that certain disciplines happen to be dominated by men.”
Pease said the morale of the faculty will be hurt by this plan and it is the administration’s job to try to remediate it.
“It is gonna’ cause a lot of problems,” Pease said. “I think (Stroble) should at least apologize for the decision that causes this much anguish.”
“That’s a ‘yes.’ That’s a ‘no.’ That’s a ‘yes.’ That’s another ‘yes’,” repeats faculty senate president Ralph Olliges as he counts 135 bright yellow ballots. At the top of each ballot reads, “The faculty of Webster University approves the plan of the administration policy to institute discipline-based faculty compensation.” Below, three options are listed: yes, no or abstain.
The ballot, introduced by Hellinger at the last faculty senate meeting, was created to get an idea of how the majority of faculty felt regarding the salary compensation plan. Ultimately, the voting results would be presented to the Board of Trustees to express the feelings of a majority of the faculty regarding the plan.
“I just decided that I would offer this amendment,” Hellinger said. “Faculty can vote on whether they like (the compensation plan) or not.”
Once all votes were counted Wednesday, April 20, 65 percent of faculty voted to approve the plan, while 35 percent voted against it.
On Thursday, April 21, the Board of Trustees approved the salary compensation plan, which will be implemented in the academic year of 2011 – 2012.
Schuster said the first stage of implementing this plan will be to bring anyone being paid below the minimum at least up to the median within two to three years.
“This proposal isn’t solely discipline-based,” said speech communications professor Scott Jensen, co-chair of Salary and Fringe Benefits. “It attempts to strike a balance between a number of concerns that have plagued compensation policy and has plagued Webster. I seriously doubt it will be the final answer. It’s the beginning of the discussion.”
Regarding the issue as a whole, Holtzman laughed and said, “Once, a good friend told me, we fight so hard because the stakes are so low.”