At a meeting on April 26, Webster University’s Faculty Assembly unanimously approved a proposal for a 1.5 percent raise for tenured and tenure-track faculty.
During discussion of the proposal, some faculty members in attendance voiced concerns that the raise would contribute to Webster’s budget shortfall, which is in its fourth consecutive year and currently around $7 million. Others said they were uncomfortable taking a raise when adjunct faculty have not received one since 2012.
University staff members will receive a raise at the same 1.5 percent rate.
Terri Reilly, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the first adjunct to be elected to the Faculty Senate as a senator-at-large. Reilly said she believes many members voted for it because they were uncomfortable turning down a proposal that would lead to a raise for staff; staff raises are pegged to the percentage raises of faculty.
“As several faculty stated, my sense is that if the 1.5 percent had just been for the (tenured and tenure-track) faculty, the vote would have been different,” Reilly said.
According to Hulsizer and Faculty Senate president Gwyneth Williams, the cost of a 1.5 percent raise for faculty and staff came to approximately $1.5 million. A raise of $100 per class for adjunct faculty would cost an additional $1 million.
Some faculty members who attended the meeting raised concerns that a raise for faculty and staff would contribute to Webster’s financial difficulties, citing rumored cuts to faculty positions and the possibility of a hiring freeze.
Provost Julian Schuster said he could not respond to rumors, but that there were no plans to make faculty cuts and that he did not foresee any major changes for the university.
Hulsizer said the committee’s priority was to seek as much of a raise for faculty as they could. He said whether the money would result in cuts elsewhere was outside of their responsibility.
Reilly said she is concerned that spending on construction projects and purchasing new buildings is creating a larger budget gap which the raises for faculty will only make worse. The financial problems, she said, will most likely lead to cuts in faculty and staff.
“I view the 1.5 percent increase in salary not as an olive branch, but as a means of quieting down recent tensions,” Reilly said, referring to concerns about cuts in faculty positions.
Williams, who was presiding over her last meeting as president, cautioned against alarmism and assumptions that all faculty share the same opinion.
“I really hope that we listen to each other and we not turn on one another,” Williams said.
The raise was part of a proposal created by the Faculty Salary and Fringe Benefits Committee in collaboration with the administration, which also covered several other issues including salary benchmarking and benefits for adjunct faculty.
In the 2014-2015 academic year, faculty received a 3 percent raise. In 2015-2016, there was no percentage raise, but faculty whose salaries were below a certain level were considered on a case-by-case basis for a $500 bonus intended to compensate for inflation.
According to the Consumer Price Index, inflation increased by 1.5 percent in 2013, 1.6 percent in 2014, and 0.1 percent in 2015, when gas prices helped flatten the rate.
According to Michael Hulsizer, chairman of the Faculty Salary and Fringe Benefit Committee, raises are based on a negotiation process rather than on increases in inflation or the cost of living.
Under the new agreement, salary benchmarking, the analysis of how Webster salaries compare to those of 54 other comparable institutions, will be done in-house. Previously, this information was part of salary considerations but comparisons were done by an outside company. All information, with the exception of individual salaries, will be available to the public.
The amount of money allocated to faculty research, travel and professional development will remain the same.
Adjunct faculty compensation will stay at the same level as well, but several new benefits for adjuncts were created. Adjunct faculty will now be able to receive a 50 percent tuition discount for a spouse or dependent child, and the number of hours per academic year for which adjuncts can receive tuition remission themselves has been raised from six to nine.
The university has also created an $15,000 Adjunct Research and Professional Development Fund which allows adjuncts to apply for a grant of up to $1,000 to spend on research, travel expenses or professional development.
Hulsizer said the decisions about what to prioritize came in part from a survey of faculty which showed that the top priority was full-time faculty raises.
“I think the proposal was really the best that we could do, particularly in the circumstances,” Hulsizer said.