This fall, controversy surrounding executive pay and fiscal management at Webster uncovered something even deeper: pre-existing dissatisfaction among staff, leaving some to question their place in the university.
“If we [Webster] are a family and I’m coming in the kitchen and have two grains of rice on my plate and I look over and you are eating turkey legs, it does something psychologically,” Larry Morris said.
Morris was coordinator and then assistant director of Multicultural and International Student Affairs from 2017 to 2022.
“By the time I got [here], I didn’t even know what it was like to get anything higher than a 1% raise,” Morris said. “It does nothing to improve one’s quality of life.”
Another former staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims to have left Webster partially due to the lack of pay.
“To know I could go from a role in a stressful environment where I was barely making ends meet to a role with far less responsibility and $5,000 more a year than what I was making, it was a no-brainer,” the anonymous source said.
Meanwhile, President Julian Schuster earned $638,181 in 2020, according to the university’s Form 990. Just a year later, he made $704,273. On top of these base salaries, Schuster made $153,394 in additional compensation. Combined, it is a 10.4% raise.
Discord from students, faculty and staff came to a head in September, prompting Sumit Verma, chair of the board of trustees, to release a campus-wide email stating Schuster and Chancellor Beth Stroble make a “competitive salary.”
Currently, there is an undergraduate academic adviser position open at Webster and a student success adviser at the St. Louis Community College (STLCC). Both job positions are full-time and have similar job descriptions, but STLCC pays $3,538 more. If a Webster undergraduate academic adviser were to apply and get hired for the STLCC job, it would mean a 7.67% increase in pay.
“Webster just needs to value their employees enough to pay them what they’re worth, or the employees will start jumping ship like the Titanic,” the former staff member said.
The “ship-jumping” has already started at Webster’s Career Planning and Development Center (CPDC). Former director John Link, assistant director John Holste and program coordinator Logan Politte have all left in the last six months. Assistant director Kerry Lee is now the only person in a department that had four people just last school year.
Besides CPDC, four of the nine members of the Staff Alliance Board have left since late 2021. The Staff Alliance Board is a group of staff members that works to enhance staff experience at Webster University.
The former staff member who left recently mentioned how morale was bad and said that his job environment was “unbearable.” Morris, too, stated there are less amenities than there used to be, contributing to the overall low morale.
“When you kill the morale of staff, it ultimately hurts the students. Regardless of if you have new campuses and new buildings, if you can’t figure out a way to keep the people who work there inspired, are you really serving students? Who is Webster serving now?” Morris said.
Morris is also a two-time alum of Webster, earning a bachelor’s degree in Audio Communications and a masters degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.
“When I was a student at Webster, it was heaven. The morale was high, we did so much stuff,” Morris said. “There was a budget for leadership training for students. We got to go to conferences and it helped inform the way we engaged in the university. Those budgets are cut.”
Morris mentioned how much he enjoyed working with his co-workers and helping the students. Morris also said how much dedication current staff members have to the university for staying here as long as they have.
“I know a lot of my colleagues showed up and gave 100%, but they were tired,” Morris said. “When you’re not seeing any significant pay increase and the hours are getting longer and longer, and you are taking on more and more roles in your position, eventually, it pushes you to the point where you get maxed out and that is hard because it ultimately impacts the student.”
With the recent announcement of Stroble stepping down, the university is looking for her replacement. The former staffer is calling for someone who understands the internal issues and offers a solution.
“Webster needs someone who can get them back on track, not another figurehead who makes a documentary about how wonderful they are, while their institution is literally and financially falling apart,” he said.
The Journal reached out to university officials for comment but did not get a response by press time.