Op-Ed

For uproar about UNC chancellor raises, blame campus disparity

Margaret Spellings’ salary as UNC system president will be $750,000.
Margaret Spellings’ salary as UNC system president will be $750,000. ehyman@newsobserver.com

To really understand the uproar over raises for chancellors on college campuses throughout the state, one has to look at how other university employees fared.

University faculty members who actually perform the triune mission of state universities – teaching, research and service – received no state salary increase this year. Instead, the legislature provided a $750 “bonus” – more like a slap in the face – to each faculty member, as it did for other state employees.

Yet UNC system President-elect Margaret Spellings will be paid three-quarters of a million dollars, and 12 of the system’s 17 chancellors will see raises ranging from a 7.69 increase increase to the chancellor of Winston-Salem State to a whopping 19.43 percent increase to the chancellor of UNC-Charlotte. Chancellor salaries now range from $290,000 at the UNC School of the Arts to $590,000 at N.C. State, where Chancellor Randy Woodson receives $200,000 additional salary paid by private funds and the possibility of performance bonuses. Chancellors at all UNC campuses also receive free housing, access to state cars and other financial benefits.

This slap in the face wasn’t a one-year event. Faculty salaries have been in a free-fall for some time. At Appalachian State University, where I have been employed for more than four decades, the average salary of tenured and tenure-track faculty at all ranks has declined dramatically since 2008.

Taking into account the Consumer Price Index, the average salary of an ASU professor has declined 11.55 percent in the past six years. The average for associate professors has declined 12.73 percent. Assistant professors have fared better because initial hiring rates have tried to keep pace with competition, but they still have declined by 3.73 percent. While average salaries at each rank may be influenced by factors of promotion and retirement, those factors can explain only a small, if any, decline in the averages.

ASU averages, no doubt, are similar to those at other state universities. The fact is that UNC faculty are significantly poorer than they were a few years ago.

Up until 2008, the story of faculty salaries at ASU was very different. From 1990 to 2007, ASU faculty salaries increased in all ranks. Average professor salaries increased 12.26 percent above the Consumer Price Index; associate professor averages increased 11.02 percent above the CPI; and assistant professor averages increased 7.17 percent. Of course, 2008 was the beginning of the most recent national economic downturn, and it is understandable that state employee salaries remained constant initially.

But the North Carolina budget situation has been improving year by year. In May, a budget surplus of $400 million was announced from Raleigh. This announcement was followed by more budget cuts to the UNC system and no salary increases for state employees, including university faculty.

ASU has faced this salary crisis by using tuition and fee increases to provide small raises to faculty. This year tuition and fees rose by 5 percent, and the administration was able to fund very small faculty salary increases from the dollars raised. But this money is carried on the backs of students and their families.

Since 2008, tuition and fees at ASU have increased 50.6 percent due to overall state reductions in funding. Taking into account the Consumer Price Index, ASU receives 11.15 percent fewer operating funds from the state than it did in 2008. And this reduction flies in the face of increasing enrollments. Since 2008, per-student state allocations at ASU have declined 21.81 percent.

The financial crunch is on. Each year faculty and staff are asked to do more for less. Meanwhile, the state finds almost $550,000 for raises to chancellors whose combined salaries now amount to more than $5.7 million. These disparities are the real cause of the uproar.

Gregory Reck is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and vice president of the local AAUP Chapter at Appalachian State University in Boone.

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