Monday, June 22, 2009

Sharing the Pain: Cutting Faculty Salaries Across the Board

Broad Pay Cuts Make Deep Dents in Morale

Greensboro College has many of the intimate hallmarks of a small, private, liberal-arts college.

Professors give their cellphone numbers to students and routinely provide extra help to those who need it. Classes at the North Carolina institution average 14 people. And one of the students featured on the college Web site is a biology major who plays on the tennis and volleyball teams and says she is grateful that professors are willing to work around her hectic schedule. The college motto is "You belong here!"

But in mid-April, faculty and staff members got some news that cast a pall on the close-knit campus. At a hastily arranged meeting in the chapel where worship services are held every week, President Craven E. Williams announced layoffs and a temporary, across-the-board pay cut of 20 percent for salaried employees. In addition, sabbaticals were shelved and many benefits were cut.

The institution needs $5-million to stay afloat until the fall, when tuition payments roll in. "It's very difficult to tell somebody that you're cutting their pay 20 percent," said Robert Stout, chairman of Greensboro College's Board of Trustees. "But the important thing is to make sure the college survives."

Some colleges, slammed by the nationwide recession, have begun to eliminate specific programs and departments. But those cost savings often take time to materialize. Greensboro and other colleges instead turned to across-the-board measures that could be put in place quickly and have an immediate effect on the bottom line. Pay cuts often fit the bill.

Still, the move has been devastating to the faculty. "People were not expecting that at all," said a faculty member who did not want to be identified by name because, like many of the 75 full-time professors at Greensboro, she now fears for her job. Many are contract employees, there is no faculty senate, and many worry that the administration, which they say blindsided them with the news, is looking for reasons to get rid of more people. In fact, the cuts did not save everyone's job. Seven staff members and one professor were laid off.

"People had already made their sabbatical plans," said the faculty member. "Other people were in tears because they thought they would lose their house. We had no inkling it was this bad."

Sharing Hardship

Other institutions taking the broad-cut approach include Belmont Abbey College, also in North Carolina, where salaries are slated to be cut by 3.5 percent by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, senior administrators must cut programs, operations, and staffing by 5 percent by the end of this month.

Many who do this say spreading hardship around saves jobs. "Our goal is to keep as many people whole as we possibly can," said Brian Friedrich, president of Concordia University, in Nebraska, which instituted pay cuts, froze hiring, and cut back on adjuncts, among other things, earlier this year. "If that means sharing the pain, we preferred to go that way collectively, as opposed to eliminating this particular area or this group of individuals."

Mr. Friedrich's pay took a 7-percent hit, his leadership team took a 5-percent pay cut, and faculty and professional staff members lost 3 percent of their pay. Beginning July 1, Mr. Friedrich said, his pay cut will increase to 10 percent, and hourly staff members, whose income the college had tried to protect, will end up with a 3-percent cut in pay.

But the "share the pain" approach can harm an institution in the long run, warn some experts. Programs that were once strong are weakened after years of across-the-board cuts. And salary cuts, particularly ones as steep as Greensboro College's, can push people to look elsewhere for work.

In addition, deep pay cuts are not sustainable, said Thomas C. Longin, an independent consultant who specializes in college finances.

"Now you have to think about where you're going to get the money from to build those salaries back up and move forward so you won't lose people," Mr. Longin said. "If you've just dug yourself deeper in the hole, now you have a whole bunch of recovery to do" before you can take advantage of new opportunities.

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