Volume 2007 No. 1

Spring, 2007


Spring 2007 Newsletter > University News > Senate

View From the Senate

Timothy Sullivan (Economics)
Chair of the University Senate

The University Senate recently concluded its regular schedule of meetings for the 2006-2007 academic year, but, as is always the case, the business and the concerns of the University community and thus the University Senate are never really brought to a close.  As a long-serving member of the Senate and its current Chair, I am aware that there are many among us who are frustrated with the deliberate pace of the Senate.  While this criticism is not without merit, I would also point out that these deliberations are a valuable process, which considers both the intended and unintended consequences that policies might have upon such a diverse and dynamic community as Towson University. 

Among the most controversial issues that any large academic institution must address is the development of an efficient and equitable scheme to identify both the workload and compensation for its faculty, staff, and administrators.  Needless to say, this may be particularly problematic for all of us since the University is growing significantly and evolving into a more complex institution.  The challenge, of course, is how we accommodate these changes while maintaining the characteristics and values that we value so highly.

The fact that salaries vary both between and within academic units of the University is probably understandable, but the exact reasons why one particular person’s salary varies relative to another person’s salary may be far less clear.  The Senate has discussed and begun taking initial steps to examine the basis for the distribution of merit along with some long-term goals of correcting various inequities that exist across and within various departments on our campus.  In some cases, faculty are hired in different years under different initial conditions and, as such, significant salary compression issues have emerged within some departments.  In other cases, long-serving faculty have gone through various phases of prosperous versus lean budget years and thus the amount of resources available for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and merit increases also shows considerable variation.  So there are both short-term and long-term factors that have resulted in significant salary differences, which may be both somewhat inefficient as well as inequitable.

As Senate Chair and a concerned faculty member, I think it is important to resolve some basic issues regarding salaries and adjustments to salaries.  It is helpful to consider COLA as a separate issue from discussions of merit and / or long-term salary inequities.  It would also be helpful if the dollars allocated to COLA actually reflected the cost of living for all faculty, but since this percentage is typically decided by the system (which the University could, I suppose, augment if ensuring an adequate cost-of-living adjustment was deemed appropriate by the University to do for the faculty), this increment is typically taken as a fixed percentage.  By maintaining the relative economic status of the faculty and staff of the University, it would prevent the often overwhelming temptation to raid other resources and maintain them for the more appropriately determined recognition and reward of the meritorious activities of the University’s faculty and staff.  Moreover, resources allocated to merit increases ought not reflect the relative market conditions of any particular department, but, rather, should acknowledge the good work and contributions of the faculty and staff toward the mission of the University.  Accordingly, using a measure other than the departmental salary base would provide some level of protection of merit dollars to those who happen to be located in areas where conditions conspire against them in any particular fiscal year or receive merit rewards when their base salary may have stagnated due to state-wide fiscal constraints.

Assuming that there are sufficient budgetary resources to sustain the relative economic status of its employees and that merit increases begin to be allocated on a more equitable basis, we are still left with some long-term compression issues.  This requires the commitment of resources over several budget cycles, thus making it vulnerable to the inevitable ups and downs of public budgets on which the University has no impact.  The University will likely never have such an over-abundance of resources that we can fully fund all of the many valued initiatives that we as a community strive to achieve.  As an academic community we need to recognize that there are serious issues for us to address and that some of these issues will require us to be both persistent and vigilant. 

Even though the University’s budget for the current fiscal year and its projected budget for next fiscal year are, by historical standards, good years, there is insufficient funding to fully address all of the needs of the institution or to completely address all inequities that exist in the salary structure of the University’s faculty and staff.  Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  By taking the first steps towards a more efficient and equitable salary system, I believe that the University will collectively be better positioned to maintain its current areas of strength and to move more confidently toward its future.

© 2007 Towson University