Underpaid faculty and staff deserve equity raises

 

Photo by James Hanna

On Saturday, Butler University’s Board of Trustees voted to approve President Jim Danko’s recommendation not to proceed with a 1 percent equity raise for approved faculty and staff. The university uses equity raises to close gaps between the salaries of comparable faculty and staff.

While Butler’s effort to include equity raises in the budget is admirable, we cannot achieve payroll equity by passing them over year after year.

Equity raises were provided two years ago, but not last year and, now, not this year.

The equity raises were included in the budget for the 2012 academic year. However, like so many other budget items, the funds were to come from students’ tuition money, but under-enrollment left the budget under-funded.

“The 1 percent pool addresses the equity gaps of the greatest need,” Vice President for Finance

Bruce Arick said. He also called the equity raises a high priority for the president and the university.

Arick explained that the university previously identified target salary ranges for employees based largely on seniority, responsibilities, performance and department. In addition the university analyzed benchmarks within the market, such as salaries at other regional universities.

The resulting analysis indicated inequities within departments, especially for female employees.

And the university has started to close those gaps.

He added that Saturday’s decision was made in part because salary increases are permanent line-items within a budget. That’s an important consideration.

Faculty and staff are at the university for the long haul while students are not. Student numbers may fluctuate, so Butler cannot take on a long-term budget commitment in the form of a 1 percent equity raise as long as that increase is tied to the moving target of enrollment.

That’s why tying equity raises to the unreliable statistic of enrollment undercuts the purpose of the raise. It effectively makes these raises a lottery based on enrollment. Will enough students decide to come to Butler next year? Who knows. But administrators should explore other budgetary options when it comes to equity raises.

For instance, tie the president’s raise to enrollment, and ensure equity raises by aligning them with more solid budget lines.

Another consideration could be to sacrifice 1 percent of the university-wide 3 percent raise, thereby committing 2 percent to the merit-based pool and 1 percent to equity raises. Arick said that such a strategy might be considered for next year.

A year can be a long wait for the staff or faculty hoping for a raise now.

Faculty Senate Chair Margaret Brabant declined to comment on the raises. And Jamie Comstock, provost and vice president of academic affairs, addressed the Faculty Senate at yesterday’s meeting, announcing the Board’s decision.

Overall, Butler has done a good job providing raises to its faculty and staff. Just this year, Butler passed a 3 percent raise for faculty and staff who met the merit-based requirements. That’s not a ton of money, but when looking down from the ivory tower, it’s a lot better than getting demoted, furloughed or laid off.

Butler has options to ensure that those who are being paid less than their peers receive appropriate compensation. Of course, the university’s resources are limited, and enrollment at the university dropped unexpectedly this year, but that shouldn’t stop administrators from doing everything they can to shrink equity gaps.

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