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Editorial: MU faculty still waiting for action on pay

Sep. 29, 2012 @ 11:30 PM

"They sang about tomorrow but tomorrow never came" (Les Miserables).

Indeed, the line ("...moving forward in terms of faculty compensation...") to the "song" in the Marshall University president's State of the University address last Tuesday, Sept. 25, was awfully familiar.

You see, in an Oct. 17, 2005, letter to the MU faculty, the president sang those beguiling lyrics that "Faculty salaries became a top priority for me when I became president." And that 2005 "top priority" announcement was immediately followed by a president-initiated study to examine low faculty salaries and "...remedy the situation." But the "remedy," which was to come "tomorrow", "never came."

Actually, the "remedy" went in reverse. MU full professor salaries were at 81.2 percent of their counterparts at peer institutions seven years ago and are at 73.6 percent now. Of course, from a Board of Governors "management" point of view, that is a very desirable outcome. If you can run a business and produce as much "product" as your competitors while paying your employees only 73.6 percent of the "industry" average, you have accomplished something very significant, indeed.

That tomorrow never comes for faculty and staff should surprise no one. It certainly would be of no surprise to the intrepid Parthenon Editor, Melissa Huff, who wrote, presciently, in 1986; "I see nothing but petty promises on the horizon."

And now we are treated to the "promise" from last Tuesday's address that "A committee is being formed with the Board of Governors to gather input from all involved and make strides toward improving pay for faculty which has been a perpetual issue at the university..." But the "strides," like the "remedy" before them, are already going backward. Meritorious faculty saw their "promised" merit pay eliminated this year, and thus they received nothing for their exemplary accomplishments.

Equity pay -- the money set aside to help the 73.6 percent-ers move ever so slightly toward their peer average -- was eliminated as well. So faculty got the double negative whammy..... and for what? Well, that breathtaking board-driven "presidential" pay increase had to come from somewhere. And now we know from where. You'd think some heed would have been given to Michael Useem's (management professor, the Wharton School) cautionary advice, to wit; "Any evidence that you're putting your personal gain ahead of your organization's welfare is one of the most discrediting things you can do in leadership."

It all comes down to an institutional/board example of "leadership" that incandescently illuminates our values. With MU administrative salaries considerably above their counterparts at peer institutions, the board has unambiguously demonstrated that what administrators do is highly valued, whereas what it is that our faculty do has very little value. It seems a strange message for an institution entrusted with the academic preparation of our citizens to be sending, but the board "values" message couldn't be clearer.

But the "strides" committee will be formed, and its members will talk and talk and talk, filling us with more "promises" on the horizon. Me, well, I'm simply taken by the attitude of Elisa Doolittle: "Don't talk of spring, don't talk of fall, don't talk at all; Show me!"

James E. Joy is a professor of biological sciences at Marshall University.

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