Salary freeze chills faculty

By Heather Scroering

The recent announcement of a salary freeze has left Columbia employees, who have received raises only one time in the past three years, with more questions than answers.

“We realize the financial circumstances of not only the [college], but the country,” said Tom Nawrocki, associate professor in the English Department and the president of the Columbia College Faculty Organization. “I have to say that full-time faculty were disappointed that there wouldn’t be an increase, but we understood the need.”

On Oct. 18, President Warrick L. Carter informed the faculty and staff via email that there will be no across-the-board raises for employees this academic year, as previously reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 24.

Louise Love, vice president for Academic Affairs and interim provost, announced in an email sent to full-time faculty on Oct. 27 that, in response to a request made by the Faculty Senate, successor to the CCFO, individual letters will be given to full-time faculty members stating their current salaries, which remain the same as last year. However, some individuals’ salaries will be raised by the adjustment of the “floor” of each rank, according to the email.

Rank refers to the school’s recent adoption of a system whereby faculty are designated assistant, associate or full professors based on such criteria as years of service. As at most colleges, each rank has a salary base or floor.

“The raising of the floors is in keeping with the commitment that was made to the faculty when the rank was instituted,” Love said in her email.

When full-time faculty rank was implemented at Columbia, the college was able to compare salaries to “peer” institutions, according to Love. A commitment was made that the college’s salary bands for full-time faculty members would not be lower than the top third of peer institutions.

According to Love, 15 percent of full-time faculty will be affected by the change.

Richard Woodbury, associate professor in the Dance Department, believes this is an intelligent way to handle salaries.

“I think, in my judgment, that’s a healthier move with limited funds than an across-the-board raise would be,” he said.

Oftentimes in a salary freeze, there are questions of how the situation will affect worker morale.

David Bowles, author of “Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times” and a consultant on business morale issues, said morale is motivated by more factors than just salary.

“We shouldn’t assume that pay is the No. 1 driver of morale,” Bowles said. “Other more intrinsic things are far more important on a longer-term basis.”

Some faculty, though, believe morale is a worry.

“Morale is not very high right now,” said Michael Bright, supervisor of student workers in the Film and Video Department and president of United Staff of Columbia College, the staff union. “I think the majority of our members are professionals, and they are going to continue to do the best job they can, even if they feel undervalued. I think their commitment to the students and to the college itself is strong.”

Woodbury believes three factors contributed to an “atmosphere of concern” among faculty: the abrupt disappearance of the college’s former provost, Steve Kapelke, fast advancement in the prioritization process and the halt in salaries.

Pegeen Reichert Powell, assistant professor in the English Department and president of the Faculty Senate, said providing the highest quality of education is a major focus for faculty.

Columbia is not the only college experiencing this problem. There is a nationwide trend toward salary freezes due to the state of the economy, according to John Curtis, director of Research and Public Policy at the American Association of University Professors office in Washington, D.C. According to Curtis, faculty salaries across the nation have been flat for the past three years.

“Overall, faculty salaries have been pretty stagnant during this time,” Curtis said. “They’ve been just above the level of inflation, but inflation has been very low during these past [two] years.”

However, the salaries of full-time faculty members in private institutions are not suffering as much as those at public colleges, he said. Private colleges are not impacted by decreasing revenues at the state level. Instead, lack of communication between administration and the college community is a concern for some faculty members.

“If we could have a little more information on the kinds of choices the college has to make, perhaps we could communicate that to the membership, and they’d be a little more understanding of the college’s position, but we’re not getting that kind of information,” Bright said.

In Carter’s email sent to faculty and staff on Oct. 18, he said decreased enrollment has affected the college financially, but the college is “not in a crisis situation.”

“My particular concern is that, in the future, especially in the budget next year, we would like raises, not just for full-time faculty,” Nawrocki said. “We would like to be considered as a high priority.”