Faculty Salaries Rise 20% in Five Years
By Bethany Bradsher
f money does indeed talk, then East Carolina is sending a clear message to the faculty: “We appreciate you.” Faculty salaries have risen 20 percent or more over the past five years, raising the paycheck of a typical full professor to $94,900 in 2007. That’s according to the American Association of University Professors, which gathers salary data from universities nationwide to produce an annual report.
“It really is philosophically a statement of worth,” said English professor Janice Tovey, who became chair of the Faculty Senate on July 1. “They are asking, ‘What’s my value to the department, to the university?’ We want to say, ‘We value what you do. We value your teaching, your research.’ One of the few ways we can say that is with a raise.”
The average pay for other faculty ranks also has jumped by double digits. An associate professor here on average earned $73,500 in 2007 compared to $60,265 in 2002. An assistant professor was paid $65,200 last year, up from $51,366 five years ago, and an instructor made $53,700, up from $43,324 in 2002.
While the pay hikes are impressive, faculty salaries remain well below the national average and are strikingly below the pay at N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill. A stated goal of East Carolina for some time has been to raise faculty salaries to 80 percent of the average of its peer universities.
Rising faculty salaries are made possible by several factors: a priority from legislators as expressed in the state budget and the judicious and creative use of funds by the deans. The focus has not been to increase all salaries across the board, but on a university-wide commitment to working toward competitive salaries for faculty of all ranks, genders and ethnic backgrounds.
To Marilyn Sheerer, the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, and other administrators who look at the numbers daily, the process of eliminating salary inequities can seem like the leaks that spring up in a dike each time another one is repaired. “My goal at the College of Education was always to get our mean salary for each of the levels above what our peer group was,” said Sheerer, who served as education dean her first eight years at ECU. “You have to keep playing with it. You have to keep your eye on the compression issues that occur for faculty who have been here for some time; and you have to be constantly thinking of creative ways to move money around.”
Even if pursuing a favorable salary range is a never-ending challenge, East Carolina is enjoying the best climate in years for reaching its stated goal of 80th percentile in salaries. It’s a brighter outlook that can be credited to UNC System President Erskine Bowles, who has emphasized competitive salaries across the system with promises backed up by policy.
“I think there’s been, bottom line, a more definitive emphasis on increasing faculty salaries with Erskine,” Sheerer said.
The measures instituted by Bowles include a decree that 25 percent of any campus-based tuition hike must go to faculty salaries. Growing universities like ECU also get enrollment-increase money each year that goes to fund new faculty positions and to augment the salaries of deserving faculty. Bowles also created a special fund to offer raises to excellent professors who are being courted by other universities.
That’s how East Carolina recently managed to hang on to a valuable member of the School of Music faculty. Sheerer said the professor was offered a job with higher pay elsewhere. East Carolina countered the other school’s offer, and the professor is still part of the ECU family.
“You win some and you lose some,” said Mark Taggart, who served as chair of the Faculty Senate for two years before Tovey took over. “There is always going to be turnover. What I liked to see when I was chair here was to make this a very welcoming, open, nourishing environment for faculty.”
When turnover does occur, competitive salaries—plus the lower cost of living here—put ECU in the running for some of the brightest minds to fill vacancies. Those factors, plus ECU’s designation as a doctoral institution in 1997, have enticed many professors to come to Greenville, even from larger universities with deeper pockets.
Sheerer tells of a professor in special education who came east after five years at UNC Chapel Hill because ECU offered a larger, more collegial department whose faculty was engaged in various grant projects and outreach programs. He came even though, from a salary standpoint, ECU is still behind the state’s “big two”; UNC-CH professors averaged $138,500 and N.C. State’s made $110,800, according to the AAUP report.
Other attractions for new faculty are the quality of certain programs and the administration’s willingness to offer perks that increase job satisfaction. For instance, a professor might be offered a leave from teaching while he does research, or an assistant professor in the College of Education might make extra money teaching in the school’s extensive summer programs. Salary is an important factor in the equation, but research and service opportunities also figure in prominently, Sheerer said.
“We are definitely shifting to a research university,” Sheerer said. “Some of the really strong candidates want to know that. The more resources we have, the more we can become known as a multifaceted research university as compared to just a teaching university. Now I’m not trying to deemphasize teaching, but the research piece and the service piece, those pieces are really important. And you need resources to be able to handle them.”
University officials acknowledge that ECU is about middle of the pack in faculty salaries among its peer institutions. Compared to ECU’s average 2007 salary of $94,900, four of ECU’s peer schools average a lower salary for their professors. The other seven peer institutions pay their professors more than ECU, with the highest, University of Nevada-Reno, averaging $116,500.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Taggart said. “We’re still very below the 80th percentile, and certain disciplines are worse than others. Faculty salaries in the performing and creative arts are a lot lower than in science and math.”
The N.C. General Assembly showed its support by including $34.6 million in the new state budget to help the campuses deal with enrollment growth. Enrollment in the public colleges is up around 8,000 this year alone. More students require more teachers, which puts pressure on salary budgets. The additional funding means East Carolina and other schools won’t have to be quite so tight with a dollar in hiring decisions this year.