Ongoing recession problems undercut morale
Some Nevada higher education workers will take another pay hit this spring, bringing their total loss during the recession to about one-fifth of their pay.
Others have already received notices that their contracts will not be renewed next year.
It will happen in the University of Nevada, Reno agriculture college, in Cooperative Extension, and other areas.
In most colleges, faculty members have a nine-month contract. In the summer months those faculty members can do consulting or other activities. But agriculture faculty have 12-month contracts because they are expected to work over the summer growing season. They receive five weeks of vacation. Nine-month contracts are called B contracts, 12 months is an A contract.
Two years ago, as part of coping with recession shortfalls, those faculty members were cut back to nine-month contracts, while more than a dozen faculty members were eliminated altogether.
“This cut was not met with a warm and fuzzy response,” said one faculty member outside the agriculture college.
But the implementation of the nine-month Ag contracts did not happen immediately— they will take effect on July 1. When combined with the cuts all campus workers have experienced, some instructors say their pay cuts since 2007—when the recession began—comes to about 17 percent.
Meanwhile, UNR Cooperative Extension—an 18-office arm of the campus that aids Nevadans around the state with home and work-related problems—is facing severe cuts in July. Both the agriculture and CE cuts—and potential wildlife research cuts—fall heavily on rural Nevada.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Campus sources claim that at about the time the agriculture cuts were being put in the pipeline, so were some pay hikes for UNR department chairs in engineering, science and liberal arts. In their cases, the change was from 9-month contracts to 10-month contracts.
While not a secret, all this flew below the radar at the time it was happening. But recently Nevada Faculty Alliance representative Glenn Miller was looking at numbers on Transparent Nevada, a website that posts information on government in Nevada, and discovered the department chair pay increases. He wrote about them in the NFA’s newspaper: “While most faculty do not begrudge extra pay for chairs, these sometimes dramatic salary increases come at a time when faculty are being dismissed and most of the rest of the faculty are bearing at least a 4.8 percent reduction in salary.”
The fact that only certain department chairs received raises is having an impact.
One professor said, “It is bad for morale. My chair got another month, and it comes to about $20,000. We haven’t seen any merit increases or cost of living increases for a long time.”
In fact, he said, he thought the pay changes were exactly opposite what they should have been, that chairs jobs have become easier as instructors’ jobs have become more difficult. A faculty members’ job, he said, has become more difficult because so many faculty jobs have been eliminated, increasing the pressure on those who remained. On the other hand, “With a significant number of research active faculty having left for better places in recent years, I believe a chair’s job has actually become a lot easier since there are fewer people to manage.”
Miller said, “Many of us felt this was unfair, particularly for the new faculty who have not seen raises for several years,” he said. “Chairs already receive stipends, and adding another month of salary … seemed unfair to everyone else who had their salaries cut at the same time.”
Critics of the pay situation cited some individual cases.
“One young faculty member could not take that much of a hit, started looking for a job, was offered one at Purdue University, and the administration promptly reverted her salary to the previous A contract amount, but now on a B contract salary,” Miller said. “She is worth it, but this all is something of making up rules as they go along.”
But not all references to specific cases panned out. Kwang Kim, a mechanical engineering professor who left UNR for UNLV, was said to be unhappy with the pay and working situation on the Reno campus. But he did not confirm that.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I left for personal reasons. I had some family reasons.”
By going to UNLV, he said, he was able to be closer to family members in southern California.
The distance between Reno and Las Vegas—which would be saved by Kim in traveling to southern California—is just under 450 miles.
Those we spoke with attributed the department chair pay increases to President Marc Johnson when he was provost. That could not be confirmed—Johnson did not respond to a request for an interview—but other sources suggested there could be legitimate reasons for the hikes.
A May 5, 2008, document titled “Report of the Department Chair Task Force” was obtained by the RN&R. The task force found that while most universities offer department chairs 12-month contracts, only 27 percent of UNR chairs had such contracts.
Heather Hardy, who served on that task force and is now the new provost, said last week, “Part of the argument for a 12-month contract is that it is the norm in our peers [other universities] and so we can’t compete.”
The task force recommended 12-month contracts for department chairs, not as a requirement but as an option for both the chair and the dean. “Not all chairs would necessarily want 12-month contracts,” she said.
Based on the task force recommendations, Marc Johnson as provost did provide longer contracts to some department chairs, Hardy said.
Whether that was appropriate in a period when faculty members were taking bad hits can still be argued, but that at any rate was the reasoning. Still, it does not satisfy many of the complaints being voiced on campus.
The remedy for a lot of those complaints can’t necessarily come from campus administrators. For instance, Cooperative Extension needs support from the Nevada Legislature because the Board of Regents has declined to reinforce its budget.
“I have personally been treated well over the years, and do not have much of an argument for my situation,” Miller said. “However, the younger faculty are making much less money than I am, but are taking a correspondingly higher percentage cut.”