Regents mixed over proposed 3 percent salary pool

Recommended budget item would enable some raises in next fiscal year

Revenue from increased tuition rates in the next fiscal year would help offset some of the cuts in state funding to the University of Colorado in recent years, administrators told the Board of Regents during last week's meeting at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Among the priorities presented to the board is $11.7 million for a salary pool, representing a 3 percent increase over current pay for faculty and staff, who have not received raises for three years. Such a pool would not equate to across-the-board, uniform raises, but would enable merit pay increases for many. Some members of the board, which will be asked to vote on tuition increases later this spring, expressed reservations about dedicating money to increasing faculty and staff pay.

During an April 8 presentation by Kelly Fox, vice president and chief financial officer, Regent Jim Geddes, R-Sedalia, said he is more interested in seeing data that compares salaries for university employees to workers in the private sector, rather than comparisons with public universities around the country. But he also pointed to North Carolina, a state that is cutting its typically high funding for the University of North Carolina, which is resulting in layoffs and furloughs.

"We're being lobbied to increase a faculty salary pool and the major reason is, if we don't, we'll lose good faculty to other universities," Geddes said. "And here (the University of North Carolina) is going to be releasing a lot of their faculty."

Regent Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, said he understands the need for an increase to the salary pool. He said he mostly hears complaints related to quality of education – large class sizes, wait lists, low availability of academic advising for students.

"I understand we want to keep our best and brightest faculty here, but there will be tough choices to make in the coming weeks," Neguse said. "There are faculty we may very well lose after asking them to share in the sacrifice over the past three years."

Regent Stephen Ludwig, D-Lone Tree, said he's concerned about the message that would be sent to faculty and staff should the board not support the salary pool increase – that individuals are "replaceable like a wing nut."

"If I were an employee who'd gone three years without a raise, I'd start looking," Ludwig said.

Chancellors also defended the request for the salary pool increase. Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs said "faculty and staff have been extraordinary" during the funding crisis. "In some respects, 3 percent is a vote of confidence in the value our faculty and staff are providing." She said the amount may not be enough to retain all current faculty and staff.

Chancellor Philip DiStefano of the University of Colorado Boulder said more faculty are seeking positions at other institutions this year than in recent years. He said job listings in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicate there is demand, despite funding woes across the country.

"When we look at the cost of retention and what effect will losing a faculty member have on a department ... I'd much rather keep a faculty member," DiStefano said. "Will 3 percent do it? I think it would."

University of Colorado Denver Chancellor Jerry Wartgow said he used to advocate for early retirement programs as a way of reducing salary costs, but changes in the economy make that strategy obsolete. "You cannot replace people for less – in fact, they cost much more," he said.

Lilly Marks, vice president for health affairs and executive vice chancellor for Anschutz Medical Campus, likened the funding crisis to a patient losing blood.

"Taxes may be higher than people want, the recession may be more prolonged than people want, but the obligation here is the survival of this institution," Marks said. "Have we lost so much blood volume that our very revival is at stake? ... There's very little left to cut."

President Bruce D. Benson also expressed concern about the threat to quality posed by ongoing cuts in state funding. In the state budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 introduced last week at the Capitol by the Join Budget Committee, higher education funding was reduced an additional $36 million, for a total reduction of $188 million. For CU, it means another $13 million cut, totaling $64 million cut since 2009.

"We're pretty lean now and we continue to get lean all the time," Benson said.

In other business at the April 7-8 meeting:

  • Benson made official his recommendation for discontinuance of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at CU-Boulder.

    "I want a stronger journalism education provided at the University of Colorado Boulder," he said. "I'm confident the plan they've come up with will do that."

    The board will vote on the matter at a special meeting set for 1 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at the CU-Boulder East Campus, 4001 Discovery Drive, first floor conference room. Public comment will be taken from 1 to 1:30 p.m.

  • The board heard a presentation on a proposal for a new doctoral degree in engineering and applied science at CU Denver. Regents Tilman "Tillie" Bishop, R-Grand Junction, and Monisha Merchant, D-Lakewood, expressed reservations over adding degree programs during a budget crisis, with Merchant asking that the university consider not approving any new degree programs during the next fiscal year. Provost Rod Nairn and other leaders said they are confident that market demand indicated for the new degree would justify adding the program, which would not require additional funding.
  • The board approved the sale of the former medical campus at East Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard to the Sembler Co., a Florida real estate developer, for $34.8 million. The 30-acre site includes 3 million square feet of existing building space.
  • The board approved the creation of a new volunteer post, alumni adviser to the regents, an effort introduced by Neguse and co-sponsored by Regent Michael Carrigan, D-Denver
  • Ken McConnellogue, associate vice president for university relations, gave a presentation on the CU Outreach website, a resource for local communities and businesses to tap into expert help from the university.
  • The board formally recognized the national championship season by the ski team at CU-Boulder.