Letter to the Editor: Faculty salaries should be raised

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I, and Truman State University faculty members I have communicated with, are pleased with the announcement covered on page one of the Oct. 8 Index that Gov. Jay Nixon will ask the legislature to increase state funding for higher education by 6 percent over that allocated in the last fiscal year. We also are hopeful that President Troy Paino, as indicated in that article, intends to use much of that funding to address the salary inequities Truman’s faculty have lived with since before the turn of the century.

Truman’s faculty, unfortunately, have heard all too many times that equitable salaries for instructors are a priority; however, since at least 2000 we have seen our salaries slip well below that of faculty at our COPLAC peers. As the editorial in the same issue indicates, even our Missouri colleagues at every other state institution of higher learning except Lincoln, an open enrollment school, receive considerably more money for their work. Indeed, full professors at Truman earn a paltry 74.3 percent of what full professors earn at other Missouri state universities, or an average or $72,072 per year compared to $96,975.

The Index editorial notes that “nothing [in the budget process] is ever guaranteed.” Truman State University Faculty understand this all too well.

In the 1990s, after the name change from Northeast Missouri State University to Truman State University, President Russell Warren singled out praise for the faculty as the single most important reason that Truman had become the leading public liberal arts and science institution in Missouri.

Shortly thereafter President Warren announced that the faculty would not receive a salary increase. One reason for this is that the legislature, though heaping praise on Truman State University, abandoned its tacit commitment to fund the liberal arts and science mission. Worse still, the legislature has made the decision to defund all Missouri institutions of higher learning.

This history makes the Index point ominous — why should the students and faculty expect their legislators to change their budgeting priorities and fund Nixon’s proposed budget?

Possibly more alarming is that the administration and board have not done much to rectify the salary disparity facing Truman’s professors although on many occasions President Paino and his predecessors have made comments strikingly similar to Warren’s. In 2000 the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Compensation Ad Hoc Committee reported that Truman’s faculty were well behind compensation for both COPLAC sister schools and other Missouri universities. Nothing was done by the administration then or since to close the salary gap, and the faculty opted not to press for better pay.

Six years ago then Vice President Paino acknowledged what he considered inadequate compensation paid to the faculty. Then he told a leadership forum that the budget was very tight and that this limited what he could do to improve salaries. Moreover, he declared he would have to raise salaries of incoming hires in order to attract new faculty. I, and others in attendance, pointed out the obvious inequity and danger to morale from not increasing the compensation for existing faculty. Yet, as president, he, and the board, have pursued a compression policy whereby new faculty receive, in some cases, almost the same salary as associate professors who have been at Truman for seven or more years. There are full professors at Truman who receive less than 8 thousand more than new faculty in the same department with the same professional obligations.

So where does that leave the faculty at Truman State University? Let me take a lesson from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in April 1963 to illustrate a point. King was in prison for challenging segregation in that city.

During his incarceration by the white power structure, local ministers criticized him for demanding an immediate end to discrimination based on race. His response was to ask how much longer should African Americans have to wait before white supremacists stopped undermining rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.

I do not suggest in any way that faculty salaries at Truman State University rise to the gravity or scope of King’s point about civil rights inequities.

My purpose is to raise the question: in the face of near total inaction by the administration and board to even begin to raise salaries at Truman so that the gap at least begins to rise above the 74.3 percent of what we get compared to faculty at other schools, how much longer are we to wait for action? I suggest that time has run out. What do I mean by that? Throughout history employees have had little recourse but job actions in the face of pay inequities. I propose that Truman State University professors consider what to do to make the administration understand that action must come now, not later, even if that means reallocating monies from the General Fund to do what other campus administrations have done, that is, increase the funding of their faculty as a matter of policy.

Editor’s note: Submitted by history professor Thomas Zoumaras

1 Comment

  1. While this issue is a real one, and surely should be handled, quoting King in this way is inappropriate. There are many historical examples that could be used instead, and indeed it’s not clear that the professor meant anything beyond a group of people being told to wait for something. To use this passage, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, is tone deaf. Equating higher salaries with a dream deferred is not only bizarre, but sends a message to (and about) Truman’s community. In the years since I graduated Truman, I have become increasingly concerned about implicit messages I received there about race and diversity more broadly. Even given the caveat in the text, this letter demonstrates there is still room for growth.

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