|Updated: 7/04/2012 2:27 pm
||Published: 7/04/2012 2:24 pm
CONWAY, Ark. (AP) - For years, the University of Central Arkansas has put off giving professors pay raises while the struggling university tried to For years, the University of Central Arkansas has put off giving professors pay raises while the struggling university tried to climb out of fiscal distress, officials said. climb out of fiscal distress, officials said. Now, just as UCA is on the cusp of recovery, faculty members are starting to think about leaving unless they get pay raises soon.
"It hasn't happened yet, but it's going to begin to directly impact students as they show up and see their favorite professors are gone," UCA Faculty Senate President Kevin Browne said.
Faculty pay has taken the brunt of UCA's efforts to balance its budget and climb out of fiscal mess brought on by years of prior mismanagement, Browne said.
In 2008, after years of over-extending itself by buying property out-of-pocket, UCA found itself struggling to pay its bills month to month without borrowing, President Tom Courtway said.
"We spent more than we took in for a period of years," he said. "Other times, we took money in the checking account and paid for capital expenditures, and we just shouldn't have done it."
This May, UCA's Board of Trustees approved raising the university's tuition rate and fees to pay for critical needs, rising costs and a salary adjustment for Courtway, who took over as interim president in September and became president in December. But the 2.08 percent tuition hike doesn't cover faculty or staff cost-of-living or merit raises, officials said. Extra money from the state, about $589,000, wouldn't cover costs for a pay raise - a 1 percent bonus for faculty and staff would cost the university about $850,000, Courtway said.
"Our faculty is excellent," Courtway said, adding that he wanted to give raises. "They are great teachers. We don't want to lose our faculty - that's something that's essential."
Despite the money problems, UCA employees did see one pay raise. Classified employees received a 2 percent pay increase last year, and nonclassified employees, which includes professors, last saw a pay increase in 2010 at 2.25 percent, wrote Graham Gillis, associate vice president of human resources, in an email. Browne said faculty so far have been patient, but he doesn't believe that can last. Inflation during the recession has meant one raise in four years isn't keeping up, he said.
"There is a limit to our idealism," Browne said. "People are leaving. People are looking (for other jobs)."
UCA's pay is lagging behind other institutions too. At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the average, full-time professor salary for the 2010-2011 year is about $103,600, according to UA records. At UCA, average, full-time professor salary is $78,800 for the same time period, UCA officials confirmed. Average pay among the 16 Southern states that make up the Southern Regional Education Board puts the average regional salary for professors at $84,000 for the 2009-2010 school year, according to a UCA executive summary study for 2011.
In that summary, a survey of faculty at UCA showed faculty showed "...frustration with salary levels as well as inequities and the lack of tangible recognition for exceptional job performance. Responses also address low morale, due in part to these and other salary-related issues."
Total salaries make up about 57 percent of UCA's budget expenditures, according to the fiscal 2013 budget. Courtway said the university doesn't have sufficient funds to pay for an increase in faculty salaries this year unless enrollment increases. Total enrollment has decreased in recent years, but officials hope to see a turnaround, they said.
Currently, raises are not in the budget, Courtway told the Log Cabin Democrat (http://is.gd/gYvTLL).
UCA is trying to rebuild its unrestricted reserves before giving raises, but that fund is expected to fall short of what officials want to see.
The university's goal for its tightest fiscal month, July, is about $14 million, Courtway said. He said estimates show the actual amount in reserves is expected to be about $8.5 million by the end of this month.
At the same time, the state's allotment to its own universities has been flat several years in a row, said Shane Broadway, interim director of the state's higher education department. The state did increase overall pay to UCA by about $311,000 this fiscal year, but health insurance alone went up about $550,000 at UCA. When considering inflation, universities - like UCA - are actually getting less from the state, Broadway said.
What UCA can pay faculty matters because better pay means better teachers, Broadway said.
"Certainly, we want to have the type of faculty our students are looking for," he said.