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University salaries slipping across Arizona

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Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2004 6:01 am

Arizona’s three state universities have dropped again in national salary rankings for schools their size — hitting their lowest levels in five years.

A report to be reviewed by the Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday also shows that 138 faculty resigned in 2003-04. Additional data from the regents shows 142 faculty resigned the previous year.

State university officials call this "brain drain," while the regents describe it as a significant problem.

"It’s a grim problem," said Wendy Miley, a research specialist principal with the University of Arizona.

"We’re at the bottom of our peers," said Lisa Nelson, director of public relations for Northern Arizona University. "That says a lot."

The situation is spelled out in a draft of the "2004 Annual Personnel Report," compiled by the three state universities and board of regents. The report lists employee wages, benefits, turnover and overtime pay for the previous fiscal year, and salary recommendations for the next fiscal year.

The board votes Thursday on whether to send the report to the governor and the Legislature.

Starting in 1996, the regents, who govern the state university system, began recommending that faculty salaries be raised to national averages to cut down on turnover. The cash-strapped Legislature, which funds a significant portion of university budgets, has voted for small salary increases most years. None have come close to putting state universities’ salaries on par with other institutions.

In 1996, the cost of raising faculty salaries at state universities to meet national averages was estimated at $47.5 million. In 2006, it will cost $135.8 million, and in 2008, it will be $210 million, according to the report.

Rep. Bob Robson, RChandler, said below-average state salaries are a personal frustration for him, and the Legislature needs to make a diligent effort to do all it can. However, lawmakers can’t vote to give nearly $136 million for salary raises at state universities without sacrificing people and programs, he said.

Salary is usually what determines whether faculty members stay at a state university or accept other employment, the report states.

"Many leave because of salary problems," said Kathleen Church, Arizona State University’s vice provost.

Until faculty salaries match national averages, state universities won’t be able to keep or compete for top faculty, according to the report. And the cost of doing that keeps going up.

ASU and the University of Arizona pay lower faculty salaries than 21 of 28 schools in their national peer group. Of the 17 universities in its group, Northern Arizona University pays the lowest salaries.

Faculty turnover has been a significant problem at state universities, according to the report. When professors leave, not only does the university suffer, so does the community, the report states. Departing top scientists and researchers often take millions of dollars in grant money and contracts with them. In Arizona, nearly 40 jobs are created for every $1 million in research contracts or grants to universities.

There is fierce competition for top faculty among universities in the United States and overseas. Last year, each state university lost 40 or more faculty to better offers at other institutions. UA faculty accepted offers from Duke, William and Mary and Rutgers. Others at UA received offers from Australia, Canada, and Europe.

State universities have begun fighting back by reallocating money from other funds to salary increases or to match offers by other institutions. ASU diverted $10 million last year for raises from a fund intended to hire employees, and UA has reallocated $9 million since 1999 to raise salaries. And the Legislature pitched in more than usual last year for salary increases.

State universities saw turnover drop slightly in fiscal 2003-04 compared to 2002-03. Officials said they will continue the practice to retain key faculty members being recruited by other universities.

"It’s better now than it was two years ago," Church said. "We’ve done everything possible to reward the people who are key here."

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