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Friday August 12th

'On everyone's mind': Data shows UNC faculty salaries fall behind peer universities

Chair of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer (left) listens as UNC Police Chief David Perry (right) speaks during a Faculty Executive Committee Meeting in South Building on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Perry emphasizes the need for the police force to build a rapport with their community.
Buy Photos Chair of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer (left) listens as UNC Police Chief David Perry (right) speaks during a Faculty Executive Committee Meeting in South Building on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Perry emphasizes the need for the police force to build a rapport with their community.

Full professors at UNC earn about $19,000 less on average than faculty at peer institutions, according to data presented to the Faculty Council in December. 

The salary inequities are also present for associate and assistant professors. And with no new budget from the North CarolinaGeneral Assembly, the University is currently unable to give raises to faculty. 

The data shows that, compared to peer institutions, associate professors earn $16,000 less and assistant professors make $3,000 less.

Lloyd Kramer, the interim chairperson of the faculty, said it is important to keep in mind that the data includes all faculty, including those from the higher-paid graduate positions.

“In 2008 to 2009, we were slightly above our peers, but this has flattened out and the gap has grown with our peers to more than $20,000,” Kramer said. “Again, these numbers would be lower if they were just from the Arts & Sciences; they would be higher if they were just the medical, business or law school.“

Faculty raises 

Bob Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost, said his office is usually outlining the process for providing raises to faculty and staff at this time of the year. 

“This year, because we don’t have an approved budget, and there are no new state resources to put into our raise pool, we have no outline as of yet for this year,” Blouin said.

He said the university system advocates to the state legislature on behalf of its 16 universities of what salaries they feel are appropriate for university faculty.

Lachonya Williams, assistant provost for academic personnel, said the state also provides guidelines for distributing salary increases.

“Those criteria can be different from year to year,” Williams said. “In some instances, there may be base salaries increases, one-time bonuses or some combination of the two. Each year, the process and criteria can look a little bit different.”

These raises, Blouin said, can be based on both merit and non-merit factors.

“Most years, there is a component of merit to this,” Executive Vice Provost Ron Strauss said. “An administrator, department chair, division chief, will have the opportunity to evaluate the work of that faculty member and try to peg some part of their increase to their performance and accomplishments.”

Salary compression 

Strauss said UNC is in competition with other institutions such as University of Michigan, University of Virginia and Duke University for talented faculty — but a lack of resources makes this a challenge.

In order to recruit new faculty, Blouin said the University has to hire at or above market value. But this can often lead to salary compression, where younger, assistant-level professors may have salaries at or above the level of more senior faculty.

“Compression is a major issue for us," Blouin said. "It’s on everyone’s mind to be honest. There’s certain worry about the existing faculty who worry about fairness. It’s a fair criticism, but it is a dilemma. If we don’t offer competitive salaries for our junior faculty, we won’t get them. We won’t get the faculty we believe this University deserves.”

Blouin said he hopes the University could both hire faculty at their market value and reward existing professors based on their own preference and value.

“So that’s a really big problem for us, and it’s becoming a bigger problem,” Blouin said. 

He said increased student enrollment and lack of funding for new faculty puts increased pressure on existing professors having to deal with more tasks and students.

This issue, Kramer said, is one that departments across UNC and the system struggle with, especially in the history department that he formerly chaired.

“This is not a healthy situation for the future,” Kramer said. “All departments are lacking the stream of new faculty that will be the foundation for the future. The salary problem is affecting the long-term health of departments as well as the present morale of faculty.”

Brent Wissick, who has been a music professor since 1982, said he has seen salary improvements over the years based on the status of the state legislature. But he said more work is still needed.

“I have watched colleagues through the decades be occasionally lured away by other salary offers at either state or private institutions,” Wissick said. “And that concerns me because I don’t ever want to see the excellence of our faculty both for research and teaching, be diminished at all."

Inequalities in pay 

Strauss said the difficulty that comes with meeting faculty’s offers from other institutions is that it creates inequalities within a department.

“Some chairs are really resistant to creating those inequities, but the alternative is to lose the faculty member,” Strauss said. 

Despite the costs of offering retention to a faculty member, he said it is almost always better to try to entice the faculty member to stay.  

“There’s a big investment in starting that person up and seeing their performance," Strauss said. "We know that they’re good or they wouldn’t even be still here.”

Blouin said the concern of some departments making more money than others is just the reality of the marketplace. 

“Our goal has not necessarily been to achieve parity across all of our departments and schools but rather to be competitive with our peers across the individual disciplines at our peer institutions,” Blouin said. “It’s the market that has the ultimate influence. That is not a value judgment on any of the disciplines. Not one is necessarily more important or valuable than the other.” 

Recent studies conducted by the Committee on the Status of Women and the Office of Institutional Research & Assessment pointed out that UNC may have inequities among the faculty rank of women and people of color.

“In the '90s, the situation for women was not very good," Wissick, who has been a member of the Committee on the Status of Women for several years, said. "It was disturbingly poor. It’s gotten better with the efforts of the administration and the committee, but it's still not good enough yet."

He said there have been some differences in perceptions of the studies but he said he has faith that the administration is working to solve the issues. 

“If you look at full professors, there are a lot more white males in those roles generally,” Strauss said. “If you look at our assistant professors, you find a more diverse set of faculty. It might look like it is a payment or salary equity issue but in truth, it is a bit of a cohort issue.”

Blouin said addressing inequities is one of the priorities of his office.

“It is a goal of the Provost office to do a deep-dive on the issue of both gender and racial salary inequity, if it exists,” Blouin said. “It is my hope that over the next three years, we do our very best as an institution to correct that where appropriate.”

Blouin said he hopes that despite the present salary issues, faculty members will remember the great things UNC has to offer.

Kramer said increased funding from the state has to address the salary crisis.

“There needs to be a very large increase in state allocations for faculty salaries,” Kramer said. “It needs to be given in a way that allows department chairs to have great flexibility in identifying those who have suffered the most from compression. It can’t just be across the board. There’s not enough private money to do it.”

Willis Whichard, a UNC alumnus who was a member of the state legislature when the Board of Governors was established in the 1970s, said the issue of salaries has been a concern for a long time.

“Even the attractions of living in Chapel Hill and being a part of a world class public university cannot keep people,” Whichard said. “It’s a perennial problem.”

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