The Facts about Faculty and Spending at UVM

Revised 4/22/18

United Academics has long maintained that the core problem with UVM’s finances is priorities, that if UVM moderately adjusted its spending to focus more on education and research and less on secondary concerns like hiring more administrators or various marketing schemes, faculty could be competitively paid, tuition and fees would not have to be constantly increased, and the university, its students, and the society would be better served.  The record strongly suggests that UA’s past successful efforts to commit more money to faculty have in fact coincided with periods of improvement for UVM in terms of student recruitment and reputation. The solution to UVM’s problems is to focus more tightly on academics, on research and teaching; that can be done without raising tuition or letting faculty salaries fall behind nationally.

We do get it: the national “market” and pressures on higher education

Some say our claims are naïve, that we don’t get it about UVM’s situation. Headlines about the dire straits of higher education are common. Enrollments are flat or worse across the Northeast, new competition for out of state students (UVM’s single largest revenue stream) is coming from public universities across the country, recent tax reforms discourage philanthropic giving, and more.

First, it is important to keep this in perspective. UVM is not broke. Some colleges in Vermont and across the country are truly worried about being able to keep the lights on in a few years. UVM is not in that situation. If it were, it would not be planning to raise student fees to pay the debt servicing on an $80 million multipurpose facility. Enrollments and income were up this past year. UVM has strong bond ratings. UVM will still be in existence in a decade, will still be attracting large numbers of students, and will still be paying its bills. 

That said, United Academics fully understands that some change is necessary. Yes, hard choices need to be made. But we think the administration is making the wrong choices. We disagree with the administration about what the changes should be and how they should be decided, and find the alarmist terms they often use to describe the situation to be misleading.

From roughly 2002 to 2010, UVM solved its budget dilemmas by annually increasing enrollments, increasing class sizes, and raising tuition. Every year there was a little more money. That can not be counted on to continue. Enrollments and revenues are likely to remain relatively flat, student teacher ratios are down roughly to where they were in 2002. The question is how we deal with that situation.

Enrollment managers and administrators tend to focus on periods of two or three years into the future, and on what they imagine our immediate competitors for out of state students to be doing, which then leads to the amenities treadmill in higher ed. This causes them to focus more on factors that influence attractiveness to potential students among schools that, at the moment, have similar reputations: when a student has narrowed their choices to a few similar colleges, things like a better cafeteria or sports facility indeed might swing them towards one school or another. Administrators are thus pressured to spend money on things that might influence short term marketability rather than the longer term, but no less real, factor of reputation. Administrators are prone to look at salary increases or small scholarly programs, which build in costs extending out into the long-term future, as limitations on their discretion, rather than an investment in the university’s future viability.

Reputation, however, is not immutable, and it has real financial impact. Middlebury College charges a higher tuition than St. Michael’s College, not because it has nicer amenities, but because it has a more prestigious reputation. Reputations are interlinked with faculty salaries. It is a common experience for faculty at UVM to lose colleagues because they are offered higher pay at more prestigious institutions. Assistant professors especially, but most faculty at some point, scan the job postings on a regular basis, notice salary differences between schools, and sometimes apply elsewhere. When UVM faculty salaries declined relative to other schools in the 1990s, the decline in UVM’s overall reputation was noticeable.

United Academics, formed in the early 2000s to reverse that decline, is dedicated to maintaining the quality of teaching and research at UVM, ensuring that UVM remains valuable to students and the larger community. Our proposals, over the bargaining table and publicly, are fiscally sustainable and safe guard UVM's reputation and its long term viability. The administration is under pressure to pursue policies that may cause a few metrics to look good next year, but over the long term could drag us down into another spiral of decline. 

How much is really at stake? Faculty salaries in context

During the process of mediation in the Fall of 2017, it looked like the distance between both sides might be less than a one percent salary increase. Our estimate of the cost of a one percent raise is about $600,000. With 44.2% fringe added, that comes to $853,200, similar to the administration’s estimate of $900,000. Whatever number you use, it is not a significant expense in the context of UVM’s general fund revenue budget of $350 million.

That $853,200, it is true, extends out into the future indefinitely. Yet every year, the administration chooses to spend money on pursuits like the following:

  • $1.6 million on a branding consultant
  • $3 million on an attention-grabbing but not essential enclosed bridge between the library and a student dorm
  • the $6 million strategic investment fund available to the Provost for discretionary special projects
  • the $80 million the administration is expecting to spend on a multipurpose facility, for which the administration proposes to increase student fees to pay for the financing on the borrowing necessary for the project. 
  • the $1 million annual cost of salary and fringe for three Vice Presidents

These are all discretionary expenses whose necessity is hardly iron clad, and they are just a few of the many expenses the University could take a look at before raising tuition and reducing faculty. Although the administration pleads that that $1.6 million for a branding consultant or the $6 million strategic investment fund are “one time” funds that should not be applied to ongoing expenses like faculty pay, in most cases those funds come from the same sources – largely tuition – that faculty pay comes from.

Quality teaching and research are the university’s primary mission. The administration can easily find the very modest amount necessary to support this mission, while getting off the amenities treadmill and increasing UVM's academic reputation over the long term.

The “deficit” in the College of Arts and Sciences is a policy choice: regarding the IBB budget model

Budget models do not make cuts, administrators do. The fiduciary responsibility for UVM’s budget rests with President Tom Sullivan and the Board of Trustees. If one college is forced to reduce faculty while others are hiring, that is because central administration has chosen to make it that way. In the long view, the administration’s claim that the “ultimate budget decisions and priorities are made at the individual local budget unit” is a crude oversimplification at best.

This is not an abstract point. The hand of central administration is visible throughout the details of what they call their “decentralized” budget model, Incentive Based Budgeting, or IBB. To take just one of many examples, under IBB the College of Arts and Sciences gets less money per student than any of the other colleges. Given the thousands of students enrolled in CAS any given semester, this makes quite a difference in funding. Maybe it’s a good idea to do it that way, maybe not, but in any case, those multipliers represent a policy choice on the part of Provost Rosowsky and President Sullivan. The $40 million subvention fund is another example, a case where tuition funds flow directly into the hands of Provost Rosowsky instead of the colleges.

The administration has the power to change the situation. Legally, President Sullivan has the power to reallocate funds tomorrow. During the development of the IBB model, central administration regularly promised that the model would not be not fixed in stone, that the model could and would be adjusted as needs arose. Discussions are underway for revisions of IBB for the coming year. 

When the administration implies that a competitive salary increase might increase deficits and the need for layoffs, they are engaging in a sleight of hand where their own short term policy choices are presented as if they were the product of some invisible force. If the College of Arts and Sciences faces cuts, it is because Tom Sullivan is making them necessary.

United Academics supports faculty and students in all colleges. It does not try to dictate specific policy choices beyond advocating that faculty as a whole play a significant role in making those choices. Perhaps it is a good idea to downsize the liberal arts at UVM, perhaps it is not. But it is a policy choice, not an act of nature, and reasonable raises for faculty, in the larger picture, have no substantial direct impact on it. The administration is stalling on salary because they can, not because they have to.

How UVM Faculty Salaries compare

Thanks to the formation of United Academics in 2001, UVM average faculty salaries have risen from where they had fallen to in the previous decade -- the bottom quintile of public research universities — to somewhere closer to the middle. The administration’s salary proposals threaten to reverse the trend, pushing UVM down in national averages, hurting our national standing, our ability to hire and retain excellent faculty, and risk putting us on a path towards declining reputation and declining enrollments.

No serious analysis of the place of UVM’s wage structure can rely on a single point of comparison. Using the AAUP’s database of average salaries in the Doctoral 1 category, between 2004 and 2011, UVM’s average salaries rose from 84% of average in 2004, to 95% of average in 2011, and fell to 92% in 2016. UVM’s own 2017 Sourcebook (p. 27; see below) compares salaries with twenty “track institutions” with whom UVM compares itself, some wealthier and some poorer. On that chart, UVM full professors are 19% below average, associate professors 11% below average, assistants 14% below average.

Another database, the Oklahoma State Faculty Salary Survey is principally valuable because it allows comparison by discipline. That is why on the following page of UVM’s own Sourcebook (below), the administration uses OSU to compare UVM average salaries within colleges: there it is revealed that full professors are below average in all colleges, associates are below average in most colleges, and assistants are slightly above average in most colleges.

In its press releases and public statements in the fall of 2017, UVM’s administration claimed UVM average faculty salaries were at 104% of national average in the OSU survey. This is crude cherry picking, not analysis. While we can not determine how UVM came up with the 104% figure when its own publicly available data suggest otherwise, in any case, UVM does not fit well within the group of 41 institutions included in the OSU survey. It is among the most prestigious schools included in the OSU sample. Indeed, over half of the institutions listed are more than 100 places below UVM in national rank, and not one of our official track institutions is included in the compilation. (See below.) Unless UVM wants its reputation and its ability to attract students to plummet, its salaries should be well above average in the OSU survey. 

Perhaps the most appropriate comparison, however, is between UVM and those schools to which we lose the most students.  Table 6 lists the five institutions identified by UVM’s administration that our out-of-state admitted applicants -- our “bread and butter” -- attend most often, when they do not choose to come to UVM.  Here we earn thousands of dollars less in salary and in, some cases, tens of thousands less when benefits are considered.  Indeed, our salary averages about 83% of this group, rising to 83.7% when benefits are added.

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*Source: UVM Office of Enrollment Management.  "Knowing Our Competitors," p. 4. 2018  https://www.uvm.edu/sites/default/files/media/Knowing_Our_Competitors_2018_0.pdf 

The larger picture is that UVM serves Vermont and survives by being a world class institution, and that requires competitive salaries for faculty. UVM’s first few contracts involved annual raises of 4.5% or better, and in 2008-2011 contract the annual raises were 5% per year. Those raises did not cause calamity. On the contrary, UVM’s national standing and financial health generally improved. UA’s current proposals are smaller, taking into account plateaued enrollments and the need to provide substantial financial aid to many students. But it is in the long term interest of UVM to not return to the spiral of decline of the 1990s. We do not apologize for wanting to remain average.

Faculty Raises do not Necessitate Tuition HIkes

Over the last decade, as the charts below show, both tuition and administrative salaries have increased at a much faster rate (4.73% and 7.08% annually) than faculty salaries (4.46 annually, this increase largely owed not to gains in faculty pay but an increase in the number of faculty needed for rising numbers of students). As the charts also show, UVM has also been spending ever more money in areas outside the core academic mission: only $1 out of every $3 spent from the operating budget funding faculty engaged in instruction and research.

Our proposals aim to move the administration to re-prioritize education; if UVM were to devote the same share of its operating budget to the educational mission as our peers do, we would net nearly $12 million annually--to improve lecturer conditions, replace retiring senior professors with a new generation of assistant professors, fund the entire curriculum and not just administrative pet projects, AND give students some tuition relief. Students and  lecturers--plus departments trying to deliver academic programs with too few professors--have been paying for this administrative party. Our proposals aim simply to get the priorities straight. 

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Conclusion: It’s about more than wages

When UVM’s administration says that administrative spending and salaries are on par with other universities across the country, they are mostly correct. Non-academic spending has grown and spending on tenure-track faculty has become an ever-smaller percentage of spending nationwide. That’s a key part of the big picture. The AAUP (the organization which supports academic freedom and the tenure system at all universities in the U.S.), recently filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit regarding a case about faculty bargaining rights. The brief noted that,

between 1976 and 2015, the number of full-time executives and managers in higher education grew by 140 percent, while the number of full-time and tenure-track positions has plummeted, with lower-wage non-tenure track faculty making up 70 percent of all faculty positions. This is nearly the reverse of the proportions in 1969, when 78 percent of faculty positions were tenured and tenure-track. From 1976 to 2011, the number of full-time non-faculty professional positions increased by 366 percent overall, with growth of 558 percent in that category at private institutions.

These are long-term trends, they are nationwide, and they are evident at UVM. Can United Academics change those long-term trends overnight? No. But the union, as a representative of all faculty, is in a unique position to speak to the long term reputation and viability of UVM. Top level administrators are rarely in the job longer than five years. Many faculty have been, and expect to continue at UVM, for decades.  By bringing together the experiences and insights of faculty, we can contribute to the governance of UVM while taking account of long-term trends, of the big picture, instead of focusing on the two or three year windows that consume the interests of central administration.

In a commentary in 2014, during our last contract negotiations, UVM Prof. of History Felicia Kornbluh wrote:

What is on the table here is far more than salaries and other monetary benefits. The most significant points of disagreement between United Academics and senior UVM administrators are philosophical and moral: How do we understand what a university is, and is for? Who does it serve? How will it preserve, and even strengthen, its educational mission? How can it better serve the state of Vermont, and the world beyond Vermont as well? And how can the University of Vermont serve as a model to the state and the nation of a workplace that really works – a humane and welcoming environment for students, staff members, faculty, and community members?

“Elite administrators,” she continued, “have repeatedly expressed their sense that students are a source of financial resources for the institution. The administrative rhetoric at UVM has become one of ‘entrepreneurship,’ in which the focus of the university should be revenue maximization, not civic responsibility.”

The administration’s current policies continue to reflect that blinkered and short term way of thinking: maximize revenue by squeezing faculty salaries and replacing tenure line research faculty with larger classes and easily disposable lecturers, focusing on the short term and while hoping that marketing tricks can replace educational quality as a way to attract tuition paying students.

United Academics’ proposals are modest, fiscally sustainable, and in the long term interests of the university, its students, and the citizens of the State of Vermont. We call upon UVM’s administration to negotiate accordingly.

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