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MTU Senate: Tech salaries, benefits should be raised

Tech salaries, benefits should be raised

HOUGHTON — A Michigan Technological University Senate resolution is calling for an immediate cost-of-living raise for staff and faculty, as well as other changes to improve benefits.

The Senate passed the resolution earlier this month to explain the importance of the issue to administration members, many of whom are new to the university, said Senate President Michael Mullins.

“There’s been a long period, maybe 10 to 12 years or more, where compensation – in terms of benefits, salary raises, etc. – has been a lower priority than other items in the budget,” Mullins said. “That’s what the resolution basically is saying, that this is a concern to the faculty and staff.”

The Senate resolution asks for a 2.5% raise for faculty and staff to match the expected cost-of-living increases in Fiscal Year 2020. It also calls for raises to at least match inflation in subsequent years.

The university’s current offer to faculty and staff is a 1.5% raise, the resolution states. The Senate also contrasts that with the 5.5% raise given to President Richard Koubek in August.

Tech employees are seeing effective pay decreases at the same time as Tech is seeing increased revenue, which went up by $2.65 million in Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate said.

“Consistently prioritizing other initiatives at the expense of supporting faculty and staff is demoralizing for faculty and staff, and it is self-defeating for the University,” the resolution states. “Not only does it harm morale and productivity among employees, but it also impacts retention and recruitment of quality faculty and staff; all factors which lessen the competitiveness and resiliency of the institution, and ultimately, the standing of the University.”

Adjusted for inflation, benefit spending at the university dropped by 15.5% between Fiscal Year 2008 and 2019, according to Senate data. Between 2008-09 and 2018-19, non-student employees rose 11.5%, according to university statistics.

Retirement contributions from the university are at a 1:1 match topping out at 7.5%, down 41% from the 12.55% in 2008, according to a 10-year study of compensation at Tech.

The resolution also calls for the university administration to work with the Senate to compile a detailed five-year plan for creating a competitive salary and benefits package for faculty and staff. Goals would be set to keep pace with similar universities.

During the current Senate term, the university should also create a University Benefits Committee tasked with working with the university administration on long-term improvements in benefits planning, the resolution states.

It also asks Tech to investigate and address compensation gaps for underrepresented groups.

In a statement, Tech Chief Financial Officer Sue Kerry said the administration hopes to work with the Senate.

“Ongoing discussions like this are critically important to the well-being of the institution,” she said. “While we don’t necessarily agree on the grounds on which the resolution rests its arguments, we’re pleased we’ve been able to identify common goals through this process and recognize that there are more conversations to be had. We look forward to engaging in continued thoughtful collaboration moving forward.”

Tech’s trends reflect similar issues nationwide, Mullins said. However, relative to its peers, Tech’s salary range is more compressed, he said. While Tech is within about 5% of a peer university at starting rates, full professors are compensated at 10% to 20% lower than peer institutions, Mullins said.

Increasing compensation could help Tech in attracting and retaining employees, Mullins said.

In a university climate survey conducted in 2018, 62% of faculty, 53% of administrators with faculty rank and 50% of staff who responded said they had considered leaving the university. Large portions of those – 41% of faculty, 53% of staff – said it was because of low salary.

“I think the quality of faculty and staff attract students more than a new building or a fancy program,” Mullins said. “The students interact with the faculty, and they want to have faculty members they respect and have confidence in their abilities.”

The average living wage – the amount necessary to meet basic needs – was 4.4% less for a family of four in Houghton County than statewide, according to the Tech compensation study, which looked at the period between 2008 and 2017. However, those statistics relied on federal numbers that likely understated the cost of housing for Tech staff and faculty due to mortgages and the area’s high electric rates, the report said; as a result, cost of living is likely closer to the statewide average than many people assume.

“The decline of benefits and the lack of wage growth is not unique to this university,” the report said. “However, if our goal is to attract and retain top faculty and staff, the total overall compensation package at Michigan Tech is not competitive with many of our peer institutions.”

Unlike Senate proposals, Senate resolutions do not require the administration to take action. Mullins said the choice of a resolution was partially because of a new administration, which came in after most of the period being discussed and has been more responsive to the faculty’s concerns. Mullins said he is looking forward to working with the administration on a longer-term plan that will help recruit and retain employees.

“I think we’re starting to see progress with the new administration to kind of say, okay, we’re going to take this idea of recruitment and retention to heart and make that the emphasis for benefits and competition going forward,” he said. “We don’t want to be competitive with lower-tier schools. We want to be competitive with the schools who are stealing our faculty, our staff.”

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