Higher paying jobs lure away PSU faculty and staff

    Terrel Rhodes was not looking for another job, but when the Portland State administrator was contacted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, he knew it was time to try something different.

    Rhodes, the vice provost for curriculum and undergraduate studies at PSU, said after he announced to Provost Roy Koch his desire to leave, Koch told him that there might be a way to increase Rhodes’ salary as an incentive for him to remain at PSU. Rhodes said what Koch would have been able to offer was nowhere near what he will be making in his new position as vice president for quality, curriculum, and assessment at the AAC&U in Washington, D.C.

    Along with Rhodes, three other administrators have vacated their positions in the last year, including Mike Driscoll, former vice provost for academic personnel and budget, Doug Samuels, former vice provost for student affairs, and Robert Sylvester, who resigned as dean of fine and performing arts. Additionally, Residence Life Director Don Yackley will be leaving PSU within the month.

    Koch said the administrators’ departure is not a trend, but merely a matter of professionally motivated administrators. Both Rhodes and Driscoll left for more prestigious positions, with Driscoll becoming the provost at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “The  opportunities for advancement are limited in this organization,” Koch said. “The only way for Mike [Driscoll] to progress here would be to have my position.”

    Koch does not believe that Driscoll’s and Rhodes’ departures were motivated by financial issues. “In these two cases, I don’t think salary was an issue,” he said. “That’s the way the world works. People get better job offers and move on.”

    Rhodes agreed that his reason for leaving was not motivated by salary, but said that if the university would have been able to offer a competitive salary, he would have put a lot more thought into leaving. Rhodes also said that while his reason for leaving was not influenced by money, he understands that for other administrators and faculty it might be.

    ”People just say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to go where the money is,'” Rhodes said.

    Administrator salaries range from around $100,000 for the vice provost of student affairs, to $221,000 for the PSU president.

    ”In general these salaries are less than 90 percent of the median salaries for people of these positions at similar universities,” Koch said. Similar universities, according to Koch, are doctoral-granting institutions, which also include such universities as Stanford and Harvard.

    ”It would be my objective to at least pay the median [salary], but that’s far off,” Koch said.

    PSU is not alone in these issues, according to Koch, who said that other Oregon universities have many  of the same financial troubles as PSU.

    Koch said state appropriations, tuition funding for universities, have not increased since 1999-2000. He said that with tuition and fees being raised to $4,737, up 5 percent from last year, it is “unfortunate” that many of these administrators decided to leave around the same time. He said that it reflects highly on the university that these individuals are moving into such prestigious positions.

    Along with administrator salaries, faculty pay has been an issue within the university, after PSU faculty endured a series of salary debates with the administration last fall. PSU faculty are paid among the lowest 10 percent of their peers, according to the American Association of University Professors.

    Koch said the fact that the university cannot afford to give faculty larger raises is a reason they cannot pay many administrators more competitive salaries. “In order to give larger raises we need more money,” he said. “We don’t think it would be the right thing to do to give larger raises to administrators when we can’t afford to give faculty higher raises.”

    President Daniel Bernstine testified in March 2005 to the Education Subcommittee of the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee that he was “committed to mitigating the disinvestment in faculty salaries that we have seen in recent years.”

    The administration initially offered a 3 percent raise for faculty, which was subsequently denied by the union. Eventually it was agreed on that faculty would receive a 6 percent raise, effective until February of this year.

    Elisabeth Ceppi, recently tenured professor in the department of English, said that nothing was resolved in the fall disputes. She pointed out that a 6 percent increase until February is the same as a 3 percent increase for the whole year, but since “people were so desperate,” they agreed to the raise.

    The raise had the highest no-count of any faculty contract in the university’s history, but 86 percent still voted in favor of the salary increase.

    Ceppi believes that the university takes advantage of its faculty, and because of the lack of demand for professors around the country she said that most professors, even tenured ones, are stuck in Portland. “They can’t just pick up and move somewhere,” she said. “I firmly believe PSU should not be exploiting that fact, but they are.”

    When Ceppi, who currently makes $47,000 a year, has asked for a pay increase in the past she has been told that she should look for positions at other institutions that can afford to pay more. She said that the university is aware that demand for professors around the country is so low, and they use this knowledge as their trump card.

    ”Encouraging them to get another job in this market? That’s crazy,” she said. “When I ask them, ‘Why don’t you pay us more?’ I wanted to make someone say to me, ‘Because we can.'”

    Koch said the state Legislature is a reason for the stagnant funds flowing into the university. Rhodes agrees that Oregon, which he called bipolar and short-sighted, does not support higher education, and that “Oregonians tend to vote down anything that looks like a tax increase.” He said that the key to Oregon’s economy and future is an educated population. “It’s funding a quality of life, there is a cost to it,” Rhodes said.

    ”It’s clearly not a goal [of the administration] to increase salaries,” Ceppi said. She said that the university meets other goals such as designing a new logo, or sending President Bernstine on many overseas trips.

    ”[Salaries] are high on their talking points, but it’s not getting done,” she said. “That’s PSU’s problem, basically a systemic and systematic devaluation of faculty and thus the students.”

    Rhodes said that there are other things the university has to spend money on and that “faculty salaries are not everything.” He said that other states have a capitol budget for public buildings, but Oregon instead issues bonds for construction of new buildings that the university will have to eventually pay off.

    ”On the whole, the university does a good job of leveraging whatever resources it gets,” Rhodes said.

    The issue of competitive salaries is important to the university, according to Koch. “We’re all concerned about the salary situation for faculty,” he said.

    Ceppi said that someone who makes as much as university administrators cannot know what it is like to make significantly less.

    ”If someone is making $100,000 they can talk all they want. They’re not worried about paying their bills, they’re worried about what expensive car to buy,” she said.