Portland State is faced with tough financial times, as is the entire Oregon University System, and a limited budget means that difficult decisions about the university’s priorities have to be made.
However, there is one priority that must be at the top of the list: investing in talented professors who are engaged with the university and dedicated to improving the student experience at PSU. There is no better way to make this investment than paying professors at a fair and competitive rate.
Since Sept. 30, approximately two-thirds of Portland State’s faculty have been teaching without a contract.
The professors have not had a pay raise since a January 2003 pay freeze. Since the freeze ended in July, the faculty union, the American Association of University Professors, is saying it is finally time for Portland State’s professors to be paid what they deserve.
The union and the university administration, however, are deadlocked on a new contract deal, saying that the university’s initial offer of a 3 percent immediate raise and 2.25 percent next year is just not enough. The university administration has said that while they support paying faculty more, a large pay increase in a heavy burden in time when the university is facing an overall budget crisis.
Portland State has invested much time and resources in recent years towards building a reputation for PSU that is respected and competitive with other universities in the state and beyond. The university has built new buildings, created new programs, launched an aggressive new marketing campaign and a massive fund-raising drive.
If the university is truly committed to improving its reputation, it must be able to offer students a high-quality faculty that can provide them with a top-notch education. To accomplish this goal the university simply must pay faculty better, even if it means making tough sacrifices in other areas.
Students want more out of their education than professors who merely show up to class. They want professors who will build relationships with them and inspire them. When the university relies on literally hundreds of adjunct professors and pays full-time faculty poorly, it sends a message to students that the university is not truly invested in providing them with the educational experience they need.
Paying professors poorly leaves PSU vulnerable to losing its brightest minds to other universities able to lure them away with a heftier check. The average professor pay at Portland State is in the lowest 10 percent in the nation. As a direct result, Portland State’s best professors are leaving in droves. As professors leave, they take the university’s reputation and research funding with them.
For the professors that remain, low pay or little hope of achieving a tenured position provides a disincentive for them to put their time and energy into educating students as best they can.
Portland State will continue to be faced with difficult budget decisions as the university tries to subsist within its means, but faculty pay is one corner PSU simply cannot afford to cut.