Faculty Senate passes resolution to raise compensation citing high health care costs

Media Credit: Meredith Roaten | Hatchet Photographer

Tyler Anbinder, a professor of history and a member of the appointment, salary and promotion policies committee on the Faculty Senate, co-authored a resolution urging officials to increase faculty members' compensation.

The Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution Friday urging officials to increase faculty compensation to the median of professors’ pay at GW’s peer institutions.

The resolution asks administrators and the Board of Trustees to raise compensation for all levels of faculty for next academic year. It follows two similar resolutions passed in May 2014 and October 2015 that called for an increase in the amount spent on employees’ benefits, like health care, but the new resolution addresses both salary and benefits.

Total compensation for full professors at GW is $168,800 on average, while associate and assistant professors earn an average of $140,900 and $111,900, respectively. All are lower than the median compensation at market basket universities, according to data from the American Association of University Professors.

Tyler Anbinder, a professor of history and a member of the appointment, salary and promotion policies committee on the Faculty Senate, co-authored the resolution with law professor Miriam Galston and presented it at Friday’s meeting.

If I was dictator and I could just decide on my own, I’d say benefit needs to go up more than the compensation needs to go up.

Anbinder said addressing shortages in total compensation, not just salary, is necessary because at least one fifth of compensation is made up of benefits at GW and at all of its peer institutions.

“Both need to go up by more than they’ve been going up before,” Anbinder said in an interview. “If I was dictator and I could just decide on my own, I’d say benefit needs to go up more than the compensation needs to go up.”

The AAUP compensation data in the resolution showed that benefits spending for all faculty levels is “at or near the bottom of the ranking” among peer institutions, according to the resolution. The spending is especially low for assistant professors, ranking 16th out of 19 schools.

University President Steven Knapp said at the meeting that in light of financial pressures, like decreases in net tuition revenue for the University, the Board of Trustees has been consistent in raising faculty compensation by about 3 percent each year for the past few years, above the rate of inflation. Knapp said the board would consider a passing resolution when determining next year’s budget.

Administrators will review the resolution and eventually pass it to the Board of Trustees. The budget will be finalized at the May board meeting.

“I’m not going to make a prediction on what they’ll do this year, but what I can tell you is that they will be aware of the faculty’s concern about this one way or the other, and they will certainly take that into account,” Knapp said.

Anbinder and other faculty members said Knapp should take a hard stance with the Board of Trustees and ask them to raise compensation above the yearly 3 percent standard. Knapp said faculty concerns would be a part of conversations, but that the board committee would have the final say on how much they raise compensation.

“Our trustees are very, very independent-minded when it comes to recommendations on a whole range of issues,” Knapp said. “They’re not overly influenced by the opinions of the administration.”

Our trustees are very, very independent-minded when it comes to recommendations on a whole range of issues.

Phil Wirtz, a professor of decision sciences and psychology, said at the meeting that he and other members of the committee who wrote the resolution were concerned that the Board of Trustees views senate resolutions as “faculty lining its own pockets at the expense at the institution.”

Knapp said that this is not his view, and that he, the board and other administrators take faculty’s concerns about benefits seriously.

“I’m very concerned about it and sympathetic with the whole issue,” he said. “We know that we’re not where we want to be in salary, I’d like to see us at the top of every one of those charts. I don’t look at this as a matter of whining, and I don’t think the board does.”

Benefits at GW have been a major point of contention for faculty and staff over the past few years. In 2014, administrators rolled back tuition benefits for staff and in 2016, cut down to just two health care plans for employees – a move members of a University committee said they strongly opposed.

The resolution passed Friday also asks administrators to take into account the cost of living in D.C. compared to cost of living in cities where peer universities are located. For example, a GW professor earns 4 percent more in total compensation than at the University of Miami, but the cost of living in D.C. is 24 percent higher than in Miami.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate physics professor and a member of the Faculty Senate, said at the meeting that low compensation has also affected recruiting. He said that he has met with multiple potential hires who declined job offers in his department because they were put off by GW’s low compensation.

“For the people who rejected our offer, and those who eventually accepted our offer, the compensation at GW was a major issue, and it was the total compensation,” Griesshammer said. “People coming from Europe, people coming from other parts of the United States know that it’s expensive to get healthcare, and Washington in particular is expensive.”

People coming from other parts of the United States know that it’s expensive to get healthcare, and Washington in particular is expensive.

Increasing spending on salaries could be particularly difficult now – departments in the central administration are facing a series of annual 3 to 5 budget cuts each fiscal year until 2020 that began last spring. But Anbinder said that increasing benefits spending by an extra fifth of a percent would make a “big difference” to employees and would cost the University about $1 million per year for five years, as long as they were willing to make spending cuts in other areas like central administrative hiring and construction.

“The University is deciding to spend its money on other things,” he said. “Having worked here for 24 years, I could see lots of places where we could save money where we are not saving it now.”

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