Faculty task force raises concerns about wages, benefits

A task force of faculty members recommends that the faculty senate and University administration focus more on faculty concerns.

The Senate Executive Committee listened to a report from Randy McCarthy and Nicholas Burbules, leaders of the SEC Task Force on Faculty Issues and Concerns, as well as SEC member Joyce Tolliver.

McCarthy and Burbules, who previously had disagreements regarding the unionization of faculty on the Urbana campus, worked together to head the task force, which met over the summer to compose the report.

Burbules called the report “a set of concrete, realistic, actionable items.” The report addressed many concerns that faculty face across campus including salary, benefits and tenure review.

The report comes shortly after the release of Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s strategic initiative for the Urbana campus, which includes a plan to hire 500 new faculty members over the next five to seven years. The report cites the recent American Association of University Professors’ ranking of faculty salaries, which says the Urbana campus is 17th among four-year public universities for full professors, 43rd for associate professors and 10th for assistant professors.

Barbara Wilson, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, was at the SEC meeting in place of Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, who were both traveling. Wilson said hiring the additional faculty members is a “work in progress that is going a little slower than expected, but it is making some progress.”

She identified the three clusters that the University will start hiring faculty in: health and wellness, social equality and cultural understanding, and energy and the environment. The plan has six clusters total, and Wilson said the hires in the other clusters will be addressed in later years.

McCarthy and Burbules said the lower compensation rates are a concern for faculty members, and in order to address this problem, they proposed the creation of a Compensation Review Committee. The committee would analyze trends in salaries and compare the University employees’ total compensation with its peer institutions.

The report said the University would need $10 million to equal the compensation level of its peer institutions, in addition to the amount of money to keep faculty compensation at the new level.

In addition to the faculty concerns about salary, faculty members also have to deal with uncertainty in retirement benefits.

Addressing the state pension crisis, the task force recommended the six-point plan proposed by the University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs that had been proposed by University professors in March.

“It’s the best of a range of bad options,” Burbules said, adding that the task force and the SEC should be open to other proposals.

The recommendations were made to the chancellor and provost as well as the SEC and different senate committees.

McCarthy said the University needs to upgrade its facilities in order to maintain a healthy campus — a recommendation that would include a one-time cost of $213 million, in addition to $43 million annually. The report explains that better facilities could help attract new faculty and students in that the physical appearance of the campus is the “public face” to students, parents, alumni and donors.

Tolliver, a member of the task force, said there needs to be a review of the tenure system on campus and more consistency between the way academic units review faculty.

The task force also noted that many faculty members don’t realize the extent of benefits they receive from the University. In order to combat a lack of awareness, the report said the senate and administration should work to raise faculty knowledge of benefits.

Wilson said since the report had just been released, the chancellor and provost had not yet had a chance to look over the report, but she called it “doable.” She said Wise and Adesida are “very enthusiastic about looking forward and figuring out ways to continue to enhance well-being of our faculty.”

SEC unanimously recommended the report to the senate, which will receive a similar report from Tolliver, Burbules and McCarthy at the meeting on Monday.

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.