App State Professor to Faculty Senate: Dumbfounded by “Zero Salary Raises”

On November 12, Appalachian State’s Faculty Senate voted 38 to 2 (with one abstention) to approve a resolution calling on the university administration to revisit a budget allocation that had denied faculty UNC Board of Governor-approved merit raises (the background to how the North Carolina legislature failed to give UNC faculty raises while giving them to all other state employees can be read here). The resolution was proposed by Leigh Dunston, who represents the Department of Finance, Banking, and Insurance (where he is executive-in-residence). The following are the remarks he made in support of his resolution. A video recording of the meeting is available here; Dunston’s remarks occur between 37:30 and 58:13).

The point I wanted to discuss today was the decision by our administration to give zero salary raises this budget year.

Now when I first learned of this decision, I was surprised, dumbfounded—I couldn’t believe it. And the reason I was so surprised is that the Zeitgeist and the sense that I have about what’s going on in our country and specifically in our state is that it is an era of almost unprecedented prosperity. That is what we have been told, that is what some if not all [inaudible].

So in an era of almost unprecedented prosperity, the lowest unemployment rate since the 1950s, it turns out that this faculty—this faculty of which I have been a proud member—a proud member—for sixteen, almost seventeen years—this faculty was awarded a zero—zero–salary raise.

Dunston Senate 11-12-2018

This is incomprehensible to me. And so I asked [the Senate Chair] to kindly agree to put this on the agenda and to move it to a place of some prominence, because she, I think, agrees that this is an issue of great importance—that we would have a zero raise in an era of unprecedented prosperity.

The context of this is very interesting. The context of this is that we have had a decade of austerity for ourselves. That’s the context in which, in an era of prosperity, we are awarded zero. That’s the context. So that’s what makes it so discordant and dissonant.

And so I come here, I’m going to hand out, at the end of the little presentation I’m going to hand out a proposed resolution, and the essence of that resolution [see appendix C], which we will all have a chance to discuss, and I hope we will, is that we are going to ask—I am asking you to vote to ask our administration to reallocate money this year to assure that we do not have a zero salary raise. That is the essence of the resolution that I am going to ask you to vote for and that I am advocating.

Now look, I understand that the atmosphere we are in politically is from the standpoint of the [University of North Carolina] Board of Governors of the State of North Carolina—I think I understand—I think I understand quite well—maybe not as well as some of our administrators understand and have to contend with—that there is a squeeze. Even in this era of surplus and prosperity, the people on the legislature and the Board of Governors are squeezing the North Carolina university system financially. We get it. We understand that. We understand that our administrators are under great pressure to make very, very hard decisions.

But for the decision they made, I would sympathize with them. But I can’t sympathize because I find the decision they made so inappropriate. So I can’t sympathize. But I know they are under great, great pressure to make very hard decisions with very limited resources because the people who appropriate those resources and the people who decide where they will go, have decided that this university system should be starved of resources. That’s not their fault. And it certainly is not our fault. It certainly is not our fault.

[…] There is a three-legged stool. We educate students—one leg—we are the faculty, we teach them, and we try to teach them at every level about substantive material and hopefully, indirectly, about how they may conduct a useful, ethical life. And the third leg of the stool is our administration, who help us keep it moving forward, and hopefully every year better and better.

The problem, of course, in that analysis is that the leg of the stool that is us, that is the faculty, the faculty that we represent, is being starved, is being arguably disrespected.

And so in the end, when one leg of the stool is being treated so poorly, and so inequitably, … the institution, the institution itself, begins to fall away institutionally, it just begins to lose its strength, its power, and its essence. That’s the institutional piece.

The more personal piece for us as faculty is, we’re all professionals. We are all professionals. This is the best part of a life—of a long career—I’ve ever had. To be a teacher at Appalachian. I was a trial lawyer for most of my career. But the best of my life has been here. Teaching students. Learning more from my students than I teach them. It’s the best part of my life. I suspect—my wife tells me that it’s probably [prolonged my] life—though I’m not sure how I feel about that. I think it has prolonged my life. And I’m very, very proud to be among you. And it is the best part of my life.

And I have never, ever been so concerned and so distressed as I have been as this fact of zero salary increases has sunk into my consciousness and I have evaluated how this has happened and why it has happened. There are political reasons why it has happened at the state level, and I understand that. But it happened here, and our administrators made choices that I profoundly disagree with.

So—sorry, I got a little emotional, I feel very strongly about this—so, undoubtedly, in the decade of austerity that we have gone through, with salaries, there is salary compression—we all understand what that is. As it relates to our peer group, we are either at the bottom or very low and moving lower in our peer group as it relates to salaries. Salary compression; faculty retention is an issue that is being made worse by this. Faculty recruitment is an issue that is becoming increasingly difficult. Sometimes—I hear, I’ve got to be careful, I don’t have all the statistics—but I hear that searches are failing because we simply cannot be competitive. And make no mistake, faculty morale is in decline.

[…] You know, I practiced law for a number of years. And I always wonder when I hear one of my law partners say: “I really do this for the love of the law.” Excuse me! Excuse me! Pardon me! I was on the compensation committee of my law firm for over twenty years: professionals need to have a signification of their value as professionals. And the signal we are getting, the signal we have gotten for a decade is that we are not sufficiently valued and that we are devalued. It is a terrible signal, and the problem with the signal is that it doesn’t just relate to money. It relates to our own sense of ourselves. It relates to our sense of self-worth which then translates, whether consciously or subconsciously, into how we actually act our profession.

This is an enormous issue. Much bigger than just the bucks. Much bigger.

I want to talk a little about transparency and shared governance. The first time we learned that we were going to have a zero salary increase was when the Director of Human Services sent us a memorandum on September 26 of this year. The memorandum was from […] the director of human resources. It went on for two pages, maybe two-and-half pages. In the last paragraph of that memorandum, [the director] writes “Unfortunately, for the first time in five years we will not be able to provide an annual raise process for EHRA and non-EHRA faculty employees this year.” That’s us.

That’s the first time we heard about this from anybody in our administration. First time. As best I can tell, the first time our administration heard about this—about the fact that they were going to have to make choices—hard, hard, hard choices—and set priorities with not-sufficient funds—was on August 6. And in that August 6 memorandum coming from the Board of Governors, that memorandum—here’s what that memorandum said. That memorandum said, it gave all universities […] in the North Carolina university system, including ASU, the discretion to award merit raises of up to 4.99% of current base salary.

So at the same time as the powers that be on the legislature and the Board of Governors give discretion to our administration to award merit increases up to 4.99—let’s call it 5%–they don’t give them sufficient funds to do anything like that, and put them in a terrible box. Now the box we’re talking about is very obvious. It’s so obvious: if you don’t have sufficient money to make anything close to 4.99 or 3.2 or whatever, the box you’re in is that you’ve got to make hard choices and set priorities.

And the concern I have and that I hope you will share with me today is that those priorities and choices under a decade of austerity for this faculty were wrong. Dead wrong. Not a little wrong. A lot wrong. That doesn’t mean that I and you should not appreciate how difficult that task is. It doesn’t mean that at all.

We can do both things. We can appreciate how difficult their job is. And we can completely disagree with it.

Now let’s talk about some of the nitty-gritty that impacts all of us. Inflation is running at 2 to 2.5%. Our health care premiums continue to go up. What this means in a zero salary increase analysis is we are turning around and going backwards. Fast.

Finally, the provost alluded to a meeting the budget committee had with him and Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte this morning and I think it was very useful, and I think the chair of the budget committee […] will report on that. So there is some hope. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We really shouldn’t kid ourselves. We need to understand that we need to send a strong message—strong message—to our administration that we believe they need to reevaluate funds that are at their discretion so that there is a faculty raise this year. Not next year. Not on the hope that the political winds will change and there’ll be more rational people on the Board of Governors. Not on a hope, not on a prayer. But reallocate now. Reallocate now so that this crazy situation has developed over this decade in this state, and this totally anomalous nonsense of giving zero salary raises in an era of prosperity, in a decade of austerity must end.

[Applause].

This meeting was reported in The Appalachian and the Watauga Democrat.

The Appalachian State AAUP chapter strongly encourages readers to give their thoughts on this matter in the “comments” section below.

(Note: This post is a report on matters of interest to the chapter, not an official statement by the chapter).

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