Improving university faculty salaries should be a top priority in Gov. Bill Graves' second term.
You won't get it if you don't ask.
That's why the Kansas Board of Regents and Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway are right to put their requests for faculty salary increases on the table now, while Gov. Bill Graves is working on the budget he will present to the Kansas Legislature in January.
Although the governor's recommendation isn't the last word on salary increases or other university budget matters, it is a vital first step. Without Graves' strong backing, a significant faculty salary increase isn't likely to go far in the Legislature. Even with the governor's support, it may be a tough sell to legislators who have been less than generous in recent years to state universities.
There is nothing Graves could do that would be more important to the future of regents universities than to support a significant increase in faculty salaries. According to Hemenway, Kansas faculty members are making an average of $7,000 to $7,500 less than their colleagues at comparable schools. Faculty members who leave KU to take jobs in the private sector will receive significantly more.
At KU, salaries that faculty members considered inadequate were a significant factor in 71 percent of resignations from 1994 to 1997. Employers in any field face the threat that salary competition will lure top employees away, and universities are no exception. State universities may not be able to compete with high-paying private industry, but they at least must compete with other higher education institutions.
It's unfair to expect university faculty to accept salary increases well below the state average for other employees. It's also demoralizing to loyal, long-time faculty members to see new faculty members being hired at salaries as high or higher than their own, but such action is necessary to bring qualified faculty members to Kansas universities.
Graves' spokesman, Mike Matson noted Monday that it is too early for the governor to make any commitments on the many pitches he is receiving for state funding. Also on Monday, The State Board of Canvassers met and certified official election results that show Graves won the Nov. 3 election with 73.4 percent of the vote, the highest percentage in state history.
That victory gives Graves an unprecedented mandate and opportunity to press forward on programs that are vital to the state's future. That could include a new highway program or any number of other initiatives, but there would be no greater legacy from Graves' second term than a bold and significant program to increase faculty salaries and preserve the quality of higher education in the state.