Hopefully, higher salaries for the chief executives will be the beginning of a trend for state universities in Kansas.
It was almost like a challenge.
In one of its parting actions, the outgoing Kansas Board of Regents made a strong two-pronged statement about faculty and administrative salaries at the state's six universities. First, the board raised the salaries of the schools' chief executives by amounts ranging from 9.9 percent to 15.9 percent. The regents are allowed to do that without approval of the Legislature, but the universities will have to find the funds in the budgets to initiate the raises.
Also on Thursday, the board approved a $56.4 million budget request for the 2000 Legislature that includes money to increase faculty salaries at state universities by 8.5 percent.
The actions could be viewed as something of a parting shot from the regents, five of whom will go off the board next week. Although they have had limited success in convincing state legislators that larger faculty salaries were needed, the regents seemed to be confirming that their commitment to higher salaries remains.
Now, it will be up to the new board of regents to see whether it can make the raises a reality.
The board will face many issues as it begins its new job of overseeing not only state universities but also Washburn University, community colleges and vocational-technical schools. No issue, however, is more important than bringing faculty salaries more in line with those at peer institutions and lessening the chances that top faculty members will leave for better-paying jobs or that our state's institutions will not be able to compete in hiring outstanding new faculty members.
This is the perfect time for regents to make a move. The legislation passed this year to implement the new higher education governance plan also promised additional funding both to community colleges and to state universities. A share of the community colleges' funding must be used to lower their dependence on local property taxes, and a portion of the universities' money should be committed to upgrading faculty salaries.
Gov. Bill Graves has been supportive of faculty salary increases and helped push a supplemental salary pool through the Legislature last session, but more help is needed. He said on Thursday that it was too early for him to commit to a specific figure for faculty salary increases for the Fiscal Year 2001 budget but said, "There's nothing wrong with advocacy."
There certainly isn't, and both Graves and his newly appointed Kansas Board of Regents should become strong advocates of a key component of maintaining high educational standards at the state's six universities: higher faculty salaries.