The House appropriations chairman recommends that faculty members form PACs to increase pay.
University faculty in Kansas should become more politically active, possibly even forming political action committees to help make their case for bigger salaries, the chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee said Tuesday.
Rep. David Adkins, R-Leawood, said most legislators, contrary to a recent comparative study, view Kansas faculty as well paid.
"In a state where the median income is $35,000 to $36,000, many in the Legislature look at a faculty member's salary and think it's more than appropriate given what's perceived as a relatively easy lifestyle," Adkins said.
To counter that perception, faculty at KU must demonstrate to fellow Kansans the practical value of their work. And they also need to lobby the Legislature, he said.
He suggested they go as far as forming political action committees. Commonly referred to as PACs, the committees exist to influence legislation through political contributions and lobbying.
Adkins was responding to questions about a recent study by a North Carolina think tank that shows Kansas University faculty are among the lowest paid at research universities nationally, even when their pay is adjusted for the cost of living.
The North Carolina study was done by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
According to charts accompanying the study, KU ranks 73 out of 81 class "I" research institutions in average pay for full professors adjusted for the cost of living. The study lists adjusted average full professor pay at KU at $68,000.
The class "I" research designation comes from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is the Carnegie Foundation's most prestigious ranking and is based on the range of programs offered, number of doctoral degrees granted and the amount of federal support received by an institution. Eighty-eight universities nationwide are ranked as research I institutions; just 81 of those were used in the study.
For associate and assistant professors, the study showed, the KU average salary was $49,500 and $43,300.
The salaries were based on figures for the 1998-1999 academic year. The study was published in Clarion, the Pope Center magazine.
Jon Sanders, the center's publications director who did the study, said the salary results were less important than the quality of the faculty.
"I'd be more concerned about the quality of teaching than the straight salaries," Sanders said. "If the University of Kansas is recruiting a lot of superstars who do a lot of research and publishing, you have to wonder if the taxpayers are getting their money's worth.
"A lot of the major recruiting coups are of researchers," he added. "That means a lot of the time teaching gets left behind."
For KU's top two executives, the message of the study is that the faculty is underpaid and that leaves the university at risk.
"We're in the bottom 20 percent of salaries at research universities," said Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "I think we're in the top quartile in terms of quality."
"I think we'll descend very quickly in quality if we don't address faculty salaries," Hemenway said.
Provost David Shulenburger said the study debunks the myth that KU salaries are lower compared to peer institutions because living costs also are less in Kansas and Lawrence.
"I do think there is a myth that salaries can be lower because the cost of living is lower," Shulenburger said. "Lawrence is not inexpensive."
KU faculty compete in a national marketplace, he said, a fact state policy-makers needs to acknowledge, he said.
"These faculty are faculty who can find jobs elsewhere," Shulenburger said.
Adkins said legislators next session should honor the promise.
-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.