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Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Staff vital to KU’s mission

January 17, 2001

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Gov. Graves' renewed interest and emphasis on education in his State of the State Address and in his budgetary plans for the current year is laudable. However, there is one part of these plans which is both morally and pragmatically wrong-headed. This is the governor's belief that it is acceptable to provide significantly lower raises again for both classified and unclassified staff at the Kansas Board of Regents universities.

In the 12 years I spent as a dean and in the 20 years I have spent as an academic I have come to understand that universities are highly complex enterprises and that their success or failure does not depend on the efforts of one individual or one group alone. The mission of a research university like Kansas University is diverse. We are expected to teach undergraduates and graduate students; we are expected to carry on research in all areas of human activity; we are expected to contribute to the health and well-being, as well as the economic prosperity, of the state as a whole.

We also are expected to field winning athletic teams, provide for the cultural life of our community through the arts and through our museums. We are expected to do all of this and more and to do it superbly well and for as low a cost as possible.

And, by and large, we do this. But we do not do this because of the chancellor's efforts alone, though these are significant. Nor do we do this through the efforts of the faculty alone, although these are crucial. A successful university is a partnership among all of the participants in the endeavor. A physics professor cannot teach effectively if the classroom is not clean and well-prepared. She cannot do research if her laboratory equipment does not function. Our museums will not stay open without maintenance and security. Every member of the university plays an important role in its success.

Universities like other American institutions respond to market forces. The chancellor earns more than most professors. Professors earn more than most janitors or groundskeepers. This may be unfair, but it is a reflection of the market for labor. It is important to recognize market forces to some extent because otherwise we would be unable to recruit and retain the best people to work at our universities.

Indeed, the governor recognized the importance of market forces when he raised the entry level for classified staffs. And, of course, the additional funds provided last year and hopefully this year for faculty are intended to help the regents universities in their faculty recruitment and retention efforts.

But the governor has now proposed that faculty will receive on average a 6.2 percent increase this year, but that other staff would receive only a 3 percent increase. I believe that this proposal fails to understand the nature of the importance of university non-teaching staff. By proposing a lower raise for our staff again, the governor continues a situation which has reduced staff morale substantially. Most university employees will tell you that they are underpaid. They are. Our staff is no exception. To ask them to accept an increase substantially below that received by our faculty is unfair and unwise.

Low morale eventually translated into low performance. We already ask our staff to perform at a very high level for low wages. If we add low salary increases to this mix, we are asking for trouble.

The answer, of course, is not to lower faculty salaries or to give the faculty a lower increase than proposed. The answer is to increase staff salaries at the same level we increase faculty salaries. And this is something which should be a priority not only for our staff but for our faculty and administration. In the end, we cannot function in our faculty or administrative roles without the assistance of the university staff. A partnership in which one partner does not recognize the worth of other partners cannot long survive.

Over the next few months I believe that it is not only right that faculty and administration do everything possible to assist university staff in obtaining a higher increase, but, also, that such actions are in our own self-interest as well.




Mike Hoeflich is a professor in the KU School of Law.

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