Faculty group says morale among KU professors at all-time low; low pay, ‘bloated’ administration, concealed carry among factors

University of Kansas professor of aerospace engineering Ron Barrett Gonzalez leads a meeting of the American Association of University Professors at the Kansas Union on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. Barrett, who serves as president of the KU Chapter of AAUP, addressed topics of concern among some faculty members.

Low pay, an increasingly “bloated” administrative staff and the arrival of on-campus concealed carry are just a few of the factors that have led some University of Kansas professors to speak out against what they describe as an unprecedented drop in faculty morale.

“We’ve had a lot of troubles across the university,” KU professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez said Friday during a meeting of the KU chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“Low pay is a big thing. We’re seeing a lot of administrative bloat, which is very troubling,” he said. “Because, as our pay is getting cut, cut, cut, they’re spending more on the (football) stadium and more on themselves in the administration, and weakening the strength of the entire faculty at the same time.”

Barrett-Gonzalez, a professor of aerospace engineering and president of his AAUP chapter, said he spent the last summer collecting national AAUP data that was presented Friday.

Among the findings: Since 2009, the average total salary for KU faculty has dropped by 9 percent, with the cumulative reduction in average KU faculty salary base (per faculty member) averaging about $77,000 since that same year.

The pay cuts are collectively “threatening” KU’s membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, Barrett-Gonzalez said. The group represents the 62 leading research universities across the U.S. and Canada.

“Faculty members are antagonized by the guns on campus, and we’re also getting paid a lot less,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “When you look around in our field and you look at the same level of scholarship that we’re working at, then you say, ‘Well, they’re paying more money than KU is. We’ve got guns here; they have no guns there. And I can make more money. Why am I here?'”

KU has teetered dangerously close to losing its AAU membership in recent years, Barrett-Gonzalez said. He doesn’t want his university to go the way of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which was ousted from the AAU six years ago because of lagging scholarship levels.

“If we fall out of the AAU, it’s not simply that we lose a mark of scholarship,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “It means the level of scholarship going on at KU is being compromised. And so, maintaining AAU membership is very, very important.”

AAU status also adds thousands of dollars to the earning potential of KU graduates, he said. KU is the sole AAU institution in the state, and its graduates boast an estimated midcareer annual wage more than $15,000 higher than the average salary of non-AAU Kansas public university graduates.

Barrett-Gonzalez called that discrepancy “remarkable” and not one to be ignored.

“This is the argument for why you’d want to go to KU and not to K-State, Fort Hays, Pitt State, Emporia,” he said. “This is it. This is why: You will make more money if you go to KU.”

But, as Barrett-Gonzalez pointed out Friday, that’s not necessarily the case if you choose to teach at KU.

While KU’s average faculty pay has decreased by nearly $7,000 since 2009, the average pay of KU’s top 20 administrators has increased by more than $35,000 in the same span, according to data from the American Association of University Professors’ Academe journal and state payroll records.

“And it’s not by chance,” argues Jonathan Clark, a Hall distinguished professor of British history at KU. “This is a deliberate decision by the central administration to divert funds away from faculty and to other offices.”

Clark and his wife, Katherine Clark, an associate professor of history, are among the several members of KU’s AAUP chapter who have decided to leave the university because of the issues discussed at Friday’s meeting, Barrett-Gonzalez said.

Low faculty pay, anxiety generated by on-campus concealed carry and KU Athletics’ recently launched fundraising campaign to support a $300 million facelift to the low-performing football program’s Memorial Stadium, Clark said, all “weighed” heavily on him and his wife.

KU Athletics is relying solely on donations to fund the upgrades, which include an additional $50 million earmarked for construction of a new volleyball arena and improvements to the baseball program’s Hoglund Ballpark.

Clark feels KU is an outlier among its AAU peers in what he describes as an unhealthy prioritization of athletics over academics. Clark, who hails from the United Kingdom, attended Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Barrett-Gonzalez agrees with the assessment.

“The academic side is crumbling, and while it’s neat to get a new stadium, it looks OK to me,” he said of the historic Memorial Stadium, built in 1921 as a memorial to KU students who died serving in World War I.

“That,” Barrett-Gonzalez said, referring to concerns over KU potentially losing its AAU membership, “is going to adversely impact the earning power of our alumni.”

“That,” he said, pointing out the window to Memorial Stadium, “has no impact on the earning power of our alumni. And that’s a big deal.”

University officials did not respond to the Journal-World’s requests for comment on this story.