Editorial: Pay concerns don’t add up

Though low morale at KU needs to be addressed, the faculty is among the best paid in the region.

Concerns raised by University of Kansas professors last week about low pay don’t square with data from the American Association of University Professors.

At a meeting of KU’s AAUP chapter last week, some professors raised concerns that morale at the university is suffering from low pay and the continued shift in financial resources to administration and athletics.

“Low pay is a big thing,” KU professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez said during the meeting. “We’re seeing a lot of administrative bloat, which is very troubling. 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 the AAUP chapter, said he spent the last summer collecting national AAUP data that showed the average total salary for KU faculty has dropped by 9 percent since 2009.

During the same time, he said the average annual salary of KU’s top 20 administrators has increased by more than $35,000, according to data from the American Association of University Professors’ Academe journal and state payroll records.

“This is a deliberate decision by the central administration to divert funds away from faculty and to other offices,” said Jonathan Clark, a Hall distinguished professor of British history at KU.

Clark and Barrett-Gonzalez said the pay discrepancies could jeopardize KU’s membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.

But membership in the AAU aside, AAUP data also shows that faculty members at Kansas are by far the best compensated university employees in Kansas and have among the highest salaries of schools in the Big 12 and the region.

According to the 2016-17 AAUP Faculty Compensation Survey, faculty salaries at KU increased anywhere from 1.4 percent to 3.5 percent in the past year and range from $79,400 for assistant professors to $130,400 for full professors. Kansas State faculty is a distant second with average salaries of $73,600 for assistant professors and $111,200 for full professors. And Kansas has far more professors at the higher end of the pay scale. Kansas employs 173 more full professors and 99 more associate professors than Kansas State, which employs 87 more assistant professors than Kansas.

Professors at KU earn more on average than their colleagues at fellow Big 12 members Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia, and their salaries are comparable to those at Iowa State. KU professor salaries also are higher than what professors earn at other universities in neighboring states including the University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, University of Tulsa and Colorado State University.

Overall, salaries for KU faculty rank among the top 20 percent of salaries at the 1,000 colleges and universities in the AAUP survey.

Concerns about low morale expressed by Barrett-Gonzalez and Clark should not be dismissed. The university’s recent announcement that it is seeking $350 million in private donations to upgrade Memorial Stadium and other athletic facilities certainly could be perceived by faculty as an increased emphasis on athletics at the expense of academics.

One way to address such perceptions is to point out that KU faculty members not only have the best compensation among colleges and universities in Kansas, but also they have among the highest salaries in the region and nation.