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Faculty salary challenge is growing at UC, regents told

– Faculty salaries, one of the keys to recruiting and retaining a world-class faculty, are in serious trouble at the University of California, according to a recent presentation to the UC Board of Regents.

Although UC is highly competitive with peer institutions in the overall quality of its faculty, and in its contribution to regional economic strength, those benchmarks are in danger of slipping, regents were told at their March 17 meeting in San Francisco. That's because faculty salaries systemwide are falling a bit behind inflation, and the gap between salaries at UC and its peers - especially at private universities - is growing wider.

In a briefing on the faculty salary challenge, C. Judson King, UC provost and senior vice president, told the regents that the salary gap is exacerbated by California's high cost of living, especially for housing, which leaves some potential faculty reluctant to accept positions in the UC system. The university has tried to sweeten the pot by offering higher-than-normal salaries to more than half of new recruits, and by providing funds for housing assistance to more than two-thirds of new professors.

But those inducements, though frequently successful, are a double-edged sword, according to Paul Gray, UC Berkeley's executive vice chancellor and provost.

"The good news is that, at least at Berkeley, we have achieved a reasonably good record of recruitment and retention," Gray told the regents. "The bad news is that it's coming at an unsustainable cost."

Gray said that Berkeley has found that it needs to match the salary offered by peer universities to recruit or retain key faculty, "and that's getting harder and harder." In an era of shrinking budgets and reduced state funding, he said, an increasingly larger share of the faculty salary pool is going to pay for hiring or retaining a relatively small number of professors.

The large salaries needed to compete with other universities also lead to "a severe salary inequity problem," Gray said in his regents' briefing. "Newly recruited or newly retained faculty are being paid at much higher salaries than most of the other faculty. That has created many difficulties of equity and faculty morale."

Other difficulties posed by the tightening fiscal vise include:

  • Less and less money available for campus staff and other support services, which already have been hard-hit by budget-induced cutbacks.
  • Decreased state funding, combined with the rising cost of hiring or retaining individual faculty members, is likely to limit overall hiring and degrade the student-faculty ratio, which Gray called "perhaps the most important measure of the richness of the undergraduate experience at a research university."
  • An aging faculty systemwide, which King said portends a wave of retirements in the not-too-distant future, triggering a need for more — and more costly — replacements.

A copy of the presentation by King and Gray to the regents, including detailed numbers and charts, is available on Gray's website.

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