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Board of Regents meeting produces faculty salary increase stalemate, new Honors College major

The University may be losing faculty if it doesn’t do something to increase faculty salaries.

The provost’s plan to increase faculty salaries came up at the March 11 Board of Regents meeting when Amy Neel, president of the Faculty Senate, urged the regents to approve the plan. Provost Chaouki Abdallah’s plan proposes to bring UNM faculty salaries in line with those of faculty members at peer institutions over a five-year period.

For four years, faculty members have received no raises, and increased health care costs and retirement payments to the state have even lowered their pay, Neel said.

Additionally, there are only eight states that pay their flagship university’s faculty members less than UNM does, she said.

“Even faculty members in states that typically rival New Mexico for the worst statistics in every conceivable category — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and West Virginia — make considerably higher salaries than UNM faculty members,” Neel said.

According to surveys conducted by the Office of the Provost, UNM’s average faculty salaries range from $7,000 to $21,000 less than those at comparable universities for professors, associate professors, and assistant professors.

Neel said she’s heard from the provost and some deans that more than a dozen faculty members have gotten offers from other universities in just the past few weeks, some involving pay increases of $10,000 to $30,000.

“After four years of no pay increases, it is very tempting to leave UNM for literally greener pastures,” Neel said.

To attract new professors, UNM must pay close to national market rates, which has further lowered morale among faculty, she said.

In Neel’s department, speech and hearing sciences, a new assistant professor was hired last month. Neel said he’ll be paid as much as she does even though she’s worked for UNM for 12 years.

In addition to urging the regents to approve the provost’s plan, she wanted them to find funds for a 6 percent increase in faculty salaries, which is a request on top of Abdallah’s plan.

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“We recognize that students will probably bear the burden of increased faculty salaries, and that is a very difficult position for us to take,” she said. “However, UNM cannot carry out its initiatives to improve student success, to have an honors college, to be a preeminent research university, and to advance economic development in the state of New Mexico without the dedicated work of faculty members.”

It is more expensive for UNM to replace faculty than it would be for it to increase salaries, Neel said. Abdallah added that the University is paying one way or another, whether it’s in compensation or counter offers to keep faculty members. He said by addressing the faculty salary issue, the University avoids having to deal with less frequent, but more expensive counter offers.

Regent Gene Gallegos suggested looking into reserves in various departments, although Abdalla said most these are one-time surpluses and when they run out, that’s it. Gallegos said he’s not convinced recurring funds don’t exist to put toward increased faculty salaries.

No further action was taken at the meeting.

Regents table proposal to allow academic leave for some lecturers

Neel ruffled UNM President Robert Frank’s feathers when she asked the board to approve a proposal that Frank hadn’t known about before the meeting.

“I have two distinct issues. One, I don’t believe a policy like this should ever come before the regents without being shown to the president of the University for the president’s reaction, and two, I don’t agree with the policy,” Frank said.

Neel and Abdallah said they were following procedure for policy changes, according to the guidelines in the faculty handbook.

The proposal was to allow academic leave, or sabbatical, for principal lecturers. The leave would be to promote professional development, and the terms would be similar to sabbatical for tenure-track professors. These terms stipulate the lecturer would have to have a contract with the University for at least one year.

Additionally, for lecturers in the Health Sciences Center to take off six months, they would have to return at least six months. For main campus lecturers, they would have to return for at least one semester to take leave for six months.

A principal lecturer is someone who’s been with UNM for at least six years and is required to teach several classes per semester.

Such lecturers would be eligible for sabbatical after six years with UNM, but it would not be granted automatically.

“I also have concerns about the notion of putting lecturers on sabbatical, it’s not the nature of that track in my mind,” Frank said. “And I would have liked to be part of that conversation. And that it would go through a whole committee process and the president not being involved I find even more odd.”

The motion for approval was tabled. When Neel approached the regents later in the meeting, she announced that she had just relayed Frank’s concerns to university secretary’s office and the Faculty Senate policy committee. She said the committee is in the process of making changes to the faculty handbook, so this was the perfect opportunity to involve president’s office in that process.

A new addition to the Honors College

Also at the meeting, the board approved the creation of a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary liberal arts.

Catherine Krause, dean of the Honors College, said the degree is purposely general and focuses on preparing students to analyze a set of facts rather than just memorize them.

“What happens when a student leaves UNM? They’re going to confront a world where those competencies will matter more than the ability to get facts,” Krause said. “You want facts, you can get those on Google. You want to be able to use those facts and integrate them across disciplines.”

Some of the focuses of this new major include globalization and language, new technologies, research methodology, and community engagement, Krause said.

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