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Gregoire upset about WWU faculty raises

SEATTLE – Gov. Chris Gregoire isn’t happy about Western Washington University’s new faculty contract that includes raises and other pay increases of more than 13 percent over three years for some faculty members.

She wrote a letter last week to Western President Bruce Shepard expressing “grave concerns” about the raises faculty members are getting during the worst economic times in 80 years.

“Your agreement seems to ignore the shared sacrifice that other state employees in general government and institutions of higher education have made during the Great Recession,” Gregoire wrote.

She said she shares Shepard’s concerns about retaining and attracting quality faculty but is perplexed at how the university will be able to afford raises now or in the future.

“I sincerely hope that faculty salary increases will not be paid for by the tuition increases Western imposed upon its students,” Gregoire wrote.

Tuition and faculty salaries are related, Shepard said, responding to the letter in a blog post Tuesday on the university’s website. He said salaries and tuition are related because the university gets 70 percent of its budget from tuition and only about 14 percent comes from state government.

“So whatever we choose to do is being paid for, largely, by tuition,” Shepard wrote. “What matters, of course, is whether we are paying for the right things?”

He explained that the university needs to pay its faculty better to be competitive in the marketplace. The university has lost faculty and has had trouble recruiting people because of its pay rates.

Average salaries at Western up to the rank of associate professor – from $37,409 for lecturers up to $65,355 for associate professors – are all lower than the average pay for a high school teacher in the Bellingham School District, who earn an average salary of $66,468, he said.

Shepard said he would continue to talk to the governor about this issue – preferably face-to-face – and emphasized his respect for Gregoire’s heroic leadership in support of education in Washington.

The president of the Western student government expressed support for the faculty raises.

“I am willing to make small sacrifices in terms of paying a slightly steeper tuition cost if it means I will be getting the premier education that Western has always – and will always – offer,” said Ethan Glemaker, in a statement distributed by the university.

The director of the state Office of Financial Management, who confirmed the content of the letter on Tuesday, said the governor first heard about the new contract when the presidents of Washington State University and the University of Washington called to complain.

The new Western contract starts with faculty salary increases of 5.25 percent this next school year, and a 4.25 percent hike each of the next two years. The contract also includes a 10 percent increase for faculty and instructors who are promoted and a 15 percent increase in stipends for department chairs.

The Bellingham Herald first reported on the letter from the governor. “The Legislature and I fought together to keep all of higher education from slipping backward. But we never intended significant salary increases for faculty employees at the same time higher education institutions raise tuition on our students,” she wrote.

OFM Director Marty Brown said the contract is going to make other state and university contract negotiations difficult.

“Everybody would like to be able to do that,” said Brown, concerning catch-up raises after years without increases.

The state is getting ready to negotiate with non-faculty unions and other state employees. Professors and other instructors negotiate directly with their universities, and their contracts do not need legislative approval and are not reviewed by the OFM.

“It makes it difficult because we’re not going to be talking in those kinds of terms,” he said.