SEATTLE – When students come back to school at Eastern Washington University later this month, they may be taught by a very happy professor who just got a big raise.
The regional university isn’t celebrating a financial windfall. The new money comes from a creative new faculty contract that focuses on bringing everyone up to the national salary averages in their fields instead of giving across-the-board raises.
That means a few EWU professors will get raises as big as $18,000 a year over the next three years and seven, who are paid well above market rates, will get nothing.
The unusual contract was embraced both by the faculty union and school administrators.
Although other colleges have used a similar approach to make some teacher pay more competitive, a member of the board of the National Education Association says he’s never heard of a college using the approach to bring every professor on campus up to a competitive pay rate.
“It’s a fairly unique way to approach compensation,” said Bill Lyne, a professor at Western Washington University who serves on the NEA board.
Mike Conlin, a history professor who was the chairman of the Eastern faculty bargaining team, said some people may be surprised that the idea for fixing salary inequities came from the administration.
“Our provost is a labor economist, keen to talk about markets,” Conlin said. Several other strategies were proposed but once the idea of tying all salaries to market rates came to the table, everyone agreed it was the right direction.
Inequities were most prevalent among senior professors. Most new assistant professors are paid a competitive salary as a result of recent recruiting efforts, Conlin said.
The university has been aware of the problem for years and decided the first new dollars from the state of Washington since the recession started offered them an opportunity to address this issue.
“We think it’s kind of revolutionary,” Conlin said.
The university has been offering many faculty members below-market salaries for decades, EWU President Rodolfo Arevalo said.
“That historic problem isn’t going to be solved by giving everybody the same percentage increase,” Arevalo said. “When you were historically behind, there’s no way you were ever going to catch up.”
And because Eastern isn’t the only school with new dollars to spend this year, the competitive disadvantage was beginning to show.
Eastern was losing people to other schools in California and Washington and having trouble competing with schools from across the country when looking for new faculty, Arevalo said.
Sometimes it didn’t even help that new faculty members could be offered competitive salaries, because they also look at salaries across the university and see that the average at Eastern is below everywhere else.
Arevalo hopes the school’s new three-year faculty contract will fix salary inequities and raise the university’s profile as a creative and collaborative place.
About 75 percent of the school’s 436 faculty members were paid significantly below the national average, as determined by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, which has tracked faculty pay since 1967.
The university is putting about $6.5 million over the next three years toward this initiative.
The market for college faculty is not a local or state market, it’s national, said Western’s Lyne.
“It’s about competing with states all over the country,” he said.
An organizer for United Faculty of Washington State, which is affiliated with the Washington Education Association, said he expects Eastern’s approach to be copied by other schools.
“It puts Eastern on the map,” Gary McNeil said.