April 17, 2011

After Pause, Pay for Cornell Professors Rises

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Following two years of relative stagnation, the average full-time faculty salary at Cornell increased 2.8 percent from the 2009-2010 to the 2010-2011 academic years, exceeding the 1.4 percent national increase reported in a study released by the American Association of University Professors on April 1.

The national increase was just under the rate of inflation — 1.63 percent over the same period of time — the study found, marking the second year in a row in which, on average, faculty members at universities nationwide lost purchasing power. At Cornell, however, the rise in faculty salaries outpaced inflation.

Vice President of Human Resources Mary Opperman said that the University is concerned with recruitment and retention of Cornell’s faculty, and the increase will help offset the costs of inflation.

“[Professors’] costs of living are going up as well, and we have to try to balance that with salary increases,” she said.

The average salary for 2009-2010 academic year was $115,899 for professors in the contract colleges and $130,166 for professors in the endowed colleges, according to the 2010-11 Financial Plan.

Chairperson for Cornell’s Financial Policies Committee Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations and economics, said the University increased faculty salaries to ensure the retention of current faculty members.

“The University really felt compelled to provide increases this year,” Ehrenberg said. “They were worried that faculty morale would really go down if salaries were not increased.”

Opperman added that, despite the obstacle of budgetary constraints, the University was able to find the funding for faculty salaries.

“In difficult years like we’ve been having, part of the struggle is trying to find the funding for salary increases for the faculty and staff,” Opperman said. “Salaries are almost 60 percent of the operating budget, so you need to find that in your revenue, which for us is endowment, annual giving, state appropriations and tuition.”

Ehrenberg speculated that because state appropriations and endowment did not grow in the last year, the funding for the increased faculty salaries most likely came from the $1,875 tuition hike, which the Board of Trustees approved at a meeting on Jan. 12.

Prof. Maria Terrell, mathematics, said that she received a small salary increase in the 2010-2011 academic year. Most faculty were “very understanding of the fact that there was an extraordinary economic crisis” at Cornell, as well as many other institutions, she said

“When you look at the big picture and realize there are so many people without jobs, it’s hard to complain about salary increases,” Terrell said. “I can only speak for myself, but in the academic world, salary is only part of it — I think there are other things that make your job enjoyable.”

Eighteen other professors declined to comment on the salary increase.

Cornell increased the annual salary for all faculty by two percent at the beginning of this academic year, according to Opperman. Opperman added that, since the beginning of the year, faculty salaries have risen an additional .8 percent due to promotions and “other actions.”

According to Opperman, the Board of Trustees will approve the budget for the 2011-2012 academic year in a meeting held in May. After the board approves the budget, the University will announce any salary increases in letters to faculty set to be mailed out sometime before July 1.

“The letters may — but not necessarily always will — also tell what the average increase pool was [for all faculty],” Ehrenberg said. “But everyone will only know what actually happened between this year and last year when the 2011-2012 study is put out by the AAUP next April.”

Although Ehrenberg said that the increase in Cornell’s tuition is “keeping up with the trend of what’s going on in private higher education,” Opperman responded that, in general, the University does not use the AAUP study to assess where it falls relative to other universities in terms of faculty salaries.

“It’s difficult to take just one year and look at averages of large numbers of data,” Opperman said. “When you’re dealing with retention issues, it’s just one piece of information.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti