U of L President James Ramsey
U of L President James Ramsey

Although University of Louisville faculty and staff are likely to receive an average 3 percent pay raise this coming academic year, morale remains low as Insider Louisville and others have continued to report on multimillion-dollar compensation packages for the university’s top executives.

The finance committee of the university’s board of trustees approved an operating budget last week that includes raises for both faculty and staff. For faculty, increases range from 0-6 percent based entirely on merit. Staff will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and as much as another 1.5 percent based on merit. The full board is expected to approve the raises at its June meeting.

The rate of pay increases has been a persistent concern among U of L faculty. At the height of the recession, in 2008-09, faculty received a $700 lump-sum bonus. The following year, they again received a $700 bonus — this time added to their base salaries. That bonus rose to $1,200 the next year.

And although the university switched to a 0-5 percent merit-based raise for faculty members in 2011-12, it froze faculty pay the following year “because of budget constraints,” according to a letter from that time written by former U of L Arts and Sciences Dean Blaine Hudson. However, U of L spokesman Mark Hebert told IL on Wednesday faculty who were given a “satisfactory” rating by their supervisor actually received a $1,200 lump sum for that academic year, too, but it wasn’t added to faculty checks until the following fiscal year.

U of L officials project the salary increases for faculty and staff for 2015-16 — as well as a previously announced increase in the minimum hourly wage for employees to $10.50 per hour starting July 1 — will cost an additional $6.7 million. With those increases, the operating budget approved by the trustees committee last week also projects $1.25 million in additional spending on benefits, such as retirement and Social Security.

“While I’m of course relieved that faculty are getting merit raises this year, I’m disappointed that there is still no effort to do ‘catch up’ raises to make up for the several years we went without them,” said Tracy K’Meyer, chair of the history department. “The provost (former Provost Shirley Willihnganz) expressed her commitment to doing something about this to the Faculty Assembly, but there has been no visible sign of action on that commitment. Many faculty in my department and in the Arts and Sciences earn far below their peers even at the University of Kentucky, and that, combined with the evidence of excessive administrative compensation, is resulting in incredibly low morale.”

According to the Southern Regional Education Board, the average faculty salaries at U of L and the University of Kentucky for the 2013-14 school year were $85,339, placing the commonwealth ninth among 16 Southern states the organization assessed.

“There’s no way for the administration to spin it: Faculty salaries at U of L are pitifully low compared to peer schools,” said Luke Milligan, a professor at the Brandeis School of Law and member of the Faculty Senate. “We’re 20-25 percent off where we should be. This round of raises amounts to little more than a cost-of-living increase.”

During the past five years, as faculty pay has crept up, U of L President James Ramsey’s compensation from the university has increased 9 percent, from $314,037 in 2010 to $342,930 last year. In addition, Ramsey is paid $270,260 per year in base salary by the U of L Foundation, a separate $1.1 billion fundraising entity of which Ramsey is also president. On top of that, Ramsey in fiscal year 2013 received more than $2.4 million in a deferred compensation payout from the Foundation, part of a retention package that includes an annual performance bonus of more than $153,000 per year (which Ramsey rejected from 2008-10), health insurance coverage and “gross-up” payments to cover payouts from insurance policies the Foundation also provides him.

Former Provost Shirley Willihnganz, who earned a base salary of $316,839 from the university as its top academic official, also received a retention package from the Foundation that included deferred compensation of nearly $1.9 million, which vested in fiscal year 2013. In addition, Ramsey’s Chief of Staff Kathleen Smith, a longtime university employee whose base salary from U of L is $128,613, received more than $1.3 million in deferred compensation from the Foundation in FY2013. Ramsey has the authority to choose those incentives, according to a 2006 vote of the board of trustees.

Ramsey angrily defended his pay and that of two of his top deputies in a tense and confrontational meeting with the board of trustees last week, during which he criticized local media and those who questioned his decision to award deferred compensation and other benefits to “key” personnel at the university. He continued to make his case later on Facebook, publicly responding to a post about the meeting:

ramsey FB screenshot

U of L is studying how its compensation for top officials compares to other schools and expects to have results later this year.

Hebert said on Wednesday that U of L employees hadn’t seen their health insurance premiums rise in four of the past six years and will not next year, either. He added that the university’s leaders fought to continue raises and avoided layoffs during the recession.

“The majority of faculty and staff appreciate that Dr. Ramsey, Dr. Willihnganz and others went to bat for them in terms of salary increases and holding the line on health insurance premiums in tough times,” Hebert said.

Ramsey has consistently lamented diminishing state contributions as he has discussed faculty and staff pay and tuition increases (U of L is also instituting a 3 percent tuition increase for in-state undergrads next academic year). He told the Faculty Senate at its April meeting that this school year was the first in which the Foundation’s allotment toward academic functions — $143 million — exceeded the state’s contribution, which was $139.9 million.

Ben Foster, a professor at the College of Business, said veteran faculty members have learned to manage expectations. But he worries a lack of more significant increases for the next generation of professors could hurt the university over the long term.

“We had 0 percent for years. I guess I just expect small raises,” he said. “We have state funding cuts, and I hate to see tuition rise any faster. I am old enough that it probably won’t change my behavior/effort. Younger people may begin to search for jobs outside of Kentucky.”

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Stephen George
Stephen George is news editor of Insider Louisville. He is a former editor of LEO Weekly and the Nashville City Paper, and a former news editor of the Nashville Scene. He has written for various other news and culture publications and is happy to be back in Louisville.