By Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau: Until now, tenured faculty at Nevada’s universities have avoided the budget guillotine that has chopped away at the state budget.
They escaped salary cuts during the past session due to rules governing their pay.
So when Gov. Brian Sandoval asked all state workers to take a 5 percent pay cut, his office received lots of replies from state workers about tenured faculty pay.
“The governor has received more letters about faculty tenured salaries than any other issue related to the 5 percent reduction, both from faculty wanting to protect their salary and from university employees who felt it was unfair that they took a cut and tenured faculty did not,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser.
This year, Sandoval has proposed a 17.7 percent cut to higher education, meaning a probable mix of workforce reductions, tuition increases, program closures and salary reductions to come.
As Nevada’s fortunes decline, the upper tier professors netting six-figure salaries look more and more politically exposed.
Many of the state’s elected officials took a voluntary salary cut. Lean times call for lean pay, so the logic goes.
But elected officials don’t compete in a national and international market. Professors do. They’re not governed by collective bargaining agreements like other state workers. So this past year, they worked with the Board of Regents to change the rules governing their pay.
Tenured faculty agreed to take up to a 6 percent reduction in their salaries, an option that the Board of Regents may exercise to balance its budget.
But the cuts come with the danger that the state’s best professors will bolt to other states for better offers.
Dan Klaich, chancellor of Nevada’s System of Higher Education, said in a committee hearing this past week that the 5 percent salary reduction the governor has called for could have negative effects. He said it could lead to an exodus of the state’s top educational talent just as the governor pushes for greater collaboration between the state’s best researchers and the private sector.
“Our best, most entrepreneurial faculty are up for plucking right now,” Klaich said. “Some of them have already been stolen. … I don’t expect us to be in a position to increase the research engine if we are putting our best and most entrepreneurial researchers at risk.”
Losing top faculty members often means that they take millions of dollars in federal grant money and the jobs of research assistants with them.
Prof. Gregory Brown of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, a group representing tenured faculty, said that the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is having less success retaining professors than it did in the past.
“We are barely competitive and at risk of falling well behind,” he said.
Brown said that while some faculty earn six-figure salaries, these people are often the chairs or deans of departments. Often they are the top staff at hospitals.
“That’s what doctors get in a free market,” he said.
That other universities might snatch faculty from Nevada’s universities and colleges troubles Mark Alden, a member of the Board of Regents that governs Nevada’s higher education system.
At the same time, there’s little he can do to mitigate the losses.
“All over the country at public universities, everybody’s going through this budget crunch,” he said. “We don’t have the money. … There’s not much we can do. It’s a difficult situation.”
The pay cut may come and other universities may lure faculty away, but tenured faculty salaries are only one piece of a shrinking pie. Mixed in that pie are student tuition rates and pay for classified staff who often earn less than tenured faculty and are subject to the state’s furlough days this year.
In short, tough competition for scarce dollars. Right now, there’s not much the Board of Regents can do unless the Legislature finds them more money.
“If they want to leave, they’ll leave,” Alden said.
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