Among the many proposals that the Roth administration is considering to deal with the endowment’s 20 percent plunge, a one year salary freeze for faculty, staff and librarians has proved to be a particularly controversial one. The proposal, which would save the University $2.03 million, has caused a rift between some faculty members who feel left out of the decision-making process and the administrators who are considering executing the freeze.
When President Roth announced the proposed freeze in a recent campus-wide email, Michael McAlear, an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, initiated conversation about the freeze on a private forum for staff and faculty members. One major concern for McAlear is that the decision-making is happening behind closed doors.
“One of the problems with this whole process is that it happened without adequate faculty consultation,” McAlear said. “Involve us in the process rather than saying ’this is what is going to happen.’“
Associate Professor of Chemistry David T. Westmoreland said that the faculty and the administration have butted heads in the past and he agrees that the administration must open up communication to faculty members.
“The role of the faculty in the governance of the University has been a contentious issue for as long as I have been at Wesleyan,” Westmoreland said. “Given the extraordinary circumstances that we now face, it is in the best long-term interests of the institution that the administration and faculty go beyond the usual statutory consultation requirements and open up much wider discussions of how we should collectively meet the challenge.”
According to McAlear, however, the administration has made little effort to communicate with faculty. In an email he sent to the Faculty Forum Email List, McAlear criticized Vice President for Finance and Administration John C. Meerts for being intentionally vague at a meeting on Nov. 6.
“At that meeting I explicitly asked John what the consequences may be for salaries and pensions this year,” McAlear wrote. “John declined to answer my question. I also asked him how the decision-making process would be handled, and to what degree the faculty would be involved. To that I received a similarly vague non-response.”
In the email, McAlear also described how the administration told faculty representatives about the salary freeze proposal just three days before making the proposal to the Board of Trustees.
“Telling the [faculty] what you plan to propose to the Board three days before you do it is not anywhere near adequate consultation,” McAlear said. “Especially on something this large.”
Meerts declined to comment on the salary freeze proposal.
According to Associate University Librarian Patricia A. Tully, the administration has only made a proposal and there is still time for negotiation.
“I think probably what hasn’t been made clear is that [these] are just proposals right now and that proposals can change based on faculty input,” Tully said. “It certainly seems that the administration is open to suggestions, changes, and plans for doing things differently. I don’t think the proposal is written in stone at all.”
Tully also noted that the arguments being made on the faculty forum so far have been varied.
“There was a split between faculty saying, ‘We need a salary increase’ and that these are extraordinary times and that the university needs help,” Tully said.
According to Westmoreland, there has not been such a salary freeze in recent memory.
“The startling thing about the proposed salary freeze is that it seems to set a new precedent, Westmoreland said. “I have been unable to find any faculty member who remembers such a freeze ever being imposed previously, even during comparable financial crises spanning back several decades. Such a dramatic change of policy should be thoroughly discussed by those affected before being implemented.”
McAlear said that salaries should go up a minimum of three percent this year to compensate for the cost of living increases. On the other hand, Tully said that she and most of the librarians understand the need for a salary freeze.
“It seems as though an awful lot of other schools are considering this for staff and faculty,” Tully said. “Given the current economic times, I feel that a salary freeze across the board would be appropriate.”
Westmoreland warned that a salary freeze may hurt the University in the long run.
“In the short term the burden will fall on individual faculty and staff members in their personal finances,” Westmoreland said. “In the long-term, however, a freeze is likely to erode our standing relative to peer institutions and may affect our ability to attract new faculty.”
In 2006, the final year of former University President Doug Bennet’s tenure, McAlear headed a faculty caucus that was formed out of frustration over compensation and benefits. The members of the caucus were upset the Wesleyan was lagging behind 15 peer institutions in terms of benefits and compensation.
These days, McAlear expresses hope that the new administration will be more transparent and receptive than the old one.
“Roth is clearly more communicative than President Bennet was, which is great,” said McAlear.
“It will be interesting to see to what degree he seeks out and listens to faculty input on issues like this.”
Ultimately, as for the current crisis, McAlear believes it’s important to remember that the faculty and staff, in his opinion, are the real foundation of the University.
“The faculty and staff were here before, during and after the students, administrators and trustees all leave,” he said. “We are the ones fulfilling the primary missions of teaching and research. We have the greatest long-term interest in making sure the institution is run in the best way possible.“