Funding concerns directly impacting students takes lower priority than the issue of faculty compensation, but may be more important than students realize.

As enrollment grows and state funding is lacking for pay increases, teachers are shouldering more work.
Jake Buntjer/UVU Review

Students may find themselves perplexed by what administrators want from state legislators this year.

Val Hale, vice president of University Relations, wrote in the school blog that the administration’s first priority to take before the 2011 Utah Legislature is increased compensation for faculty and staff.

This comes ahead of fighting for approval of a new parking structure and seeking funding increases that would bring UVU up to the same standard of other in-state schools.

Student organizations have already started planning and executing initiatives to lobby the state legislature for increased funding to state universities and UVU in particular. Unequal funding, tuition hikes and shrinking budgets dominate the list of student concerns.

The rise in tuition coupled with increasingly full class sections and record-setting enrollment makes fighting for faculty wages difficult to swallow for students. But an increase here may be in the students’ best interest.

“In a bad economy, it is easier to recruit new faculty. The challenge is to retain faculty members once the economy recovers.”

Faculties here and at nearly every college in Utah have not received a salary increase since July of 2008. The one exception is a single raise at Southern Utah University that came out of a tuition increase.

Considering tight state budgets amid this recession, it is surprising that salaries have not been cut. Compared to the cost-cutting measures other state agencies have had to endure, a wage-increase freeze has been a mild move.

“In a bad economy, it is easier to recruit new faculty,” said Hale. “The challenge is to retain faculty members once the economy recovers.”

A potential drain on its top faculty members faces the university for the next few years as other universities and states start increasing compensation. If steps are not taken now to counter the loss, the school will lose the ability to sustain academic growth.

Luckily for students, most faculty members are happy to still have secure jobs as they weather the rough economy.

“People are here to teach,” said Dr. Bruce Wilson, department chair of Chemistry. “As long as we are able to teach we are alright. We’re all in the same boat.”

Both Vice President Hale and Dr. Wilson expressed that faculty members are not expecting or demanding raises, only that they would be delighted to receive one.

The issue will be a hard sale to legislators already considering cuts to higher education budgets. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, during his attempt to amend a higher education funding bill, even stated that colleges provide “degrees to nowhere,” and he pushes for more vocation and trade education funding.

Higher tuition costs and more funding cuts are unpopular to students and administrators alike. But the competitiveness of our faculty’s salary is a greater threat to UVU’s mission as a full, academic university.

If the university is unable to attract high-quality educators and our most talented and experienced teachers are lured away by more lucrative positions elsewhere, the quality of a UVU education will be diminished.

As students, encouraging the university to support our teachers is in our own best interest.