Idaho university and college presidents say they’re trying to protect funding for faculty during bleak budget times.
“Any loss of intellectual capital and staff would put a big hole in our potential,” Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas told lawmakers Tuesday. Personnel costs, including salaries and benefits for professors and other staff, also make up the biggest chunk of the state higher education budget, accounting for more than 75 percent of spending. Vailas and other university presidents told lawmakers that professors are the key to economic engine universities provide to Idaho.
Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said that it’s disconcerting that some university staff earn more each year than Gov. Butch Otter. According to a report from the state controller, 44 professors and faculty at state universities have a higher salary than Otter’s $115,348. Other university staff, including presidents, provosts, and deans, also earn more than Otter.
Boise State University President Bob Kustra discussed faculty performance during his presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) Tuesday. He highlighted engineering professor Kris Campbell, who has a $90,000 annual salary, but has earned $5.5 million in grant money since coming to BSU in 2005. Kustra said she’s also taught 300 students, has written 20 journal articles, and has four patents pending. “She generates over 12 times the investment you make,” Kustra told lawmakers. Kustra also mentioned Barbara Morgan, the former astronaut from McCall who now serves a variety of roles as a Distinguished Educator at BSU. Morgan’s salary is $150,009 a year. Kustra said schools have to compete nationally for faculty, which helps explain their high salaries.
Idaho colleges and universities are making staff reductions during the economic downturn, according to school presidents. In the next proposed budget, 124 already-vacant full-time positions at state schools will be eliminated. Universities and colleges are set to lose $35 million in total state funding in Gov. Butch Otter’s next budget, which could grow if lawmakers write an even smaller budget.
Lewis-Clark State College has made targeted reductions, according to president Dene Thomas. “Size does make it tougher for us in making the cuts,” she said. Lewis-Clark is the smallest higher education institution, with enrollment of less than 2,500 students. “We’re only one-deep in some areas,” she said about faculty. The school stopped its video production program due to the salary of one professor, according to Thomas. Lewis-Clark also currently doesn’t have a webmaster. “We decided that we could live without that position for two or three years,” Thomas said. Student workers will maintain the school’s website, but can’t make improvements, according to Thomas. “That’s not a long-term sustainable cut,” she said.
University of Idaho President Duane Nellis said the school’s economic uncertainty is affecting faculty. “I think morale is down,” Nellis told lawmakers Monday. “I worry about morale and where that’s taking us.” Nellis said that the University of Idaho is considering mandatory furloughs for professors due to the latest round of holdbacks from Otter.
Lawmakers say they understand the budget changes at state universities and colleges. “We certainly acknowledge the state’s role in higher education," Cameron said. "We know we’ll see better days and have better opportunities to advance higher education.” Cameron and other members of JFAC will hear from leaders of Idaho’s three community colleges, as well as Idaho Public Television on Wednesday.