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LOW SALARIES MAKE LIFE TOUGH
ADMINISTRATORS SAY IT'S BECOMING INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO RETAIN YOUNG PROFESSORS

Though a number of faculty and staff perceive an increase in faculty resignations this year, UND administrators say it's unclear whether the university is seeing a higher turnover rate than is normal.

Some faculty members who have accepted other jobs simply haven't turned in their formal letter of resignation, and since UND contracts are renewed on July 1, it's typical for resignations to be turned in over the next month.

John Ettling, UND's interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the number of retirements and resignations on his desk today don't offer evidence of an increase, though he suspects UND may see an increase by July 1, when final numbers are known.

What is clear, faculty and administrators say, is that the low salaries continue to foster a difficult environment in which to attract young professors to UND, and to persuade them to stay once they arrive.

It's frustrating to have good people who you've recruited resign to take jobs somewhere else, Ettling said. But that is built into the nature of administering universities. Stanford's provost would say the same thing.

NOT THE ONLY REASON

AND, ETTLING AND OTHERS EMPHASIZE, LOW SALARIES AREN'T THE ONLY REASON PEOPLE CHOOSE TO LEAVE UND.  

Some move for personal reasons; a spouse's job, the climate, or a job closer to family members. Some are concerned about instability at UND, while others express doubts over the state Legislature's commitment to higher education. Ettling said some of this year's movement also may be a delayed reaction to the 1997 flood.

Faculty can't move as quickly as electricians and plumbers, he said. It just takes longer.

Still, the familiar reason stands out.

Money is a factor in virtually all of the cases, Ettling said. It's not the only one, and in most cases, it's not the most important one. But in virtually every case, (faculty who leave) are going to jobs that pay better.

Money, or the lack of it, also makes replacing faculty members who leave UND difficult.

Earlier this year, psychology professor Tom Petros said his department interviewed a bright young candidate for a clinical psychology position. Other schools had offered the candidate, who had yet to defend his dissertation, salaries ranging from $43,000 to $48,000. UND's best offer was $35,000. The candidate turned that offer down. Such cases appear to be becoming more common.

We're losing some good, talented young people, and unfortunately, that's partly because of their view of the support of higher education in North Dakota, said Albert Fivizanni, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Less than peers

North Dakota's Legislature passed annual 2 percent salary increases for all state employees, including UND faculty and staff, at its recently completed session.

Despite those raises, faculty at North Dakota's colleges and universities will make less than nearly all of their peers teaching in other state schools.

For the first time, Fivizanni said he can honestly say that in some areas, UND's starting salaries are no longer competitive with other schools. Worse, Fivizanni said UND is beginning to lose people to schools that, in Fivizanni's judgment, are not in UND's league academically.

It seems we are losing people to a lesser academic institutions. We've had people turn us down simply because of the starting salary. Even though we might think of it as a good offer, it's not what people can get in other places.

Not all bad

There are bright spots. A search for a professor to teach classical studies at UND turned up a number of excellent candidates, search committee members said.

We still continue to get excellent people to join us at UND, Fivizanni noted. But he said it's disappointing that many of those excellent people move on to new opportunities after UND makes an early investment in their futures.

Sounding a bit like a small-market baseball team owner, Fivizanni said UND is making an investment in a young professor by offering an entry level job.

Too often just before the school sees a payoff on its investment - when the now more experienced professor brings prestige, grants and more refined classroom skills to the school as a mid-career faculty member - the professor leaves UND, and the school is forced to turn around and recruit a replacement again.

It's always been the base salaries that were competitive, said history professor Albert Berger. The problem was they never go up. Now it's the starting salaries that aren't competitive either.

Berger said the problem is as much about attitude as money.

Corporations that want to get performance have two philosophies, he said.

One is to pay their employees a lot and work their butts off. The other option is to pay them a lot less but treat them well. The state of North Dakota can't afford to do the first. What they do is they offer you the lowest salaries and then they treat you like dirt.

While state lawmakers approved the annual 2 percent raises, Berger noted that it also engaged in a divisive debate over providing a 3 percent annual pay increase, which Gov. Ed Schafer recommended. Berger and others said that fight didn't help morale either.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, June 1, 1999