COLUMBIA — MU's faculty salaries are significantly lower than most of its peer institutions. But judging by attendance at Friday's Faculty Council Forum on salary and benefits, faculty members don't necessarily want to talk about it.
Cornell Hall's 500-capacity Bush Auditorium, the venue for the forum, was less than 10 percent full.
"A lot of people are demoralized," faculty council chairwoman Leona Rubin said.
Among those who did attend, discussion was engaged and reflected concerns about the overall retirement plan, salaries for faculty funded through grants and policy differences among the four campuses in the University of Missouri System.
Betsy Rodriguez, the UM System's vice president for human resources, presented data comparing MU faculty salaries to the 33 other public institutions in the American Association of Universities and unveiled the beginnings of a human-resources strategy on salary, which she said she hopes to have finalized later this year.
She had earlier shared the information with the UM System Board of Curators at its meeting on Aug. 22.
The comparison of public AAU institutions showed that MU's ranked faculty salaries grew the least of any institution between 1998 and 2008. Despite a 7.2 percent increase in average salary between 2007 and 2008, MU had the second-lowest average salary in 2008, better only than the University of Oregon.
Rodriguez likened faculty salaries to physical infrastructure, including buildings and utilities, and concluded that "deferred maintenance" of faculty salaries led to MU's current state.
Poor salaries may have contributed to a high rate of attrition among both faculty and staff, Rodriguez said. In their first five years of employment, one in five faculty members leaves the UM System, while one in four staff members leaves.
Small annual salary increases for existing faculty members are viewed by some as one of the major problems.
Because faculty members are hired at what Michael O'Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science, calls "the most competitive salaries on the market," small annual increases result in salary inequities among faculty members depending on when they were hired.
"What you have is someone who's been working five years making less than someone just hired," O'Brien said.
Rodriguez disagreed that incoming faculty members are paid at "market rate," saying that MU's assistant professor salaries ranked the lowest of public AAU institutions.
But she did not dispute the poor rate of annual increase in salary.
Rodriguez offered no solutions for how to fix MU faculty salaries, but she outlined how difficult it will be.
The two major revenue streams for the UM System are state funding and tuition. UM can only control the latter, but it takes a 2-percent increase in tuition for every 1-percent increase in overall salary.
Still, she was pleased by the reaction of the Board of Curators when she first presented the information.
The board was "enlightened" by the presentation, Rodriguez said.
"Many of them understand how serious this problem is," she said.