Whenever government employees get raises it is usually done in order to “bring employees' salaries closer to their counterparts”. Since all government agencies do this, the salaries will continue to explode for government employees.
About 1,700 Northern Arizona University employees, from secretaries to professors to vice presidents, are getting raises ranging from $500 to more than $29,000 apiece.
University officials said the boosts are "market adjustments" -- not raises in the merit or cost-of-living sense -- and total about $6.8 million. They're meant to bring employees' salaries closer to their counterparts at other universities in NAU's so-called "peer group," and come after three years with no raises at all.
University spokesman Tom Bauer said the raises were granted in an objective way. Employees making within 10 percent of their counterparts at peer universities were not given raises. But about two-thirds of NAU's 2,564 benefits-eligible employees did qualify for a boost.
Student workers, temporary workers, contract staff and adjunct faculty were not considered for market raises at all.
Last year, NAU ranked at the bottom of its 16-member peer university group, made up of universities with similar enrollment, levels of faculty research and types of degrees awarded.
University President John Haeger said the raises attempt to make up some lost ground and stem a brain drain, although even with the adjustments, NAU employees still often earn less than comparable professionals.
"The problem we've gotten ourselves into is we're dead last by a lot. Unlike the other institutions, I actually froze salaries (and) froze hires," he said. "But what it's done is to drive us so far down that we're worried about losing talent and we're having a hard time hiring tenure-track faculty."
MOST SET ASIDE FOR PROFS
The bulk of the money -- nearly $4.5 million -- was spent on raises for teachers, with the goal of bringing professors to within 10 percent of market. There was no maximum on their raises -- nine professors and one lecturer got raises of at least $20,000 each. The smallest raises were $500.
Deans and top-level administrators combined for about $214,000 in raises. Individually, they could get raises of no more than $20,000.
Three in administration, all of them deans, got the maximum amount. The smallest raises for upper-level administrators came out to $5,000. Two administrators -- the executive dean of Health and Human Services and the recently hired Vice President for Finance and Administration -- were at market to begin with.
Support staffers like secretaries and janitors combined for about $1.6 million in raises. Academic professionals, such as librarians, and lower-level administrators picked up the difference.
The university went with the business truism that it costs more to hire and train new employees than it does to keep and invest in existing workers.
And there has been a brain drain -- Haeger gave the example of a top physics professor who left the university, rejecting NAU's attempt to offer him more if he stayed.
"He has six patents," he said. "One day, he said, 'I'm out of here.'"
NOW WAS THE TIME
After rounds of state cuts and salary and hiring freezes, NAU felt it was able to stick its toes back into the financial water.
There will be no furloughs this year, and probably not next year, Haeger said. And the university will resume hiring tenured and tenure-track professors this year. Although the university recently cut about 200 support staffers and offered buyouts to about 50 veteran professors, it is hiring as needed to address the enrollment growth, Bauer said.
Economists and others who study the recession don't predict full recovery until at least 2018, perhaps 2020. But now was still the time -- Haeger said NAU's comfort zone is higher this year than it was last year, and overall the university should be in fine shape over the next two fiscal years.
Plus, the university is growing. Unofficial projections show the entire NAU system enrollment at more than 25,000, with about 17,500 of them on the Mountain Campus. That also means more tuition revenues coming in.
Waiting until full economic recovery would have made the disparity worse.
"Ultimately it would create such a problem with salaries that we could never dig our way out of the hole," Haeger said.
COLAS TOO COSTLY
He said more subjective merit raises would have taken longer and caused more friction. And while there is nothing in regulation barring NAU from allowing cost-of-living raises, the governing body for Arizona's public universities also prefers market-based raises.
Gale Tebeau, Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs and Human Resources for the Arizona Board of Regents, said cost-of-living adjustments ideally would be global -- meaning they'd also apply to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Those universities are based in Tucson and Tempe, respectively, where the costs of living are considerably lower than Flagstaff. These kinds of raises are typically approved at the state level.
University presidents are authorized to give the targeted market adjustments to their staffs. The Regents only approve salaries for vice presidents and athletic coaches.
Cost-of-living adjustments, typically referred to as COLAs, boil down to monetary resources that the universities just don't have, Tebeau said.
"It's not cheap to give cost-of-living increases, and if you've got no additional state support you've got to balance other needs," she said.
HAEGER: STAFF PLEASED OVERALL
Haeger said more recent hires have been at salaries close to market to attract stronger candidates. But that creates compression on existing staff. So the ones who got the biggest raises might be more veteran, with about 10 or more years in.
Still, he said applicant pools are smaller and the university's first choices are not accepting as much as they did four or five years ago. Candidates dropped out of the running for the vice president of finance position, which was filled this summer at a $225,000 salary, because they felt the pay was too low, Haeger said.
Employees were recently e-mailed a letter saying if they would or would not receive a raise. Haeger said nobody has rejected their raise and grievances have been referred to human resources for possible resolution.
"I think it's been a big morale boost to the entire university," he said.
Dennis Foster is happy to have his raise, which came out to about 15 percent. But the economics lecturer said he's also somewhat skeptical of how the raises were handled -- they came as a surprise.
More transparency, he said, would have been nice.
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2261.
How raises were distributed
Faculty (professors): $4.5M
Academic professionals (i.e., librarians): $88.5K
Classified/service staff (i.e., secretaries, janitors): $1.6M
Non-executive administrators: $83.8K
Executive admins (i.e., vice presidents): $89.7K
Other (promotions ands reclassifications): $346.7K
How many employees got raises: 1,710 (out of 2,564)
Excluded: student workers, temporary workers, contract staff, adjunct faculty
How NAU compares: Avg. faculty pay*
University of Nevada-Las Vegas: $96,100 (1st of 16)
University of Alabama (4/16): $88,800 (4th)
Peer median: $82,500
Western Michigan University: $78,200 (10th)
Bowling Green State University: $75,000 (15th)
NAU: $69,200 (16th)http://www.azdailysun.com/news/local/education/aac142f7-ff52-5d48-9...