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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Susan Hrostowski, associate professor of social work at the University of Southern Mississippi, hasn't gotten a raise in about four years.
"We are underpaid," she said. "University faculty (around the country) are paid much more than we are here."
In a March letter to newspaper editors, Aubrey Patterson, president of the state College Board, said in six years, the states covered by the Southern Regional Education Board saw average four-year faculty salaries fall 1 percent. Compare that to Mississippi, where the average faculty salary fell 3 percent, ranking it last among the SREB.
So, imagine Hrostowski's happiness when she found out she would be getting a raise before next school year.
"We had been told early in the legislative session that it was a possibility," she said. "We had been watching the Legislature."
Hrostowski isn't holding out hope her raise will be large.
"I can't say I'm going to take a great vacation," she said. "Maybe I can pay a little more on my credit card."
The minimum raise will be 1.5 percent for all employees with a satisfactory evaluation. The maximum will be 6 percent or $10,000, whichever is greater. The average raise overall will be 2.6 percent to 2.7 percent. All full-time employees are eligible.
In a letter to faculty and staff, USMs President Rodney Bennett said he and the seven other university presidents advocated to the Legislature for an appropriation to cover raises at 1 percent to 5 percent levels.
The request was funded at about the 2.6 percent level, giving the university approximately $2.9 million for raises.
"It is important to understand that raises will not necessarily be across the board in every area," Bennett wrote. "These funds will primarily be distributed on the basis of merit (performance) and market ... or equity issues."
Douglas Vinzant, vice president for finance and administration, said the market issues Bennett wrote about are important for the university in departments where demand for positions is high.
"It's about trying to address differing levels of market demand," he said. "Where those people are producing significant research they are always susceptible to other schools offering them positions.
"People who are recognized as high producers in their fields — they have multiple opportunities across the country."
Vinzant also said because salaries had remained low due to no raises, people hired recently at USM had in some cases gotten higher salaries than people who had been working there for years.
"The people who are coming in are coming in at a better place than the people who have been here," he said.
Hrostowski is not happy with the fact that people hired after her are making more money than she is.
"This is a huge issue for a lot of us that have been teaching at the university for a long time," she said. "Brand new people who have just defended their dissertations are going to come in as assistant professors and make the same or higher salary than what I make now."
Vinzant admits it's a problem at the university.
"The fact that we have been able to keep people here is more about their commitment to USM than to us being able to offer them truly competitive salaries," he said. "It's a challenge that we face. But you can't not offer people what you have to (offer them) in order to fill positions."
Vinzant said he hoped there wouldn't be a long period before raises were offered again.
"The best way to retain faculty and staff is to have a competitive salary structure," he said. "We hope this is the first of more regular salary adjustments."
Vinzant said the university can't keep relying on the Legislature to provide the money for salary increases.
"The way to get to have regular (salary) programs is to increase overall enrollment, and that comes with being competitive in areas where we have strength," he said. "The last couple years we've had enrollment declines, and in that environment, you can't have regular salary adjustments."
Vinzant said the university was working on improving its recruitment and retention of students.
Hrostowski said she knew the money the university had received wasn't enough to address the current salary inequities, but she was happy to get a raise at all.
Bennett's letter said the university hoped to allocate any raises by July 1, although different departments might disburse the money at a later date.
Hrostowski hopes to see an increase in her paycheck by mid-August.
"You're always glad to get a raise — no matter how small — you're grateful for that," she said.
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com
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