Faculty salaries at Western Washington University are on par with similar-sized public universities in the state, but some staff are concerned that salaries are not competitive on a national scale.
“What we want to do is have our salaries be competitive, and we’re below our peers,” said WWU President Karen W. Morse. “We’re committed and sensitive to the needs of our faculty and staff. … We have a good reputation and our faculty is key in this.”
The average annual salary for a professor at Western is $70,900 in a nine-month work year, according to the 2005-06 salary survey by the American Association of University Professors.
The average professor salary for public universities that have master’s programs is $78,884. For public universities overall, the average professor salary is $91,367. The difference in salary can vary based on department.
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Some department chairs said that Western’s lower salaries make it harder to recruit faculty, but they would not provide specific names of anyone who had turned down jobs because of the compensation.
The University of Washington tops state schools with the highest average professor salary at $102,100 in a nine-month work year, according to the salary survey.
Western’s average salary for a professor was about $31,000 lower, but higher than the average salaries at Central Washington University ($69,600) and Eastern Washington University ($65,600). Bellingham’s cost of living, however, is higher than in Ellensburg and Cheney, where Central and Eastern are located.
Associate professors at Western make an average $57,500 and assistant professors make an average $50,700, according to the survey.
The median annual salary in Whatcom County was $31,262 in 2004, according to the most recent figures available from the state Employment Security Department.
RAISES FOR FACULTY
In 1999, the president and the Board of Trustees initiated a six-year plan to raise faculty salaries to the top quarter of similar colleges nationwide.
Western’s internal salary surveys compare the school with similar universities in the country, not the state. The schools were chosen based on enrollment size, reputation, public funding and other criteria. Funding for higher education, however, varies from state to state.
With the help of state-funded raises, Western gave faculty a 4.5 to 5 percent increase a year for the first three years of the plan.
In 2002, the state did not fund salary increases, and Western contributed a 1 percent increase. The state and the university did not raise salaries in 2003. The next year, the state again did not fund an increase; Western funded a 2 percent increase.
In 2005, faculty received a total 4.5 percent increase funded by the state and the university, but Western had not met its six-year goal.
The following year, the state authorized a 1.6 percent increase, and Western kicked in 3.4 percent, a university-funded increase that was larger than any in the previous six years.
“Because we had three years with no faculty salary increases (from the state) … I felt we had to commit to that,” Morse said.
Around the same time, Western faculty were discussing plans to unionize, but Morse said that possibility was not the reason behind the raises. Earlier this year, faculty did form a union, though it is too early to tell how that will affect salaries in the future.
In April, English professor Bill Lyne, faculty senate president at the time, submitted a report to the Board of Trustees stating that low salaries coupled with an increased cost of living was making it harder to attract and retain faculty.
“We used to be able to hire people pretty regularly who were our first choices, but it’s becoming a problem because they’re getting jobs at much greater salaries,” Lyne said. “It used to be that Bellingham was an incentive, but Bellingham isn’t a cheap place to live anymore, so we’re starting to see the fallout from that.”
The report polled departments on their hiring experiences but did not include specific candidates who had turned down jobs because of salary. The board responded to the report by saying that salaries were a priority.
“It’s not like we’re getting paid really badly,” Lyne said. “On the other hand, compared to our market we are paid badly and where we’re starting to feel that is” in recruiting new employees.
Steve Henson, associate professor of economics, agreed that salaries have not kept up with housing prices, but it’s not a problem unique to the university.
The community and the school offer other incentives that play a role in recruitment, he said.
“The environment here is an asset, an economic asset,” Henson said. “People are willing to give up money to live in such a pleasant place. People choose occupations based on not just salaries but based on the whole package of working conditions.”