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Top officials at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse say school faculty remain grossly underpaid, and that a proposed salary bump for all UW employees would do little to change that.

The Board of Regents last week approved a pay plan that would give UW System employees a 6 percent raise over the next two years, pending approval by the Legislature and governor.

But these raises would not close the compensation gap between UW-L and its peer institutions, where professors earn as much as $20,000 more. They would only keep the university from falling further behind.

“It’s really just a drop in the ocean,” said Betsy Morgan, UW-L’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. The idea of a competitive salary “is a moving target, and we need this pay plan just to keep up. Those outside institutions are raising their salaries, too.”

Compensation has been a sore spot at UW-L — and across the UW System — for over a decade, with Democrats and Republicans sharing the blame, according to UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle contributed by ordering furloughs for all state workers, and Gov. Scott Walker contributed by signing the controversial Act 10, which stripped UW faculty of their collective bargaining rights.

Now, a state-approved pay plan is the only way to raise faculty salaries across the board, and legislators have approved only three increases over the past eight years.

“Sadly,” Gow said, “it’s been a bipartisan issue.”

UW-L professors make roughly 82 percent of what they could make elsewhere, university records show.

Betsy Morgan mug

Morgan

That’s led to turnover, especially among younger professors, and a troubling trend of faculty migrating to Winona State University, pulled in by competitive salaries and a strong union.

“They’re getting $10,000 or $15,000 more just to drive 20 miles upriver,” Morgan said. “A lot of the time, they’re getting more money and teaching fewer courses.”

Those departures create vacancies, vacancies that are sometimes difficult to fill.

Mark Sandheinrich

Sandheinrich

Mark Sandheinrich, dean of UW-L’s College of Science and Health, said job searches often reach the fourth or fifth candidate, since many of the top candidates are looking for more money.

“In the past, we could have compensated for lower salaries with better-than-average benefits,” Sandheinrich said. “But that’s changed, and I’m not sure our benefits are better than average anymore. You combine that with lower salaries, and it’s tough.”

Officials say the compensation gap is widest for UW-L’s most tenured professors, since many of them have gone a decade or longer without a sizeable raise. Meanwhile, tenured professors at competing colleges have received regular pay hikes.

Joe Gow

Gow

“All of this has a real effect on morale,” Gow said. “Imagine you’re a company that had a fantastic year. Wouldn’t you want to share that with the people who got you there? That’s what we’ve been struggling with for the past 10 years.”

Gow admits that UW-L might never be a leader in salary or benefits. The university’s current goal is to offer 85 percent of the median salary for peer institutions.

But the chancellor is hopeful, he said, that a robust economy and a new, education-friendly governor will help the cause.

It will be telling, then, when lawmakers consider UW salary increases during the next legislative session.

Typically, the state and the universities split the cost of pay plans, with the state paying about 70 percent. But with an in-state, undergraduate tuition freeze expected to continue through 2021, UW has asked the state to foot the entire $30 million bill.

“I’m skeptical that it will happen,” Gow said. “It would certainly be generous.”

Kyle Farris can be reached at (608) 791-8234 or kfarris@lacrossetribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Kyle_A_Farris.

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Kyle Farris covers education for the La Crosse Tribune. Reach him at (608) 791-8234 or kfarris@lacrossetribune.com.

(21) comments

Redwall

I would guess this may be another one of those "unfortunate interactions with the media" that Mr Cross was irritated about.

Jobaba

Think of a La Crosse without those salaries and that university. First the housing and rental markets would collapse. Second it is doubtful if we need so much healthcare in one little city. Downtown? Empty storefronts...who needs so many diners and bars? "But I pay their salaries!!" the mighty ignorant will say. But no, you share the cost with millions of taxpayers and students and the cost is well worth it. When you need a lawyer you will find they are all over-priced. Likewise if you need a good auto body repairman. In fact when you need a professional in ANY industry, the cost seems high. But when you work within that industry and know what it took to get there and stay there everything seems to be a bit more reasonable. No, I am not a professor or affiliated with UW-L. But I was taught how to think...oooo and some of it took!

Jobaba

In the link below you may look up any of the staff salaries. I have had occasion to know many of the professors at UW-L. They are not hesitant to discuss their salaries because they KNOW that their wages are public knowledge, unlike some of the uniformed contributors here. (You see, they already know more than you!) What the majority DO have is a Phd, and years of experience. But they are not paid because they spent years earning accolades, but on their ability to convey incredibly complex ideas to students. This is not High School, which BTW have better benefits than the UW system. I won't add a link to UW-L's personnel roster because it is easy to find and obviously some of you need to figure things out. So find it and use the link I provided, but remember....there are many professors and associate professors that make around 50k per year. Of course you can look up the top administration people and be suitably shocked and gasp with awe at how much they make. But remember that you don't know what they do either. So no, most are not even near the six figure salaries that your resentment claims.

Jobaba

https://madison.com/news/local/education/who-makes-what-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-search-employee/article_50f1111c-8143-11e8-b95d-0350224ff5dc.html

TJforJesus

Wow, how ungrateful can you be? Most are probably making 6 figures with excellent benefits in a low cost area like La Crosse. How about thanking God for the cushy job that pays well and provides an income greater than 99% of the population of the world. They should be ashamed. This coming from a man who makes a quarter million dollars per year and invites a por star to his campus. You would think this guy would lay a little low and be a little more humble after all of that. But nope.

oldhomey

You may be for Jesus, TJ, but if Jesus was walking among us today, you would be somebody he would be trying to convert, because he wouldn't let you walk beside him or represent him. You obviously don't know much about walking in another's shoes before sneering at them. An awful lot of the people teaching at the university level here could be making more teaching in public schools. You think their jobs are "cushy"? Did you spend eight or ten years in grad school? Have you ever taught anything? It is an incredibly difficult, time-consuming job, and one that requires not only academic expertise but a flair for guiding young people in one of the most emotionally and intellectually fraught times of their lives. Joe Gow by a lot makes less than any other president of any university in the Wisconsin system, a shocking fact to me, because he is the best president I have seen in place there, period, and I have been watching the university for nearly 60 years, starting when it was a state teachers college. Do you think Jesus would refuse to speak to the woman you castigate Gow for bringing to the campus? You may call yourself a Christian, but you are a small minded little bigot. God save you.

Climatehoax

What are they paid? What benefits do they receive? What’s retirement like?
Now let’s have the rest of the story.
No one thinks they’re paid enough, but I bet they’re WAY better off than the VAST majority.

RNeibuhr

Doesn't it get old to be angry at everything all the time?

Climatehoax

Everything ALL of the time?? I. Known as smiley.

anon608

Underpaid? Hows the retirement? Probably excellent and i'm pretty sure you dont want people gettiing into teaching for just the money.

RNeibuhr

Ah yes. All those professors and their get-rich-quick schemes. The point that it appears UWL was making was that their staff is underpaid relative to other states and schools. Which also presumably have solid retirement plans. It's about attracting the best people. Any business owner can tell you that if you pay 80% of what the guy up the road is paying, you're not going to hang on to the best workers.

CJ

Any chance the other professors are simply overpaid? Relative to the area & cost of living these folks have about zero to complain about [wink]

Climatehoax

Paid less let’s see proof, I’m the employer, I have a right to see

oldhomey

It is all out in the open in the open records of the state that the Republicans tried to quash, Climate. You ought to take advantage of democracy while it still reigns in this state, and learn a little bit instead of, as usual, prattling on endlessly. With a smile, no doubt.

The Mouse of Death

[censored]It would behoove the professors to join the WEDC which is a public-private corruptership so that crony deals with the Kimberly Clark and the Foxconned and the fakey enterprise zones so bribery and kickbacks and TIFs. We are indeed bemezzled by the lame ducks of the GOP who control the state ligature with a minority of the popular vote so that democracy in Wisconsin is sad and covfefe.

canman

Too bad Kyle Farris didn’t write a complete story by publishing all their salaries so the public could really understand how devastingly bad off the UWL faculty is.

OpinionsFree

Mr Gow, there is only one local company that I know of that shares the wealth proportionately with its employees. It’s name begins with K and T. The rest of us are in the same boat as you and your staff. I don’t feel sorry for you in getting your cost of living raises. When you start pumping out the skilled tradespeople this country sorely needs instead of delusional clones of your liberalized selves we will talk.

Montoya

Yes OP we only need mindless workers that back the trump crime family instead of educated people that don't just listen to fox so called news and right wing hate radio.

PhysicsIsFun

Training people for skilled trades (carpentry, plumbing, electrician etc.) is not the mission of a 4 year university. That is the job of high schools and 2 year technical colleges. Universities teach professions like chemist, physicist, engineer, teacher, writer and so on. They also teach the arts and literature, and history and subjects which may not always lead to a career but make a more fulfilled person. I am a big supporter of the trades. I have taught students who want to be electricians, but again universities are not in that business. The issue with salaries of University of Wisconsin faculty is an important one. The university in Madison is losing many of its top professors. This threatens its standing as a top research institution in our country. This institution (The University of Wisconsin System) is one of our state's most important assets. It certainly has created more jobs than Walker et al have ever dreamed of, and yet they attack it at any opportunity. Republicans just don't care much for well educated people, because well educated people tend not to vote for Republicans.

oldhomey

amen, Physics. amen, Frangel.

Frangel45

The wealthy run our state currently and they need a certainly percentage of low income people to feed their low wage jobs - it's always been that way. Until we wrest the governance away from the wealthy it will continue to be this way - restrict education - many years ago I came across a newspaper clipping that my mother had saved in an early 1930's newspaper stating "too many people are getting educated". That really struck me as - wow, why wouldn't they want children to be educated - it's the name of the game for the rich - except their own families. They need workers to satisfy their wants and provide their food - they couldn't possibly build their own car, grow their own food - schlep everything they WANT for themselves... We must have education to pursue equality and they definitely don't want that!!! Cross has really CROSSED THE LINE.

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