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3% Now vs. 6% Later

May 24, 2005

A raise today is better than one six months from now. A 6 percent raise is better than a 3 percent raise. But what if your choice is a 3 percent raise pool now vs. a 6 percent pool six months from now?

George Washington University announced Friday that raises for faculty and staff members that would normally take place July 1 will be put off six months, but that the raise pool will be significantly larger then than it could be today. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president of the university, sent a letter to all employees making the case that everyone will benefit in the end.

But not everyone is sold. The Faculty Senate, aware of the possible delay in raises, voted unanimously against the idea.

In the era of tight budgets in which plenty of professors have faced complete salary freezes, is the 18-month raise a creative approach or just plain cheap?

John Curtis, director of research for the American Association of University Professors, said that a delay in awarding raises isn't unheard of (and in fact, GW officials note that it has happened there before). But Curtis said that such delays are more typical at public universities, where they are typically imposed by state legislatures. It is unusual to see such a move at a large private university, he said.

Curtis said that the AAUP doesn't have an official position on such salary strategies, but would defer to the views of local professors. At GW, they are unhappy.

"There is all of this economic uncertainty, and you could end up losing," said Lilien Robinson, chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and a professor of art history.

Not only will individual faculty members lose funds they want now, she said, but the university becomes less attractive. "We have an extraordinarily strong faculty and it's getting stronger every year, and they have options," Robinson said. "This isn't the kind of thing that will attract talented new faculty and it isn't the kind of thing that will keep faculty who have other options."

Robinson added that faculty members were also concerned about delaying raises for non-professional employees, many of whom may not have a high base to start with and may not be in any position to delay a raise.

Privately, some faculty members complained about delaying their raises while the university is in a building boom and President Trachtenberg earns more than a half-million dollars a year. (A GW spokeswoman confirmed that the delay in raises applies to everyone, including the president.)

In his letter to employees, however, Trachtenberg noted that private colleges face "continuing economic pressure" because of government regulation and the difficulty of raising money in an uncertain economy while they still have to compete for the best students and faculty members. He noted that the university has been spending more on student aid and would spend extra money in six months -- on top of the 6 percent pool -- to raise the average salary of assistant professors.

In the end, he said a 6 percent increase with a delay is better than a 3 percent raise now because "it results in a larger pool of money for raises, which will have a far more beneficial long-term effect." He added, however, that he hoped the university would return to a 12-month schedule for raises.

Andy Brantley, the incoming chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, said that the key issue is one of communication. "Faculty and staff are the most important resources for any college or university. Employees expect and deserve to know the regular schedule for performance increases," he said.

So the question, Brantley said, is whether "management has clearly communicated and demonstrated to employees" the need for a shift.

 

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