If you tell faculty members that they can expect a raise, you'd better mean it.
That was the message that a state judge, Mary I. Yu, had for the University of Washington Tuesday, when she ruled that the university had an obligation to provide faculty members who received good reviews a raise of at least 2 percent in 2002-3. The university could owe its faculty members $12 million or more when the 2 percent is factored into the base pay for faculty members who received subsequent raises.
The suit by faculty members centered on an agreement between faculty leaders and administrators, codified in the handbook for professors. University officials said that state budget cuts that year made raises impossible.
Stephen K. Strong, the lawyer who represented the faculty members, said the case was simple. "The university made a promise. Whether they feel like following it or not is irrelevant."
Judge Yu agreed. In her ruling, she noted that the agreement was in the faculty handbook and said, "The court cannot find any language that makes the merit salary increase contingent on funding."
Norm Arkans, a spokesman for the university, said that officials were studying the decision and had not decided whether to appeal.
He said that the university always understood the agreement to apply only in cases where the state provided enough money. And Arkans stressed that faculty salaries have been the "top priority" of university leaders for some time. It was a "particularly wrenching decision" to skip the raises, he said, but the university would have had to "cannibalize itself" to have provided them.