Benevolent Budgeting

To help employees during the economic downturn, some of the largest raises awarded at Shenandoah University this year are going to those who make least.

October 30, 2008

As Shenandoah University administrators contemplated salary increases for faculty and staff this year, compassion trumped conventional wisdom.

Instead of awarding across-the-board raises based on a percentage of each employee's pay, as history dictates at Shenandoah and many other universities, Shenandoah officials have opted to add $1,000 to every employee's base pay. That means some of the university’s prized faculty and highest-paid administrators will see relatively small salary increases next month, while assistants and other lower-paid staff will get more help than usual during a period of national economic turmoil.

Cal Allen, dean of Shenandoah’s College of Arts and Sciences, was among the chief advocates for changing the formula this year. As administrators started discussing salary hikes, Allen said he couldn’t help thinking that some of his lower-paid staff needed help now more than ever.

“For several people in my office -- a couple of them single income -- for them it’s a matter of [asking] are you going to fill your car with gas, are you going to pay rent or are you going to pay for groceries? People are really hurting,” Allen said.

In a letter sent to faculty and staff explaining the decision, President Tracy Fitzsimmons cited a commitment to the university’s stated mission.

“This salary increase attempts to strike a balance between the need to give well-deserved raises for our many outstanding faculty and staff members and a responsible recognition of, and response to, the uncertain state of the economy,” Fitzsimmons wrote on October 24. “We trust that this decision reflects our university’s commitment to be ‘ethical, compassionate citizens who are committed to making responsible contributions within (our) community.' ”

Deans at Shenandoah, who make an average of $110,000, will see raises of just below 1 percent after this salary increase. Full professors, who make about $72,000 on average, will see increases of about 1.4 percent. But for the staff members on the low end of the salary scale, a $1,000 base pay increase will translate into a 4 percent raise over their $25,000 salaries.

Weathering the Storm

This is one in a series of articles about how colleges and universities are responding to troubled economic times.

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Bryon Grigsby, senior vice president and vice president of academic affairs, said the university did not save any money by changing the salary formula. The pool of money used for raises would have been the same, even if the university had opted to give a traditional mix of across-the-board raises and a merit pool, he said.

Retaining faculty is still very much a priority at Shenandoah, and Grigsby acknowledged that officials had discussed whether the salary formula posed a risk.

“Those were issues we struggled with, but culturally we feel this fit what we needed to do facing the economic future we have right now,” he said. “This isn’t going to be the process we do all the time, and the community realizes that.”

Rachel Carlson, president of Shenandoah's Faculty Senate, said the decision has been well-received by professors.

“The overwhelming consensus was this was the right thing to do and just an example of what kind of compassionate university we have here," she said.

Carlson further noted that the decision has built some good will between people on the campus and Fitzsimmons, who was recently named president at Shenandoah.

According to Fitzsimmons, there have been a few senior-level administrators who have decided to forgo their raises altogether, placing the money in an emergency fund that is being used to help existing students who are struggling to afford to stay enrolled.

Shenandoah is taking other steps to help faculty and staff in the near-term, including offers of low-interest loans of up to $5,000 to help any professors who are facing particular struggles. The money is drawn from the university’s relatively small endowment, which is less than $50 million.

“So far no one has come forward needing [a loan], so that’s good,” Grigsby said. “It’s kind of a rainy day fund for the faculty and staff.”


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