The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU aspires to greatness except for salaries, benefits

Southern Methodist University is justifiably proud of its manicured grounds and impressive new buildings, but when it comes to teacher pay and benefits SMU might best be described as a cheapskate.

A confidential study of SMU and a dozen “benchmark” universities finds that SMU ranks in the bottom half in what it pays its professors. The study, recently conducted by a Faculty Senate panel, finds that SMU ranks dead last in what it pays associate professors, teachers who have achieved tenure and are usually younger than full professors.

“Many SMU staff are underpaid for the skill and commitment that they bring to their work; this must be addressed,” said Rhonda Blair, a theatre professor and president-elect of the Faculty Senate. “Faculty and staff benefits at SMU are significantly lower than those at many, if not most, of our peer and benchmark institutions.”

Jim Hopkins, the head of the history department, agrees. “Many of us don’t believe that faculty salaries are where they should be,” he said.

SMU Provost Robert Blocker said the findings concern him.

“It’s never acceptable to be ranked last,” said Blocker, who in 2005 accepted the position of provost and vicepresident of academic affairs at SMU.

So when do SMU officials plan to address the university’s salary problems?

According to Blocker, the Centennial Campaign, a major fundraising effort, will go public in 2008. The money will be spent on faculty salaries, benefits, endowed chairs and student fellowships and scholarships. The campaign is expected to be completed in 2011.

In the meantime, according to Blocker, SMU has no specific plans to address salaries.

Sean Griffin, an associate professor in cinema-television, says the effects of low salaries and benefits are as numerous as there are professors.

For example, some assistant professors-those teachers who are trying to achieve tenure-are forced to take extra teaching assignments or work another job, which takes away from the time needed to do research and write, according to Griffin. Generally, low pay sends a negative message to all those who teach at SMU. “A general lower sense of morale often results,” Griffin said. “The faculty feels they are not as valued as their peers working at other universities.”

The situation concerns many students. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Jessica Martin, a sophomore majoring in management. “We pay more than other schools’ students do in tuition. Why are our professors paid so much less?”

Recent studies suggest that college professors are falling behind when it comes to pay. According to a report released this week by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for professors nationwide failed to keep pace with inflation over the past two years. The 2006 study, “The Devaluing of Higher Education,” says the growing gap comes at a time when students increasingly need rigorous preparation for today’s knowledge-based economy.

“To accomplish this goal, it would seem imperative for colleges and universities to continue to attract the nation’s brightest scholars to their faculties,” the study states. “If they fail to do so, the quality of U.S. higher education will diminish.”

The Faculty Senate study suggests that professors at SMU are doing even worse than their counterparts at other colleges.

The Faculty Senate study examined pay at SMU and a dozen benchmark universities including Brown, Dartmouth, Duke and Vanderbilt. Blocker said SMU is striving to be comparable to these colleges.

The study also looked at 12 “operationally competitive schools” including Baylor, Boston College, Pepperdine and TCU. Blocker said SMU considers itself comparable to these colleges.

According to 2004 figures, the most recent statistics compiled for the study, SMU often lags behind these schools. When compared with its 12 benchmark schools, SMU ranks No. 10 in the average salary it pays to full professors, No. 13 in associate professor salaries and No. 8 in assistant professor salaries. The study shows that when compared with its 12 operational schools, SMU ranks No. 4 in the average salary it pays to full professors, No. 7 for associate professors and No. 4 for assistant professors.

Griffin concedes that he doesn’t feel the pay check crunch but says his situation is unique. “I don’t have children to support, and my partner is also a university professor (at the University of North Texas), so both of our salaries add up to one pretty decent salary,” he said.

Recently promoted to the rank of associate professor, Griffin admits disappointment in the pay increase that went with it.  “While not expecting my salary to go through the roof with the promotion to tenure, I guess I had imagined seeing a larger pay increase than what I ended up getting,” he said.

Faculty members and students said the university’s relatively low pay scale affects the university negatively in many ways. Some said, for example, it means SMU ends up losing many of its best professors.

“I think this definitely does happen,” said Griffin. “A number of people interviewed for tenure-track positions at SMU are also interviewing at other places, and SMU loses these potential hires often because they cannot match the salaries being offered elsewhere.  I know personally of professors who have left SMU for jobs elsewhere because of finding better compensation.”

The Faculty Senate study also found that the salary increases at SMU have lagged behind many of the benchmark and operational schools. For example, between 1996 and 2004, average salary increases for a full professor at SMU ranked No. 9 among the benchmark schools and No. 7 among the operational schools.

According to the report, “In terms of growth in salary over the period 1996 to 2004, SMU fares no better and in some cases fares worse.”

Blocker’s explanation? “These benchmark schools have substantially large endowments,” he said.

Given the widespread concern over salaries, the provost said the university plans to “look at whatever resources we have and try to address the most egregious problems.”

Blocker said the compensation issue is far more complicated than just one’s paycheck. “The actual base salary that someone takes home is only part of the salary,” he said. “The benefits package includes health care, health insurance and retirement. More and more across the country these particular elements are really, really, really important to everybody.”

However, the report suggests that SMU lags behind many of the benchmark and operational schools in the benefits it provides.

For example, the study found that SMU’s maximum lifetime benefits-the maximum amount of money paid to insured employees from the health care plan-is $1 million. When compared to its 24 benchmark and operational schools, SMU ranks last in this category. The Faculty Senate has suggested doubling this figure.

Several professors said administrators must improve benefits along with pay. “Health care and medical coverage is also a major issue,” Blair said.

Historically, SMU has focused its fundraising efforts on bricks and mortar. Several professors said that needs to change.

“Five years ago, half a billion dollars was dedicated to building a new football stadium, sports center and other campus improvements,” Hopkins said. “Development needs to be tied in with the purpose of raising funds for student scholarships and endowed chairs.”

Blair agreed. “Having the best people – faculty, staff and students – is the most important component in having an excellent institution,” she said. “More money for faculty endowments and salaries would mean an ability to attract and keep the strongest faculty. We need to bring all faculty members up to a wage that respects their expertise and calling.”


How SMU Stacks Up

These are the average salaries in 2004 for associate professors at SMU and 12 benchmark schools.








Southern California








Notre Dame




Wake Forest









Source: Survey conducted by the Faculty Senate Subcommittee on the Economic Status of the Faculty.


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