Dear President Hendrix,
I would like to congratulate you on your new position and welcome you to this great campus and university. You have made an excellent choice to come to Shepherd University, which I, as a faculty member, sincerely enjoy for its collegiality, the opportunities to develop new ideas, and the teaching environment. There are many good things about Shepherd University, and if you talk to the faculty you will hear many of those things. People are proud to work here, and they like the place.
However, I am afraid that many faculty members are also very concerned and feel that they might not be able to work here much longer. Not that they are afraid that they will get fired, but because they cannot afford to work at Shepherd University. The faculty has received salary raises only sporadically, and the few they have received were below the inflation rate. We have recently been informed that a pay raise is not in the cards unless we retain 2% more students. Judging by our retention history, this is an unlikely scenario unless faculty members start to lower their standards for students to pass their classes. Even if the 2% retention rate increase could be reached the raise would amount to 2% which, if inflation rates remain at 0%, would be an actual raise if the State of West Virginia had not decided to increase our health insurance premiums and deductibles. Effectively, we will again have less purchasing power than we had the year before. This, combined with a teaching load of 4-4 and a growing administrative burden, has led to declining morale among the faculty.
Let me illustrate to you how bad the situation is for some of our faculty members. I know of several members who have to work a second job to make ends meet, and these are not teaching jobs but the same kind of jobs we would expect our students to do. For new faculty members it is very difficult to buy a house or even rent a decent place to live which will accommodate their families, especially if they have young children. The outlook for these faculty members to ever buy a house is slim unless they have a partner who has an equal or larger income. Saving for college for the children is even more difficult, and the tuition for family members is hardly discounted.
All of this is compounded by the fact that the cost of living in Shepherdstown is 114% of the national average while the state of West Virginia is 90% of the national average. Worse, the housing costs in Shepherdstown are 143% of the national average while the state average is 58% of the national average. Faculty members at West Virginia state universities other than Shepherd earn comparative or higher salaries but have housing costs and general living costs which are significantly lower. They thus effectively earn significantly more than faculty members at Shepherd University while often carrying a lower teaching load. To further illustrate this discrepancy in salaries at Shepherd University with salaries at other universities, the following example compares the salary of an Assistant Professor at Shepherd to an Assistant Professor at Marshall University. On average, an Assistant Professor at Shepherd gets paid $54,189 and at Marshall $56,412. Adjusted for the Cost of Living this translates to $47,534 for the Shepherd Professor and $69,644 for the Marshall Professor. When we adjust the salary for the cost of housing, the difference becomes even more depressing: $37,894 for the Shepherd Professor and $106,437 got the Marshall Professor.
This situation, I fear, will lead to faculty members leaving Shepherd University, and the university will experience increasing difficulties in hiring quality faculty. I therefore urge you to make faculty salaries a priority on your agenda to retain quality faculty members, which then will help retain and attract quality students. I am fully aware of the decreasing contributions of the State of West Virginia to the university. However, the function of the university remains to provide excellent education to our students and to conduct high quality research. This is only possible when the faculty is adequately compensated. As it stands now, some faculty members have their backs against the wall and are under such stress to meet their financial obligations that their work suffers. Others are so demoralized that they are not willing to invest the time and effort to provide our students with that extra attention which makes Shepherd University so special.
Signed: An untenured faculty member
(Editor’s note: The Picket policy is to run only signed letters. However, the contents of this letter and the untenured status of this contributor causes editorial staff to make a rare exception.)