CHEYENNE — University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan made his case for a 3 percent pay raise for faculty and employees Tuesday afternoon before the state Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.
Buchanan said UW lost 21 valued faculty members last spring largely because they had not received a raise for nearly four years. He expects an equal number will depart the state’s only four-year university this spring for more competitive salaries at other universities.
Gov. Matt Mead is recommending a 1.4 percent increase in pay for UW faculty and employees in the next budget cycle.
Buchanan said UW pay is now 12 percent below the average among comparable state universities.
“We’re losing ground,” he said. Buchanan noted the cost of living in Wyoming increased
6.4 percent since the last raises were approved for UW.
Buchanan said even states with serious budget problems are finding ways to give their university faculty more money. Colorado State University, he said, offered salary hikes last year and again this year, to be paid for from tuition increases.
A 2 percent increase in UW tuition goes into effect next fall. But Buchanan said the money is committed to the library and cannot be used for pay raises.
In a couple of cases, UW made counteroffers in an attempt to keep high-performing faculty from leaving, he said. The university lost one to Colorado State, but kept another engineering faculty member from taking a job at Imperial College in the United Kingdom by offering research support. The package from the university and help by a private donor included a new multimillion-dollar laboratory for the faculty member.
“That’s the most aggressive we’ve ever been with a faculty member that I can recall, but his work is just beginning to receive worldwide acclaim,” Buchanan said.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, is co-chairman of the committee. He said these faculty members develop their own graduate students. The university, he said, needs to have layers of expertise so that losing one professor doesn’t eliminate a program.
Buchanan said the university is doing better than in the past and now is more focused on building depth.
“In a tight job market, we need a deep bench so losing a faculty member doesn’t bring an important research area to a screeching halt,” he said.
Nicholas said some of his constituents question whether the university is being consistent when it is facing budget restraints yet is also looking at a $100 million investment to develop a tier-one engineering program.
Buchanan said it’s “good strategic planning.”
Although UW is not large and cannot be good at everything, engineering is one area to focus on because it already has a solid foundation and prepares students for jobs critical to the state, he said.
UW, Buchanan said, is not seeking money for other parts of the university, such as social and behavioral sciences, because they aren’t connected to industries that drive the state’s economy and don’t produce the workforce needed by the state and the region.
“In engineering, the stars are aligned for us to step forward,” he said.
The Joint Appropriations Committee has scheduled hearings all week, but will not mark up the budgets.
That job will go to the newly appointed committee after the members take office Jan. 8, when the maximum-40-day general session convenes.
Some of the new members have been sitting in on the budget hearings.