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We need to raise salaries at UW

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Bob Sternberg

Bob Sternberg

I usually find myself in agreement with the editorial page of the Casper Star-Tribune, and I greatly value the newspaper and its coverage; but in the case of the editorial of August 23, “Salary isn’t the only thing,” I find myself in serious disagreement.

As the president of the University of Wyoming, I have to deal with the concrete, day-to-day realities of running a business. I cannot afford to deal with abstract philosophical or psychological theories of all the things people care about. The university is an educational, nonprofit, service business seeking to provide a public good, but it still is a business. From a business standpoint, there are four reasons why University of Wyoming employees need a raise.

First, we are losing many of our best employees to our top competitors. Every year during the past five, we have lost more employees than the year before. If you are the CEO of Pepsi and you are losing great employees to Coke, you cannot afford to contemplate about what people care about in the workplace. You have to figure out, concretely and on the ground, why those employees are leaving and reverse the trend. We know why our best employees at UW are leaving—because they are getting better paid elsewhere. In that respect, they are no different from underpaid employees anyplace else who can get a better offer. And we know they are leaving to our top competitors. We cannot afford to sit by while many of our best employees are picked off by the competition. Sure, we can hire replacement employees, but in universities, as in any other workplace, people go where the best jobs are—and, to a large extent, that’s where the money is. They want to live in a beautiful state—and Wyoming is the most beautiful of all—but first, they want to feed their families.

Second, when you lose your best employees, you lose money. We have calculated that the employees we have lost over the four, going on five years since we last gave a raise have cost us more than $19 million in grant dollars that we are giving away to our competition. Most of that money goes to pay for staff to work at the university. Thus, when we lose faculty and staff with large grants, we destroy jobs for Wyoming citizens. If you are the CEO of Pepsi, you don’t want to transfer millions of dollars to your competitors. We don’t want to either. It’s a great deal for the competitors and a lousy deal for the citizens of Wyoming.

Third, it does not take a psychologist like myself to recognize that employees at the University of Wyoming are seriously demoralized. You don’t believe me? Ask them. Demoralized employees do not do their best work. How about you? When you are demoralized and feel that your contribution to your workplace (or anyplace else) is not being rewarded or even recognized, do you do your best work? Demoralized employees are bad for business, at the University of Wyoming or anywhere else.

Fourth, and most importantly, in the end, it’s not about the employees but about our prized customers—our students. In any business, what counts in the end is the customers. Some might say it’s the shareholders that matter in the end, but in our case, the students are our shareholders—they are, in many cases, the future citizens of the State of Wyoming who will pay the taxes that provide the university the opportunity to offer our students an education. When we lose our best employees, when we lose money, when we have demoralized employees, ultimately, the ones who lose are our students because we are decreasing the value of our brand and of our services to them.

When some of our best researchers and our best teachers depart—and after all, they are the only ones who can get the best jobs with our competitors—we do a disservice to our students and to the taxpayers of Wyoming.

Robert J. Sternberg is President of the University of Wyoming.

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