A salary survey illustrates why the university has trouble attracting and retaining professors.
By ANITA KUMAR
Published May 4, 2004
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
"The money simply has never found its way to faculty salaries," says John Belohlavek, above, a history professor at the University of South Florida.
Salary shock The University of South Florida pays its 1,000 faculty members far less than Florida's top schools. Below are the average 2002-3 salaries on a nine-month basis
[Times art: Source: University of South Florida]
Note: All schools have a medical school, but salaries do not include medical faculty
View a chart showing the average salaries for Florida's 11 public universities.
TAMPA - Christina Greene, a history professor earning $42,000 a year at the University of South Florida, wasn't very interested when colleagues told her about a job opening at another school.
Then she got the offer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - $18,000 more a year.
After five years at an assistant professor at USF, Greene uprooted her family and headed north.
"I didn't go (to USF) thinking I would leave so soon," said Greene, two years after she moved. "I thought I would retire there."
Greene's story is a familiar one at USF, where faculty pay has never kept pace with the school's push for national prominence.
On average, USF professors are paid less than their counterparts at five other Florida universities, according to a new survey. They earn significantly less than professors at schools that USF considers its "national peers."
The result: USF has trouble hiring quality faculty members and keeping those who are here. That hurts teaching and makes it harder to acquire research grants.
"This is not where we want to be," said USF provost Renu Khator, "and not where we can afford to be as a national research university."
In recent months, the school's top officials have pledged to find money to bring salaries closer to national averages.
That will require millions of dollars - a significant sum in these times of rising education costs and dwindling budgets.
"We're looking for any way we can to get those salaries up so that we remain competitive," said Lee Arnold, a member of the USF board of trustees who asked for the salary survey. "It is a huge challenge, but we are dedicated to making our salaries better."
University professors in Florida have been complaining about low salaries for decades. And with good reason.
USF paid an average of $77,300 to its 362 full professors last year. That compares to $84,418 at Florida State University and $89,270 at the University of Florida.
The average at similar public schools across the nation was $97,538 - about 26 percent higher than at USF.
"We've been steadily declining for a number of years," said Roy Weatherford, president of USF's faculty union. "We're already at the bottom, so we can't go any further."
Even after taking into account that a dollar goes further in other parts of the nation, Florida universities still pay less.
Greene, the former USF professor, would have needed $47,700 in her new job in Wisconsin to earn the equivalent of her salary in Tampa. Instead, her pay jumped to $60,000.
"We are a Research I university in (Florida), but it seems our salaries are, in fact, second-tier," said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor of political science at USF St. Petersburg.
USF hires most of its faculty members at or slightly below market levels, but there are exceptions. The school will pay more to attract a particularly distinguished professor, or one skilled at attracting research grants.
When the university added more than 50 faculty members to its St. Petersburg campus this year, the salaries offered were at or above market rates, said Ralph Wilcox, a USF vice provost.
But raises at Florida universities remain minimal.
Most faculty members get the same raise as other state employees - usually a few percent, or barely enough to cover increases in the cost of living. That follows a national trend.
The average faculty salary in the U.S. increased 0.2 percent above the rate of inflation this year, according to a report released last month by the American Association of University Professors.
Those numbers mean newer, younger faculty members often end up earning more than colleagues with much more experience.
In Florida, the small raises continued even as university presidents enjoyed unprecedented salary increases in 2002 and 2003 - some as much as 30 percent.
"(Faculty) salaries there are atrocious," said Peter French, the former chairman of the USF philosophy department, who made $69,000 when he left four years ago for Arizona State University. "I felt bad for my hard-working faculty."
Some Florida universities are bringing faculty pay up by spending money that could go to other uses. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton spent $1.5-million on raises this year. Florida International University in Miami spent $2.5-million over the past two years.
USF president Judy Genshaft spent $1.6-million last year to give merit raises to more than 100 faculty members. But recent surveys show it would take another $4.6-million to put USF on equal footing with the five top-paying schools in Florida, and $12-million more to reach the national average.
"The money simply has never found its way to faculty salaries," said John Belohlavek, a USF history professor. "It's very easy to find other important things to spend money on."
USF's Faculty Senate, which passed a resolution this year calling for action on the pay issue, is compiling cases of faculty members who left because of low salaries.
"It's been bad for some time," said Elizabeth Bird, the Faculty Senate president and a university trustee. "The state just doesn't fund higher education the way it should."
Lawmakers disagree, saying next year's budget will include the largest increase to universities in recent history. It includes a one-time $1,000 bonus for most university employees.
Rep. David Mealor, a Lake Mary Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, said USF lobbied for money for new student enrollment and for matches to private donations.
But "at no time did we hear about the salaries of faculty," he said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said faculty members have to look beyond salaries and consider everything that Florida has to offer.
"It's a vibrant state," he said.
Edgar Huang, an assistant professor in journalism who earns $49,000 annually, is doing just that. He said he doesn't regret the slight pay cut he took when he came to USF in 2001 from Northern Illinois University.
"I'm sure I could have made more elsewhere," he said. "But I don't really care about money. I live in St. Pete with the beautiful sunshine and the beaches."
- Times staff writer Matthew Waite and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.