The school is trying to elevate professors' pay, which is marginally less than their national peers.
TAMPA - University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft offered Friday to raise faculty pay 12 percent during the next three years to begin boosting salaries that are far behind other Florida schools.
The raises, which Genshaft called the largest at USF in at least a decade, would benefit as many as 1,500 employees.
"That's impressive," said USF trustee Lee Arnold, who asked Genshaft to review the salaries. "No one can say we aren't trying. This is a great step in the right direction."
If approved by USF's faculty union, the raises are expected to cost the university $10-million the first year - a significant sum in these times of rising education costs and dwindling budgets.
Under the proposal, a pool of money equal to 5.5 percent increases would be handed out Aug. 7, though it would reach 7.5 percent after being combined with a state-authorized, one-time $1,000 bonus.
In the second and third years, 3 percent salary pools would be distributed.
Genshaft told the USF Board of Trustees of her plan in a Friday afternoon e-mail.
"Our proposal represents our continuing commitment to raising ranked faculty salaries to a level comparable with other Research I universities nationally," she wrote.
On average, USF professors are paid less than their counterparts at five other Florida universities. They earn significantly less than professors at schools that USF considers its "national peers."
As a 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.
Roy Weatherford, the faculty union president at USF, said he did not want to comment because the two sides were still negotiating. But some people who will receive less than others will be "rudely surprised when they receive their paychecks," he said.
Genshaft and USF Provost Renu Khator were out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. Spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon said raises would be based on performance, marketability, and years of service in rank, and could be given to as many as 1,500 of the 1,700 employees represented by the union.
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 United States increased 0.2 percent above the rate of inflation this year, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors.
Those numbers mean newer, younger faculty members, who are usually hired at market rates, often end up earning more than colleagues with much more experience.
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.
Even after taking into account that a dollar goes further in other parts of the nation, Florida universities still pay less.
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.
Elizabeth Bird, Faculty Senate president and a university trustee, said she has not seen the proposal, and is reserving judgment until she hears the details.
"We have been asking them to address this issue for a long time," Bird said. "The reputation of any university depends on retaining and recruiting the best faculty."
Other Florida universities are raising faculty pay.
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton spent $1.5-million on pay increases this year. Florida International University in Miami spent $2.5-million over the past two years.
This week, the University of Florida announced that faculty there will get a 4 percent raise July 1 - the largest full-year pay raise since 1990.
Genshaft does not explain exactly where the money would come from for USF's raises. Some would come from reducing summer pay for faculty. The school also will free up money from other accounts, including money-making enterprises such as the Sun Dome and non-academic departments such as marketing.
"Reallocating resources to afford these increases won't be easy for some areas of the university, but we have developed a plan to shift dollars from non-instructional areas into our faculty and academic programs," Genshaft wrote. "This is not only the right thing to do; it is a smart investment of our scarce resources."