Financial difficulties rise as salaries fall for faculty

Anna Muckenfuss, Appalachian Weekly News Producer

As the cost of living rises and faculty salaries stagnate, some App State faculty are considering a part-time retail job while others can no longer afford proper health care.

Salaries have fallen $6,085 below the university’s goal amount set in 2009, and the cost of living has increased 48.3 percent faster than faculty salaries, according to a budget committee report from Jan. 14.

Laura Ammon, president of App State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors and associate religion professor, said AAUP is interested in working with the university administration to find a solution.

Ammon said AAUP supports and advocates for faculty government at colleges and universities and looks at issues of academic freedom.

The AAUP hosted a forum on Jan. 29 for university faculty to share how the decrease in salary has personally affected them, the vice president of the North Carolina chapter of AAUP Michael Behrent said.

“We are losing faculty who go on the job market and find positions that pay better,” said Behrent, the treasurer for the App State AAUP chapter and an associate history professor. “I think there’s a lot of people here who like this university very much who are struggling right now.”

Behrent said the issues with pay not only affect faculty at App State, but faculty across the UNC System.

“People who are interested in working here decline the position because they are being offered better pay and benefits from other institutions,” Behrent said. “We don’t have competitive salaries and that is an issue.”

Efrain Arias-Medina

Darrell Kruger, provost and executive vice chancellor for App State, wrote in an email that he meets with the AAUP bi-annually to “discuss initiatives and engage in conversation around matters that the AAUP membership shares with me.”

“Our faculty are pivotal to educating our students. They make real and powerful differences in our community here, and throughout the world,” Kruger wrote in an email. “No one disputes our faculty deserve to be compensated for both merit and to keep pace with the market.”

Because faculty salaries do not match inflation rates, there is an extreme loss in purchasing power, according to the budget report.  

Ammon said her salary has not increased since her promotion and affects money she can put toward retirement.

“My healthcare costs have gone up considerably,” Ammon said. “I’m one snapshot, but we have testimonials from faculty who haven’t had a raise in 10 years.”

One faculty testimonial described having to sell their photography equipment to make ends meet.

“As I write this I have holes in my shoes, 1/3 of the buttons on my coat and the car I drove to campus today is held together with duct tape,” one faculty member testimonial wrote. “I need new glasses, but cannot afford the eye exam.”


Kruger said in an email that App State is a lead employer in Watauga County and that leadership considers the challenges of living in this area.

“Faculty have shared with me the impact this has on their lives,” Kruger wrote in an email. “Cost of living is a challenge everyone who lives in this area is managing. There is no one solution to these challenges, so we work to address them on many fronts.”

Kruger wrote that a lasting solution to the issue of cost of living is to continually prioritize and advocate for better compensation. He also wrote that Chancellor Sheri Everts has fought for an increase in compensation and worked to create long-term solutions for the issue. These solutions include “affordable and quality” childcare for faculty and staff.

“We provide other resources to support our employees who face financial challenges in the short and long term, related to solving immediate crises or longer lasting support mechanisms,” Kruger wrote in an email. “The best place for employees who have questions about this to begin is with Human Resources.”

Behrent said there are questions about the way universities allocate money they receive from the state.

“There’s no question that there has been a significant decline in funding from the state,” Behrent said. “There was a 2 percent raise for all state employees except for employees of the University of North Carolina. There’s no question that the state legislature is part of the issue.”

Kruger wrote that for the past four years Everts has “ensured merit-based pay increases averaging about 2 percent for eligible employees” and she “has allocated more than $10 million in salary increases and incremental benefits for faculty.”

“When the state legislature limited the university’s capacity to increase tuition, it did so to ensure access and reduce student debt,” Kruger wrote in an email. “Tuition revenue has been a funding source for salary increases for the past four years. This has required either partial or full funding from internal sources.”

Behrent said a trend toward shifting away from tenure contracts could be a reason many faculty are experiencing financial hardship.

“People are only paid for a specific course or for one year and they’re paid a lot less,” Behrent said.

Five percent of professors nationwide are non-tenure contracts, according to an AAUP survey conducted in 2018.

“I don’t think that the point of being a professor is that you’re going to be rich, but I think that you need a certain amount of job security,” Behrent said. “People feel they don’t have a lot of job security right now.”

Behrent said he believes that the situation begin to affect students in the near future.

“I don’t think it’s good for students that professors feel they need to consider other options. I think that’s a problem,” Behrent said.

Behrent said that he believes faculty are lacking morale and App State administration is “tone-deaf” to the issues.

“It’s pretty clear that salaries for administrators have gone up significantly,” Behrent said. “I’m not convinced that we aren’t doing enough as we could to reallocate the budget that would prioritize the work of the people that teach the students.”

Kruger wrote that even though some faculty feel the administration is tone-deaf to issues, that he has found “common ground, understanding and mutual respect” in conversations with the Faculty Senate budget committee.

Kruger wrote that Academic Affairs received 75 percent of the budget allocation, which was used to “fund new, full-time faculty positions, promotion and tenure increases, library collections and research initiatives.” The remaining 25 percent went to support Business Affairs, University Advancement and the Chancellor’s division (which includes Arts Engagement, key Diversity initiatives, External and Government Relations, funding for academic buildings and University Communications).

Ammon said AAUP hopes App State’s administration will have a greater awareness of the situation for faculty and will advocate for faculty at the state legislature and Board of Governors.

“It especially important now to support faculty and demonstrate the value of their talent and work,” Kruger wrote in an email. “The other vice chancellors, Deans and I can do this while supporting the important advocacy work the Chancellor is doing.”

The Faculty Senate will meet on Feb. 25 at 4 p.m. in the Parkway Ballroom to discuss the issue of faculty salaries and will be open to the public.