Letter to the Editor: Letter to colleagues from Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent

Michael Behrent


My top priority as Faculty Senate Chair has been to work with Senate to get you the raise you deserve. For most of the year, I believed a raise would happen.

This no longer seems likely.

At yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting (March 23), the administration made it clear that, at least for now, we cannot expect a raise—be it a merit raise, a market-adjustment raise, or a bonus.

In recent days, we asked the administration if faculty could at least be offered a modest one-time payment for the extra work we have done to move our courses online. We were told no answer could be given at this time.

On Sept. 6, 2019, Chancellor Everts informed the faculty that she had identified campus funds for a merit pool raise. Over the previous year, many on Faculty Senate had called attention to the faculty salary crisis and campaigned for the administration to address it. The special Senate meeting on Feb. 25, 2019, at which many of you bore witness to your salary concerns, was one of the most powerful events I have attended in my time at this university.

Needless to say, the administration has reasons for withdrawing its promise. This has been a bad year. The year our leadership finally committed to a raise, we ran into political deadlock (when the state legislature failed to pass a budget, blocking even a raise based on campus funds) and a global pandemic.

But the fact that we will not, in the end, get a raise can’t simply be chocked up to bad luck, as you’ll undoubtedly hear. It’s also the result of bad priorities and questionable leadership.

Over the past year, the Board of Trustees found $5 million extra for the end zone project (tied to our athletics program), bringing its total price tag to $50 million. It coughed up another $2.5 million to replace synthetic turf on the football field. Not long after, the board raised the salary of the athletics director from $281,000 to $450,000 ($500,000 with retention bonuses), along with guaranteed bonuses for the years ahead.

At the same time, the university moved aggressively and with little faculty input to sharply increase student enrollment, despite faculty apprehensions about the impact on student preparedness and our institution’s pedagogical identity and long-term stability.

Meanwhile, significant evidence compiled by Faculty Senate and others indicated that faculty salaries had declined relative to our peer institutions and purchasing power had diminished. As a result, many departments are dealing with serious salary compression and inversion. Recruitment and retention of faculty pose major challenges. Some of our colleagues are facing financial hardship. Morale has hit an all-time low, as powerful essays by our colleagues Elicka Sparks and Tim Silver attest.

Now, with COVID-19, we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis of historic proportions. Suddenly, the athletics program and enrollment goals don’t seem quite as important as they did a few months ago. Who is called upon to keep the university afloat, whose work is suddenly essential, who ensures “continuity of instruction?” You, of course. The faculty.

I know your dedication will keep this university going.

I only wish you — we —  mattered in regular times.

I wish our leadership didn’t see a raise for the Athletics Director as cause for congratulations, but (unsuccessful) calls for a faculty raise as “complaining.”

For now, I have emphasized several priorities in the crucial period ahead:

  1. Faculty (through Faculty Senate) must be regularly and substantively informed about the university’s financial wellbeing.
  2. The administration must, as soon as possible, make realistic salary commitments to faculty and staff.
  3. Shared governance bodies (especially Faculty Senate) must participate in and closely monitor any significant policy changes made in these crisis times. To that end, I have called a special meeting of Faculty Senate (in the form of an Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole) next Monday, March 30.

I am truly sorry that the effort to get a faculty raise has not succeeded, at least for now.

But I know that now, as you teach and conduct your scholarship in your home offices, in your living rooms, and alongside your children and loved ones, you are Appalachian State University.

In regular times, there might be more confusion about what the university is. In crisis times, matters are far clearer.

Thank you for the university you are.


Michael Behrent

Faculty Senate Chair