Education

Iowa State University thaws pay freeze, despite budget cuts

'Pay increases are critically important'

Iowa State president Wendy Wintersteen speaks to The Gazette’s Editorial Board during a meeting at the offices of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa State president Wendy Wintersteen speaks to The Gazette’s Editorial Board during a meeting at the offices of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Although little has improved by way of Board of Regents funding in a year — conditions, in fact, have worsened in regards to state support — Iowa State University is thawing a pay freeze enacted last summer, addressing concerns over employee morale.

All ISU employees “with satisfactory performance” will get a 1 percent raise, or more, in the 2019 budget year beginning July 1, according to new proposed salary guidelines for faculty, professional and scientific staff, contract workers, and postdoctoral researchers.

Additionally, administrators could approve raises up to 10 percent “for extraordinary performance, retention, and adjustments based on market rates or equity,” according to ISU communications. A senior vice president would need to approve any pay raise higher than that.

The new salary policy is the first under ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, hired in October to succeed Steven Leath, who left in May 2017 to lead Auburn University. While serving as Interim ISU President last summer, Ben Allen announced midyear cuts and further reductions would prevent the institution from enacting mandatory pay raises.

Instead, with just $970,000 available campuswide for pay increases, Allen said administrators would OK only targeted raises.

Since that freeze, lawmakers have pulled back another nearly $11 million in state support from ISU and University of Iowa — meaning Legislative funding for the general education budgets of Iowa’s three public universities has fallen more than $40 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.

Lawmakers approved an $8.3 million increase for the upcoming budget year — but that’s below the $12 million the universities requested. The Board of Regents, in response, is scheduled this week to approve tuition increases affecting all students in the fall, and all three campuses have enacted cost-cutting measures — like postponing deferred maintenance projects.

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University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld recently imposed a moratorium on new construction and announced no pay raises on his campus until at least January — giving the administration time to evaluate tuition revenue dependent on fall enrollment and assess Legislative decisions following a December meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

But Wintersteen told The Gazette last month her campus’ pay freeze was “really devastating for morale.” In 2017, Iowa State saw its most faculty resignations in a decade with 44 — up from 24 the previous year. In exit interviews, according to Board of Regent documents, 65 percent of departing employees said they were leaving for a better opportunity, and 44 percent said they’d be earning “much higher” pay.

“I’m very worried about the situation,” Wintersteen said in May, noting one of her top priorities has been “figuring out how to do a salary increase.”

In a recent news release, ISU administrators report allocating new funding to cover the 1-percent pay increase for folks in academic administration and support, business services, facilities services, information technology, library services, and student services.

“All other units will use their own resources to pay for raises,” according to the release. “All units must use reallocations to fund any increase beyond 1 percent.”

Across-the-board tuition increases in the fall are expected to generate $10 million in new revenue — although unit heads must enter salary increases by Thursday, meaning the raises will incur some risk.

Employees with unsatisfactory performance records will go on an improvement plan, and those meeting requirements of the plan can earn a 1 percent raise in January.

“Merit pay increases are critically important to recognize our faculty and staff who work hard every day to provide an exceptional experience for our students and advance excellence in our academic, research and extension programs,” Wintersteen said in a statement. “Competitive salaries will continue to be a high priority as we compete nationally to retain and recruit the best faculty and staff.”

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ISU workers covered under a local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and a two-year collective bargaining agreement will receive a 1-percent pay raise July 1. But regents this week will consider a recommendation to give merit workers no additional performance step increases in the 2019 budget year.

“Changes to a state collective bargaining law made in 2017 allow the board to determine whether to provide step increases, which previously were given to all merit employees with satisfactory performance on the anniversary of their start date,” according to Iowa State, which recommended “no step increases, to ensure all employee groups received a similar base raise.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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