Faculty raises 'most worrisome' budget issue for Iowa State

Wintersteen: 'We have to pay a competitive salary'

Iowa State University 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 University 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)

After deep funding cuts last year left most Iowa State University faculty and administrators without pay raises, new ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said Monday she hopes to avoid a repeat this year — despite yet another state funding take back.

Doing so is imperative as ISU, like the University of Iowa, copes with declining state support while continuing to compete nationally for top scholars and students.

“This is probably the most worrisome budget issue that we have in front of us,” Wintersteen told The Gazette’s editorial board Monday.

That is saying a lot as ISU had to cut $5.4 million in state appropriations from its current budget. The UI also must cut a similar amount, but lawmakers agreed the state’s smallest public campus — the University of Northern Iowa — be held harmless from the late-year budget cuts.

Nonetheless, the cuts are part of shrinking state support for the public universities. All told, Board of Regents universities have seen state support for their general education budgets plummet more than $40 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.

Yet enrollment at the universities has soared.

Before the most recent cutback, regents asked lawmakers to increase general education support by $12 million for the 2019 budget year — promising to use it all on student scholarships.

Lawmakers instead approved $8.3 million more to be split between the schools — but with the midyear cuts, that still means base general education appropriations for the universities are $14.6 million below the board's 2019 goal.

The board office hasn’t yet decided how to split the $8.3 million, or commit to all of it going toward scholarships.

In response to cuts, the UI has halted new construction on campus, left some positions open and discontinued at least one program. ISU has delayed its already deferred maintenance, left open some jobs and cut some programs’ budgets, Wintersteen said.

ISU’s honors program and its Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching are among those cut “on a temporary basis,” although Wintersteen said administrators haven’t decided whether to eventually restore that money.

ISU in 2017 saw its most faculty resignations in a decade with 44, up from 24 the previous year. That was the year then-interim ISU President Ben Allen announced state cuts had created such a “tight environment for employee salary increases” that only $970,000 was available campuswide for increases for faculty, professional and scientific staff and contract staff.

“That was really devastating for morale,” Wintersteen said. “When you have individuals who work as hard as they do at Iowa State University, this becomes problematic.”

In exit interviews, according to regent documents, 65 percent of respondents said they were leaving for a “better opportunity elsewhere.” Although few said salary was the primary motivation, 44 percent reported their new pay would be “much higher than ISU.”

“Sometimes Iowans forget that the universities exist in a competitive environment,” Wintersteen said. “To bring the best faculty and staff to work at the university, we have to pay a competitive salary.”

In a recent report to the Board of Regents, Wintersteen noted ISU averages the lowest faculty salary among its peer universities and well below the mean of members in the Association of American Universities, to which it belongs.

With an average faculty salary of $106,629, ISU’s next closest peer is the University of Wisconsin at $109,375. The AAU mean is $128,978, according to the report.

“So I’m very worried about the situation,” Wintersteen said, noting that since her hire in October her top priority has been “figuring out how to do a salary increase.”

While that would help retention, it also would benefit the economy with research and business development, she said.

Still, lawmakers last year cut all funding for the Leopold Center, an enterprise focused on enabling farming profitability while conserving natural resources.

Wintersteen also expressed concern over insufficient state support for a new Diagnostic Veterinary Lab, a $124 million project crucial to farming that’s the busiest in the nation.

A legislative budget for the 2019 fiscal year has the state committing $1 million to the project in the first year, part of a total of $63.5 million, or about half the cost.

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