MU faculty turnover a relatively rare occurrence

The faculty turnover rate at MU has been just 7 percent for three years.
During her free hour, Kathleen Spears assists students in analyzing mouse embryonic stem cells. Spears has been teaching biology on and off at MU since 2007.

With three years between the most recent merit raise and now, MU might be susceptible to having its faculty members lured away by offers from other schools.

During the 2010-11 school year, MU faculty had the ninth highest salary in the Big 12 Conference. Deputy Provost Ken Dean said salary is the most important factor in choosing a job for most professors.

“When you go for a long period of time without raises, it begins to affect morale,” Dean said. “It also makes people more susceptible to inquiries from other universities that do have the funds and the interest to hire them away, and we have seen some of that.”

Faculty members might be lured to other schools because of the lack of salary raise opportunities at MU. Faculty Council Chairwoman Leona Rubin said professors only have two opportunities to receive merit raises, after which their salaries plateau.

“Each time you change jobs you get a salary increase,” Rubin said. “Faculty have two salary increases. Other than that, they have no other advancement opportunities. The only way they can get more increases in salary is to get another job offer.”

Professor Virginia Huxley, who serves as the director of the National Center for Gender Physiology, said professors often seek offers from other schools in order to draw a bigger salary from MU. Faculty members who conduct research may be frustrated at the lack of resources given to improve future projects. Although MU often offers support for research projects, faculty members are responsible for finding outside resources such as grants.

“The University of Missouri has been generous in coming up with packages to bring people here,” she said. “If you started off here and have been successful, the university doesn’t turn around and say, ‘You’ve been really helpful, here are funds we’ve raised.’”

Professor Joe Parcell said the process of seeking raises elsewhere was a simple matter of economics.

“I’m an economist, so I see everything from an opportunity cost standpoint,” he said. “I don’t want to call it a game, but if you want to be successful at your home institution financially, sometimes you have to go out and interview other places and find out what MU’s willing to pay for you to stay.”

Huxley said professors who seek salary increases through counteroffers have to take other universities seriously.

“If you’re going to interview someplace, it’s only fair to the place that you look at your offer seriously,” Huxley said. “Otherwise, it’s a waste of everybody’s time, money and resources, and you can only do that so many times in your career.”

While MU has been hit by state budget cuts, universities in other states have also been affected, but to varying degrees. Dean said each department varies in its ability to compete with other schools.

“Some of our disciplines have more competitive salaries,” he said. “In other disciplines, we’re not as competitive and it’s very difficult to recruit. It’s just getting harder and harder because of not having enough funds to continue to be competitive.”

Dean said different schools within MU use different strategies to save money and provide flexibility in hiring and retaining faculty members.

In addition, the prestige of different schools within MU affects their ability to hire quality faculty. For example, the School of Journalism and the College of Veterinary Medicine are both notable in their respective fields, but MU was ranked No. 94 overall in U.S. News and World Report’s most recent rankings.

In the 2010 University of Missouri Employee Pay and Benefits Preference Survey, 54 percent of respondents indicated it would take them a lot to leave MU, with 45 percent saying they hardly ever thought about leaving to work somewhere else.

MU offers faculty members medical and life insurance as well as disability and retirement plans. Betsy Rodriguez, vice president for human resources of the UM System, said MU’s benefits package is competitive.

Although budget cuts will not affect the benefits package, steeply rising health care costs will lead to a price increase on the medical plan. In addition, the Board of Curators, the governing board of the UM System, voted during the summer to revise the retirement plan for new hires beginning in October 2012.

The new retirement plan will be more flexible, which some professors see as a positive thing.

“I’m very happy that they’re looking at an alternative retirement plan, only because I feel like that makes everybody more flexible,” Parcell said. “In the long run, that will be a win-win for faculty, staff and MU.”

In a 2010 poll, 34 percent of faculty in the UM System agreed that domestic partner benefits should become a high priority if resources become available. Rubin said MU is one of five schools in the American Association of Universities that does not offer domestic partnership benefits.

“I know deans and chairs have been pushing with the issue," Rubin said. "They’re having a hard time competing. Not only are salaries low, but that’s a benefit they don’t offer.”

Rodriguez said the UM System is not in a position to expand benefits.

“The faculty are extremely interested in adding domestic partner benefits,” she said. “We’re interested in it as well, but the problem is the cost. Given the budget situation we’re in, it’s been a difficult conversation. It’s definitely being considered.”

Professor Carol Ward said MU should focus on diversifying its faculty and hiring spouses of current employees when possible to encourage families to stay in Columbia.

“The university needs to work on increasing the diversity of the faculty in terms of underrepresented groups,” she said. “There are good efforts that are beginning to be made, but that’s an area they should focus on.”

Huxley said she felt MU could encourage faculty to be more productive by rewarding professors for research and other outside endeavors.

“I wish that there could acknowledgement of the people who are here, because there would be a higher emphasis on those kinds of scholarly activities,” she said. “It wouldn’t take much of an investment to actually improve the demeanor of the faculty that are here.”

Although MU might have a difficult time competing with private institutions, Rubin noted that their missions are not the same.

“I think most state land grant schools have a mission to educate students of the state,” she said. “Few of them are the Harvard’s or the Wash. U’s. There are some departments and colleges here that are competitive with the very best in the country, but as a whole I think we have a mission to educate the students of the state of Missouri, and that’s OK. We don’t mind doing that.”

Despite the drawbacks of staying at MU, many professors stay because of other aspects of the university.

“For an individual person, it might be wanting to live in a smaller town as opposed to a big city or being closer to family,” Dean said.

Rubin said that professors want to work in an inviting, productive atmosphere.

“I don’t think salary is always the single most important thing,” she said. “I do think it’s important that they have an opportunity within the discipline to collaborate and work with other people that have similar interests to theirs. It’s hard to be successful as an island.”

Ward said an emphasis on research and collaborations between disciplines make MU an appealing place to work.

“One thing that MU does have and really promotes is a really well-developed emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty that extends to students,” she said.

Parcell said MU’s size and range of programs gives it an advantage.

“You won’t find many campuses with an agricultural school, law school and med school, along with business, arts and science and humanities in terms of collaborations that can occur,” Parcell said.

Huxley said the community of academics is the primary reason for professors staying at MU, followed by the community of Columbia, which she felt was very accepting of professors.

“The thing I really like about the Midwest is that the motivation of most faculty and students is not to win the Nobel Prize or a presidential award,” Huxley said. “It’s really based on the betterment of the community and some of the old-fashioned values. It’s made it a really nice place to live and work.”

Despite budget cuts, faculty turnover rate at MU held steady at 7 percent for the past three years, well below the national average for educational institutions, 13.5 percent.

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