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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Faculty Senate addresses employee pay plan cut and thoughts of unionizing

Chase+Billingham%2C+an+at-large+senator%2C+speaks+to+the+Faculty+Senate+at+the+meeting+on+Nov.+14%2C+2023.
Nithin Reddy Nagapur
Chase Billingham, an at-large senator, speaks to the Faculty Senate at the meeting on Nov. 14, 2023.

Amidst several other unionizing universities and colleges in Kansas, associate history professor George Dehner called on members of the Faculty Senate to unionize at Wichita State. The Senate also spent its last meeting of the academic year discussing compensation at the university.

Unionizing at WSU

In an informal statement to the Faculty Senate, Dehner talked about the recent vote among faculty at the University of Kansas to unionize and join the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers.

The 850-person vote from KU makes it the third university and fourth college overall to unionize, along with Pittsburgh State University, Fort Hays State University and Johnson County Community College.

“There’s a number of reasons why people would unionize,” Dehner said. “One of the things that was pointed out in the press release is that KU salaries are 34th out of 38 public institutions in the Association of American Universities.”

Wichita State has a group of unionized employees known as WSU Local 6405, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and AFT Kansas.

According to Dehner, when comparing salaries with master’s grant programs at Fort Hays State with research institutions at Wichita State, Fort Hays State is more on track in paying its employees competitive wages than Wichita State.

Dehner went on to say that WSU faculty and the body of the Senate would benefit from unionizing if they were to think about how important they are to the state and not how lucky they are to be employed.

“I have heard expressed in this body that we should feel lucky to have our jobs. I don’t feel that the state is doing me a favor to hire me to work at this institution,” Dehner said. “I believe I do an important job, and I do it damn well.”

Pay raises for university employees

According to Wichita State chief of staff and executive director of government relations Zach Gearhart, Gov. Laura Kelly attempted to increase pay by 5% for state workers in January.

This pay increase for state employees would aid Wichita State in achieving its market-based compensation plans, which aim to make WSU wages competitive with other universities and colleges.

The plan includes benefit-eligible employees such as full-time faculty and staff and excludes adjuncts or lecturers.

“Unfortunately, what happened was we were looking really good with employee pay in terms of keeping that 5% in there … and it was down to the very last issue to be worked out between the (Kansas) House and the Senate,” Gearhart said. “The House looked at what the Senate’s budget was going to cost and determined that the Senate’s budget was spending way past what the governor was spending.”

According to Gearhart, the Kansas House decided to take the higher education portion of the employee pay plan and cut it from 5%, or $3.74 million, to 2.5%, or $1.7 million. The budget experienced a similar cut last year.

With the 2.5% increase, which equates to $1.7 million, WSU is still in need of $24 million to achieve its market-based compensation goals.

When he heard about the 2.5% cut, Gearhart said he and other university government relations directors went to the Kansas House Appropriations Committee to tell members that the agencies were under the market as is.

“They appreciated the information, but they said, ‘Higher ed doesn’t have data to go off of like the other state agencies in terms of what it takes to get to market,’” Gearhart said. “I said, ‘No, we have data; we’ve been working on this for years … but we know exactly how far we are off market across all of our different employees.’”

Gearhart said one of the House Committee members he met with stated that while he appreciated that WSU has the information, other state agencies, including the Department of Commerce, Department of Corrections and Department of Agriculture, don’t. Gearhart did not specify which committee member this was.

“So in the back of my head, really what’s occurring is they’re trying to get done with (the) session …and this was the easy out,” Gearhart said. “What they said to basically appease higher education was, ‘We’ll stick with the (2.5%), but we will create an interim committee that will then study every university’s market-based compensation plan.’”

According to Gearhart, the interim committee will meet between the end of the session and the new session starting in January 2025 to study market-based compensation in higher education.

Ending on an optimistic note, Gearhart said that before the veto, WSU was granted some money from the state, including:

  • $41 million for the Wichita Biomedical Campus
  • $5 million for the expansion of paid applied learning at WSU
  • $5 million for research with NIAR
  • $3.4 million for WSU and KU School of Medicine to share for behavioral health training program

Wichita State chief human resources officer Vicki Whisenhant said WSU’s divisional leaders, which included President Richard Muma, Vice President of Finance and Administration Werner Golling and Provost Shirley Lefever, met on May 3 and approved a plan that would give those in the market-based compensation plan a 1% increase across the board.

“We totally realize that that’s not even close to coming to what your real value is, but it’s what we could do this year,” Whisenhant said. “The rest of the 0.7 million will be spread across faculty and staff for market-based adjustments with the majority going to faculty.”

According to Whisenhant, $700,000 will be going to market-based compensation, with $500,000 of that amount going to faculty to help address the $24 million market gap.

“It won’t get us there, but it will make a small step,” Whisenhant said. “We realized especially what happened last year with faculty pay and the market shift that we needed to prioritize faculty.”

Chase Billingham, an associate sociology professor, said the decision reflects what he has regularly mentioned at Faculty Senate meetings throughout the 2023-2024 academic year.

“This is disappointing,” Billingham said. “This process of waiting for what happens in the veto session, waiting for what the legislature says that they will give to us is an unsustainable way of handling a priority like market-based compensation if we do believe that it is a priority.”

Over the past few years, Billingham said he has encouraged the Senate to prioritize faculty pay from day one of the fiscal year.

“Other things in the university’s budget don’t seem to work this way other than how much we’re going to compensate our people,” Billingham said. “Waiting until the last second to see what the legislature gives us in order to figure out that the faculty compensation plan hasn’t been working for the last few years.”

Whisenhant said employees will be getting an official letter from HR about the compensation plan in June.

On May 13, the Faculty Senate adjourned for the 2023-2024 academic year and immediately reconvened for the 2024-2025 academic year with incoming president Mathew Muether gaveling in the first session and opening remarks.

As incoming president, Muether welcomed new senators and set the executive committee for the next academic year. The Faculty Senate will meet again after summer break on Aug. 26 in Hubbard Hall.

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About the Contributors
Jacinda Hall
Jacinda Hall, Podcast Editor
Jacinda Hall is the podcast editor for The Sunflower. Hall is a junior majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in English literature. Her favorite quote is by Kurt Cobain: “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” In her free time, Hall likes to go to the gym, crochet and make fancy beverages. Hall's pronouns are she/her.
Nithin Reddy Nagapur
Nithin Reddy Nagapur, Former photographer
Nithin Reddy Nagapur was a photographer for The Sunflower. Nagapur graduated in Fall 2023.

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