Over the next few days, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is set to release initial proposals for permanent budget cuts to address a multi-million dollar shortfall due to declining enrollment.
The reductions recommended by the university’s Academic Planning Committee will be made public by April 14 and are expected to amount to $10.77 million.
While no permanent budget cuts are likely to make Chancellor Ronnie Green a popular man, some cuts would do more harm to the university than others.
Reducing the pay of professors — as opposed to firing or cutting programs outright — may seem to be a reasonable solution. After all, UNL faculty earn an average salary of $104,448, while professors earn an average of $132,868.
Given the state’s median per capita income of $35,189 and median household income of $66,644, UNL’s faculty members are paid quite handsomely.
Even compared to other university faculty in Nebraska, UNL faculty make more than faculty at the University of Nebraska Medical Center ($83,410), the University of Nebraska Omaha ($76,704) and the University of Nebraska at Kearney ($71,409).
Surely a minor pay cut for highly paid employees would not be out of the question, right? No kids would end up starving if their parents were paid $80,000 instead of $100,000.
Ensuring that no university employee’s kids starve should indeed be the bare minimum, but reducing professor pay may result in a professor talent exodus from the university. Faculty at the university already receive the 13th lowest pay on average in the Big Ten — only ahead of Penn State — according to UnivStats.com.
UNL also has the lowest academic performance among Big Ten schools, and it is not particularly close.
While I would hesitate to assume causation from the correlation between professor pay and academic performance, lower professor pay can be harmful for a variety of reasons.
Many of the best and brightest faculty in higher education are able to find jobs in the private sector and receive higher pay for a lighter workload. Additionally, lower faculty pay is linked to higher rates of attrition.
With inflation, many professors are seeing a decline in the purchasing power of their salaries as full-time higher education faculty salaries increased 2% in 2021, while the Consumer Price Index jumped 7%.
The frustration has recently boiled over at another Big Ten university, despite seemingly high pay compared to most Americans.
The average professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey makes over $164,000 each year, but thousands of Rutgers faculty recently went on strike for salary increases, among other grievances.
The average salary for journalists in Nebraska is just over $32,000, so it is hard to feel too bad for professors making six figures. But, the long-term academic success of the university depends on higher professor pay.
I am indebted to the great professors I have had throughout the last four years, but if the allure of a higher salary elsewhere swayed them away, my education would have been lower quality.
On the other hand, my experience as a Husker fan was rather low quality over the last few years, despite Fred Hoiberg and Scott Frost each receiving a salary over $3 million.
It is important to note that the football and basketball programs make money for the university, and the athletic department remained financially strong, even through the depths of the pandemic.
In order to remain competitive across Power Five sports, Nebraska needs to continue to pay its revenue sport coaches a large amount, but at the end of the day, Nebraska Athletics is merely the icing on the cake. Sure, Husker athletics can be sweeter than the academic side of the university, but the athletic department could not exist without the academics.
According to the university, the role of UNL as “the primary intellectual and cultural resource for the state is fulfilled through the three missions of the university: teaching, research and service.”
Funds from athletics help the university to fulfill those missions, but athletic achievement itself is not one of the missions of the university.
Likewise, administrative staff are important in helping the university fulfill its mission but only so far as they are helping support those who directly teach, research and serve.
A single chemistry professor may not attract 85,000 screaming fans on a Saturday, but they are directly responsible for achieving the university’s mission. The money the athletic department makes is pointless without university professors.
If anything, it seems that UNL professors deserve a raise instead of a pay cut. If salaries do not grow at the same rate as inflation — which is currently at 5% — then professors are receiving a de facto pay cut.
With $10.77 million in budget cuts on the way, it is unlikely that extensive pay raises are on the horizon, but it is vital that the university does not make additional cuts, like those seen at the University of Missouri and Michigan State University.
As much as this argument sounds like a way to get an A from my professors on my final projects before graduation, I believe that the future success of the university depends on its ability to attract quality professors who can provide quality education.
There is no easy way to make budget cuts at a flagship state university, but professor pay cuts should be out of the question.
Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.