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SLU earmarks $13.4 million for faculty, staff raises

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2013: Addressing one of the issues that prompted strife between faculty at Saint Louis University and its president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the university says it will set aside $13.4 million for salary increases for faculty and staff in the upcoming school year.

But faculty members say some raises being granted are smaller than those recommended by professors' supervisors, and the change may be retaliation for faculty members who were active in protests against Biondi.

The university had granted no raises in the academic year that just ended because of uncertainties about enrollment as the economy grew out of recession, a SLU spokesman said. Similar economic concerns, including the effect of the economy on the university’s endowment, led to no raises in the 2009-10 year as well.

In each of the two intervening years, 2010-11 and 2011-12, the spokesman said, the university earmarked $5.8 million for salary increases. In the 2008-09 fiscal year, as the economic downturn took hold, the pool of money for raises was $10.3 million.

Of the money available for raises in the year that began July 1, $10 million will be used for performance merit increases, the university said, with another $2.7 million for what it called market adjustments and $650,000 for faculty members who receive promotions in rank or tenure. It said that nearly 98 percent of all eligible faculty and staff are receiving increases.

“Providing this generous $13.4 million compensation pool clearly demonstrates SLU’s ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining the very best faculty and staff to serve our students and our patients,” Biondi said in a statement. “This financial commitment to our faculty and staff shows the strength of our university and recognition of the important contributions of all of our employees.

“In light of our nation’s economic challenges and our continuing efforts to keep tuition affordable for all of our students, SLU is blessed to be able to fund these salary increases for this fiscal year.”

But the money for raises was not greeted with praise from the executive committee of the SLU faculty senate. In a statement sent out Wednesday afternoon, the committee said:

"The Faculty Senate Executive Committee has learned that a number of faculty have received contracts with token salary increases that are significantly lower than the increases recommended by their respective deans.  We also have reason to believe that the affected individuals are persons who took public positions in support of the faculty's vote of no confidence in the president. 

"We believe that such apparent acts of retaliation warrant serious scrutiny and that the president should be held accountable for this action by informing the affected faculty members of the reasons supporting his decision to overrule the recommendations of the respective deans.  From the perspective of the FSEC, the president should overrule ... recommendations only in extraordinary circumstances and for reasons that can be supported by longstanding, valid principles and clear proof.   We also believe that such acts of apparent retaliation raise new questions about the president's suitability to lead our university consistently with its Catholic, Jesuit traditions." 

Biondi approves raises based on recommendations from academic supervisors or, in the case of staff, department managers and vice presidents. Market adjustments outside of the normal salary schedule are made for specific disciplines based on data from comparable fields nationwide.

The university also worked with an outside consultant to conduct a market analysis of staff positions to devise a new salary structure and guidelines.

When the Faculty Senate at SLU voted no confidence in Biondi last fall and asked the board of trustees to fire him as president, one of the reasons given was that faculty salaries at the university had fallen below those at peer institutions.

A document prepared by the senate last year urged the university to provide a merit pay pool of at least 6 percent and $2 million to be used to reverse what it called “the growing disparities of faculty salaries at higher rank levels.”

An accompanying analysis said:

“In numerous areas, new hires at local community colleges are being offered more compensation than associate or full professors in the same field at Saint Louis University. If we want to attract and retain the ‘best and the brightest,’ then we need to compensate them accordingly.”

A chart in the report showed that faculty salaries at SLU were below those of the nation’s top 100 ranked universities at every level.

After protracted protests that included similar votes by the university’s Student Government Association, Biondi announced on May 4 that he had asked the trustees to begin searching for his replacement. No timetable for his departure was announced.

J. Joe Adorjan, who became the new president of the board of trustees on the same day that Biondi announced he would be leaving, said that SLU would be studying best practices at other campuses as it begins the search process for replacing Biondi. SLU’s bylaws do not require that the next president of the university be a Jesuit, and Adorjan said that factor will not be a key one in whoever is selected.

In a recent email, Adorjan said the search for Biondi's successor is "a work in progress. At this time there is nothing to report."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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