On Sept. 19, the Montana University System Board of Regents (BOR) approved a $1.4 billion budget and a 2.25 percent pay raise for thousands of Montana University System (MUS) employees. The meeting, which took place in Butte, also decided that $250 per union will be available for employees in 11 unions over the next two years. An additional 14 unions are still being debated.
The BOR consists of seven people who are appointed by the governor, one of the seven being the student regent, Zachary Rogala. They voted unanimously in favor of the new budget and pay raises. The budget and salary increases took effect Oct 1.
The salary raises include not only faculty, but top administrators as well. MSU President Waded Cruzado’s salary rose 2.34 percent, thus increasing from $289,466 to $296,229. Cruzado, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian are the highest paid state employees in Montana.
Vice President of Administration and Finance Terry Leist spoke highly of the new budget. “I was not directly involved with the process,” Leist said. “It certainly seemed like there was a very good dialogue between legislative folks and the system office.”
Leist explained how the new budget allows MSU to accommodate for the record high level of enrollment at 15,294 students. “It will make a noticeable difference in that we can invest as much as possible into academic enterprise by getting it to academic departments and the student services departments,” said Leist. “We have more students so we want to make sure we are able to support those students with the resources we have.”
While the decision was largely supported by the BOR, a concern was voiced that the pay raise increases the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees at MSU, which may negatively influence funding in the future.
The BOR presented a 2007 report on the low salary that MUS employees receive in comparison to other universities in the nation. Rogala said, “There is a negative image that surrounds the low pay Montana educators receive. However it is a more complex discussion then simply comparing Montana salaries to other university salaries.” Rogala emphasized that Montana has a lower cost of living than other areas and comparing Montana universities’ pay to other schools, such as Harvard or UC Berkeley, is not a reasonable comparison.
“We want to recruit and retain the highest quality employee we can. However it is easy to see arguments for more modest pay based on Montana’s limited resources,” said Rogala, “We all want the best we can get. The question is what can we afford?”