Montana boasts a unique designation in our country. Forty-one of fifty states’ highest paid state employees are either a basketball or a football coach. Montana, however, is one of nine who pay someone other than an athletic coach higher, that being our university presidents.
These priorities were reflected in the recent budget passed when the Board of Regents met in September. A 2.25 percent pay raise was approved for Montana University System (MUS) Presidents Waded Cruzado of MSU and Royce Engstrom of UM, as well as several other administrative posts within both universities. These pay raises are commendable, it shows how Montana values education first and gives our executives a reason to stay at our universities instead of seeking better-paying jobs at other colleges.
This same 2.25 percent pay raise was also applied to several of the faculty unions, including tenured professors. Currently, the average pay for full professors at Montana State University, according to public database website FindTheData, sits at $86,150 per year. However, MSU sits uncomfortably below the national average of $123,393, according to the American Association of University Professors. Kevin McRae, Associate Commissioner of Higher Education for Communications and Human Services, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that Montana ranks on the bottom of the national pay scale for professors and faculty.
Among faculty at Montana State University, it is joked the lower pay is a “scenery tax”, taking lower pay to live in the beautiful Gallatin Valley. According to a statement made by Student Regent Zachary Rogala after the meeting, lower pay is justifiable, considering the low cost of living in Montana. If this was the case, though, Montana schools would not struggle to keep talented faculty at the school. One such example was when MSU’s Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, Tom McCoy, left the university for a position at the University of North Texas that pays nearly $100,000 more per year than his position here.
[pullquote align=”right”]If this was the case, though, Montana schools would not struggle to keep talented faculty at the school.[/pullquote]
If the MUS wishes to continue to provide high-caliber professorial talent for both the existing student body and the high volume of incoming students, both the Board of Regents and the Montana Legislature must keep this issue in mind. The 2013 legislature session denied a request for a 5 percent increase for university faculty and state employee salaries, a move not conducive for dealing with this issue.
The current raises are commendable and certainly helpful, but in the long run, the low pay rates will hurt the university system if steps are not made to make our universities competitive in salary and benefits. The “scenery tax” can only be justifiable for so long, after all.