The Highlands University Board of Regents last week approved a new contract that gives increases to faculty, a day after the professors union voted for the pact.
In recent weeks, the Faculty Association had complained about the administration publicly, alleging that the school is top-heavy and that professors lagged behind their peers at other colleges.
Under the approved contract, assistant professors will get a 2.5 percent increase, associate professors a 3 percent increase and full professors a 5.5 percent increase. The raises are retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
The new contract also included changes related to grievances, evaluations, promotions and tenure.
If the regents and faculty hadn’t agreed on the contract by this week, the professors would have lost the the right to retroactive pay increases.
A year ago, professors got 10 percent raises on average. But they still contended that their pay was far below that of their peers at similarly sized institutions.
The union got particularly upset when the Board of Regents approved a $56,000 raise for President Jim Fries last fall, for a total of $232,000 a year. At the time, the regents said that such pay was comparable to peer institutions.
The union asked why the board couldn’t do the same for professors. Bringing Highlands professors to peer levels would cost $781,000 more a year, which could be paid for through a reduction in a top-heavy administration, the union contended.
At last week’s board meeting, Regent Jesus Lopez complimented the union’s president, Kathy Jenkins, for “vigorously” advocating on behalf of the professors. He also thanked the members of the administration’s bargaining team.
But Lopez said the negotiations, which have lasted since late last summer, were stalled until Fries got actively involved a couple of weeks ago.
Fries, however, resisted the characterization that the talks were stalled until he joined them. He said they just hadn’t culminated yet.
The regents unanimously approved the proposed contract. (Regent Nancy Long participated in the meeting via phone, while Pete Aguilar didn’t attend.)
The union said its members overwhelmingly approved the contact; it didn’t provide a tally.
Jenkins said the union was happy with the final agreement.
“We hope that the NMHU Administration and Board of Regents will continue to work to address the serious inequities in faculty salaries versus our peer institutions,” she said in a statement. “Even though we have made great progress in salaries over the past two years, NMHU faculty are still paid well below peer averages by rank and discipline. These inequities must be addressed immediately to help recruit and retain the most qualified faculty.”