University of Montana faculty at odds with state over pay raises

Historians in the News

During an open forum on the University of Montana campus recently, a professor asked new Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian whether his appointment would help or hurt the faculty's contract negotiations with the state.

"I'm hopeful it will help," Christian replied. "I hope it's a smooth transition. There is no hindrance."...

In September, the state settled contracts that cover most other employees at campuses statewide. But four months later, there is still no agreement with UM's faculty, as well as professors at the University of Montana Western in Dillon and Montana State University-Northern in Havre.

All university employees statewide received the same compensation deal: a 1 percent raise in the first year of the biennium and a 2 percent raise in the second year, as well as a $500 flat fee each year. The money for those raises came from increases in student tuition after the 2011 Montana Legislature chose not to fund pay hikes....

Twenty years ago, history professor Michael Mayer applied for a tenure-track job at a public university out of state and had to provide his salary information. The school called later that week and asked Mayer for his current salary, not his starting salary.

"That was no mistake," he said. "That was my current salary at that time. It was embarrassing."

Mayer says UM was last in the nation in terms of faculty salaries when he arrived on campus more than two decades ago. And nothing has changed.

Critics complain that university professors make decent wages by Montana standards. Mayer doesn't dispute that. But UM rarely hires from within Montana. Universities seek out the most qualified applicants nationwide, and by those standards, Montana's pay is extremely low....

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