By Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho

President, Higher Education Council, Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFT/AFL-CIO


Dear President White: You Owe Us Another Five Years PDF

A Runaway Train: Administrative Salaries Steam Ahead of Faculty  PDF

Whistleblowers Need More Protection at the University of Idaho  PDF  

The Overuse and Abuse of Part-Time Faculty  PDF

Academic Tenure is Not Sacrosanct: The Cases of Professors Churchill and Maki PDF

 Blaming the Faculty: More Good than Bad in the Yardley Report

The Meterley Report: Always Giving 3.37 Inches More Than Yardley PDF

UI Athletics Get Big Breaks During Financial Crises

Idaho's University Program Reduction Procedures "Severely Deficient" PDF

2008-2009 UI Faculty Salary Survey


The University of Idaho may find it difficult to hire a new president if the salary demands of the external candidates are as outrageous as the one who just turned us down. According to an Associated Press story, Duane Nellis wanted to start at $370,354.  This may not appear excessive if you consider the fact that last year's median salary for public university executives across the country was $427,400, with Ohio State's chief topping the list at $1,346,225.


When former UI president Tim White left to be chancellor at the University of California at Riverside, he was making $291,912, and the Idaho State Board of Education has communicated that the new person would be offered a salary in the same range. Tim White’s salary was over seven times entry level assistant professors salaries and represents a 411 percent raise on President Gibb’s 1981 salary of $57,115. UI full professor salaries have increased only 198 percent during the same period.  With the consumer price index at 215, this means that White was way ahead of inflation while our professors are still behind.


When I arrived at the University of Idaho in 1972, new assistant professors made $10,000 and President Ernest Hartung made $30,000.  When Richard Gibb was hired in 1977, his executive salary had risen to four times that of entry level faculty. Faculty complaints became more vocal when President Elizabeth Zinser=s 1993 salary was five times entry level salaries. Zinser promised that her "high tide" wage would float all faculty boats, but instead, except for a few good years, our boats have been swamped.  Our full professors are now 21.4 percent behind the national average.


A study by the American Association of University Professors showed that from 1995-2006 these salaries, adjusted for inflation, increased 35 percent while faculty salaries gained only 5 percent. As the authors of this study state: "Endowments grew an average of 82 percent during that time. These figures raise a question of priorities: if institutional endowment funds and presidential compensation grew at substantial rates, why should faculty compensation remain so depressed?"


Defenders of these high salaries always say that we cannot get good people without paying competitive salaries.  White's salary is 32 percent behind the national median, but full professors in five UI departments are 32-35 percent lower than the national averages for their disciplines. During his four years at the UI, five years shorter than the national average, White did provide a modest increase in faculty salaries, primarily by robbing other campus budgets.  As a result we moved up a bit on the peer institution list.  While White's salary placed him sixth on the list of 12 institutions, the UI faculty now stands at ninth.


During the past 12 years, 76 former UI professors in 20 disciplines have moved on to greener pastures. Plant, Soil, and Entomological Sciences reports a 20 percent attrition rate, and about a dozen faculty are actively looking for jobs elsewhere.  Biological sciences has lost at least eight faculty in ten years and they report many failed searches because of noncompetitive salaries.  Read the full list here.


Obviously, these faculty do not agree with education board spokesman Mark Browning, who made the incredible claim that the UI is the "Harvard of the West."  Browning says that over time "a good president pays for him or herself," but these top faculty who left would rather have the competitive salaries and institutional support up front so they can do their jobs properly.


The UI has not been well served by previous external candidates.  Top management shuffling by Zinser, Hoover, and White caused unnecessary confusion and expense, and a new financial management plan was a disaster. Recent deans of science, liberal arts, and engineering were hired at high salaries and at great expense, but each lasted only three years.  They will, much to the distress of their colleagues, continue to draw huge salaries as ordinary faculty members.


After being burned in our enthusiastic support for Elizabeth Zinser in 1993, my faculty union is no longer recommending presidential candidates.  My personal favorite, however, is Donald Burnett, currently dean of the UI law school.  Burnett has the all the makings of a great president: solid integrity, eloquent speaker, politically astute, and excellent interpersonal skills.  He knows Idaho and the university and we know him well.


I hope that Burnett would accept the salary that the state board is offering. He would also meet the board's requirement that he have "a long-term successful voyage" with UI faculty and staff.