Staff deserve merit raises

Paul Grotevant

In your July 13 editorial “Put a pause on pay raises,” you argue that this is an inappropriate time to award a permanent merit-based pay increase to faculty and staff at the University, going so far as referring to it as “reprehensible” to do so. Your position is based largely on two stated facts. First, that faculty salaries have already increased dramatically in the last decade. Second, that other universities are unable to offer truly competitive salary increases in this economic climate, making it an unnecessary luxury to offer raises at UT at this time.

Unfortunately, by making these arguments regarding the approximately 4,000 full-time teaching staff at the University, you are also arguing to deny the first opportunity in several years for a very small merit-based pay increase to the much larger (approximately 20,000) number of full, and part-time non-teaching staff on our campus, many of whom are not participants in the national higher education job market. The competitive health of that market is not a benchmark that should be used to determine whether a merit-based increase is appropriate for the university’s non-teaching staff.

Practically speaking, the University of Texas at Austin does not compete with UC Berkeley, Michigan or Harvard for custodial and maintenance staff, food service workers, administrative professionals, health care professionals or IT staff. Rather, we compete with state and local government, national companies with local offices and retail outlets, hospitals and clinics, and local businesses, including the many Austin-based technology companies that have spent the last several years hiring away university programmers and technical staff who have grown tired of working in an environment of layoffs and increasing workload without even the promise of a small merit-based pay increase.

Clearly the current economic environment calls for prudent and careful management of the University’s treasure. But please remember that when you argue for denying pay increases to all UT faculty and staff because you think that faculty earn enough as it is and aren’t in a competitive job market, you are also arguing to deny pay increases to thousands more staff who are either struggling to get by in an increasingly expensive city on stagnant state wages, or are participants in what is actually a competitive local market for knowledge workers. Either way, your position does not do justice to the institution, and will eventually result in further degradation of the university’s already frayed spiritual and physical fabric.