By Andrew Donchak
This winter, Fordham’s Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee and Faculty Senate were dealt the task of choosing between merit bonuses and across-the-board raises for the university’s faculty in the fiscal year 2018-19. Ultimately, the decision that passed through the Senate was a reduced merit award of 0.4 percent of salary to roughly half the faculty, with the remaining 2.3 percent available going to all faculty, increasing purchasing power slightly past the Consumer Price Index’s (CPI) inflation rate of 2.1 percent for 2017.
Historically, the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee and the Faculty Senate have negotiated purchasing power increases in addition to offsetting inflation. For the value of the dollar to go down, wages must increase, or else effective salary, or purchasing power, of the faculty will suffer. It has also been tradition at Fordham, as it has been at many schools and businesses, to increase annual wages beyond this amount in order to promote longevity and improve the purchasing power of its constituents.
The contract settled with Fordham’s administration last year offered the Salary and Benefits Committee a very strict pool of 2.7 percent to go towards both raises and merit awards for the duration of the contract, which expires June 30th, 2020. As the committee awaited information on the CPI’s figures on inflation for calendar year 2017, they realized that they had a problem. Reports were suggesting with near-certainty that inflation would be up from the 1% CPI mark for 2016, the number used during the first year of the faculty’s current employment contract with the administration.
Merit was first tethered to inflation at the recommendation of current Salary and Benefits Committee Chair Andrew H. Clark and Senator Margo Jackson back on November 9th, 2012. This began a trend at Fordham to section off a 0.6 percent raise solely for merit each year. However, with the pool of available benefit funds set at 2.7 percent and inflation creeping past 2 percent itself, continuing such a policy would likely leave little room for any increase to the purchasing power of the faculty. This was a problem anticipated, understood and discussed during the formation of the current contract, but the final agreement couldn’t guarantee absolute protection from drastic inflation rates.
On Nov. 17 the committee presented the Faculty Senate with four options on how to handle the incoming crunch: Continuing the current merit policy (0.6 percent) irrespective of inflation, discontinuing merit fully irrespective of inflation (giving all faculty a straight 2.7 percent raise) or two other conditional options: halting or reducing merit. Either of these cases would be executed only if inflation exceeds 2 percent.
These four suggestions were put to a faculty-wide referendum, however there was much debate on how the vote should be presented. Instead of ranking options in order of preference, faculty members selected the position they held most strongly. As a result, even with a rather strong 78 percent of faculty participation, the vote’s results were muddled and left no clear path forward. The most votes went to maintaining the solid 0.6 percent for benefits, with 43.6 percent of all ballots cast. Placing second with 29.3 percent was the option to forgo merit entirely and support a 2.7 percent raise across the board.
These results seemingly offered a pair of contradictory conclusions; first, the most popular course of action was maintaining the 0.6 percent merit structure no matter what. Second, if inflation reaches 2 percent, the majority (56.4 percent) of faculty members would like merit to be suspended or reduced. Only 17.6 percent, included in that majority, sought to keep merit-based raises, although at a reduced value.
As was estimated, the CPI inflation rate came in at 2.1 percent, meaning there simply wasn’t enough money in the allotted 2.7 percent pool to forgo compromise of any sort. The Salary and Benefits Committee resorted to a motion to indicate the lack of consensus, and to form a new subcommittee to investigate and explore other models and practices for these discussions at other schools. In the interim, it recommended to the Faculty Senate that since consensus was unattainable, merit would remain where it had been.
The motion was voted down by the Faculty Senate, who in turn approved a motion to reduce merit by one-third to a 0.4 percent figure, leaving a difference of 0.2 percent to increase the purchasing power of all Fordham faculty.
Looking ahead, Fordham faculty is susceptible to the same dilemma over benefits next year. The hope remains that there can be a stronger safeguard against inflation worked into the next contract with administration, to be drawn up in the Spring of 2020.