Hawkins says higher education treated as ‘second-class’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 20, 2002

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Troy State University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. said he’s tired of the higher education community "being relegated to second-class position" when it comes to funding issues.

And on Tuesday, he said that’s just what the Alabama House of Representatives did when it passed a $4.2 billion education budget that included funding for a 3 percent pay raise for educators in K-12 and two-year colleges, without providing funds for higher ed pay raises.

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"Our faculty salaries already rank 44th in the country," Hawkins said at a Montgomery press conference. "If one segment of education is going to experience an increase, we should all receive the increase."

Hawkins, who is also the chairman of the Presidents’ Council of Higher Education, appeared before the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee to address the controversial education budget. He said the budget does not include enough money for the four-year colleges and universities to provide pay raises for their faculty.

"And we are losing faculty simply because we are losing the competitive edge (in salaries)," he said. "That’s particularly true for our younger faculty, who are vulnerable and don’t have roots that the older faculty would have."

"We are finding it increasingly more difficult to retain and recruit good faculty," Joe Lee, president of Alabama State University, said in a wire report. "Everyday we are confronted with losing someone who is a key player at Alabama State."

Hawkins describes the situation as a "brain drain" and said that increasing faculty salaries is necessary to stop that drain. "And in an attempt to put our money where our mouth was," the presidents and chancellors of all 15 Alabama public universities have pledged to put "every new dollar we receive from the educational trust fund toward increasing faculty compensation," Hawkins said.

"That’s quite a sacrifice because we have consistently experienced an increase in our operating costs," he added.

For Troy State University, that pledge amounts to about $750,000. But, Hawkins said, giving the system’s faculty a 3 percent raise would require about $1.25 million. "They’re underfunding us by half a million dollars, if we want to get to that level," he said.

So the presidents and chancellors are asking the Legislature to dedicated one-third of the new revenues from the educational trust fund to higher education. The current budget proposal allocates only 28 percent, he said.

"That 28 percent is not consistent with the promise made to us by the governor last year and is not fair to our faculty and students," Hawkins said.

That 3 percent difference would mean an additional $7.5 million for higher education, and about $300,000 for Troy State.

But even that wouldn’t solve the funding needs. And, Hawkins said, tuition increases would be likely.

The 3 percent pay raise is a popular measure among lawmakers during this election year, particularly since it has the backing of the Alabama Education Association. But it has come under fire from both higher education and primary and secondary school principals, who said during a Monday press conference that the budget does not provide adequate funding for schools to meet accreditation standards.

"All the things these groups are saying are true," Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said in a wire report. "They all need more money, but there is not enough money. This is not a new phenomenon."

Hawkins, and other local educators, agreed. "Unless the economy changes rather dramatically, they are playing with development of a prorated budget," Hawkins said. "But if they’re going to grant one segment (a raise) then we want to do everything we can to make sure they grant it to every segment."