EAST LANSING — Michigan State University faculty and staff each lost thousands of dollars in wages due to COVID-related budget cuts, and now they want to be paid back.
MSU’s non-union faculties and academic staff saw their salaries cut by 1% to 7% between September 2020 and July 2021. For deans and administrators, the cutback was between 2% and 10%. The cuts were made as a cost-cutting measure as MSU addressed the financial impact of COVID-19.
Those salaries have since been reduced to pre-pandemic levels, but faculty and staff are now asking for a backlog.
The MSU faculty senate passed a resolution Tuesday approving the retroactive reinstatement of all pandemic-related salary cuts and retirement contests. The resolution also calls for the reintroduction of earnings for non-union academic managers, staff and faculty, who had been without them for two years.
The faculty has also started distributing a petition calling on the MSU to retroactively restore lost wages. By Thursday afternoon, more than 700 people had signed it.
“Faculties and academic staff are grappling with increased workloads in teaching, research and service delivery while managing our own family responsibilities,” faculty members wrote in the petition. “As wages rise nationally, we have seen our wages, benefits and purchasing power drop significantly and unnecessarily.”
MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen said in an email on Thursday: “We appreciate and thank the faculty for their input and discussion on these important topics. The pandemic has made it incredibly difficult for many across our community, including financially. and we are pleased to inform the faculty of a 2% increase in their base salary, in addition to restoring full retirement benefits, and we have also abolished the salary cut this summer.”
When COVID-19 hit, university officials predicted a $43 million budget shortfall in state funding and a $63 million tuition shortfall, according to the Faculty Senate. Pay cuts followed, and MSU also halved its pension contribution for 18 months, from July 2020 to January 2022.
But faculty leaders argue those cuts weren’t necessary in the end.
In its original 2020-21 budget, MSU expected a $46 million decrease in total government funding, including a projected $43 million decrease in government loans. But that loss never came, according to the school’s 2021-22 budget development guidelines. MSU also collected about $7 million more in tuition than originally projected.
Faculty members also point to more than $86 million in federal COVID-19 aid that MSU received after the school was expected to receive nothing, combined with more than $50 million in student financial aid.
Megan Donahue, a leading professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said it’s time to repay the lost wages.
“When we made the cuts, we knew the university was at risk, and risk is money,” said Donahue, who introduced the faculty senate resolution. “But a lot of those things haven’t happened, and the university has been maintained by the federal and state governments.”
Calls for retroactive pay recovery come after Stanley announced a 2% increase on Nov. 12 for all non-union faculty and academic staff hired on or before June 30.
MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. referred to the pay increases as “merit increases” in a letter to staff, but faculty leaders say that’s not correct.
Earnings increases are intended to tie pay to performance, said Karen Kelly-Blake, MSU Faculty Senate chair and an associate professor in the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice and the College of Human Medicine. She argued that pay increases should be related to the performance of the person earning the pay increase, which a 2% wholesale increase is not.
MSU’s cost-cutting measures also include budget cuts to entire university departments themselves, said Caryl Sortwell, a professor in the College of Human Medicine. Those cuts led to leave and other cuts, making faculty jobs even more difficult.
“The petition and resolution capture one aspect of what happened,” Sortwell said. “Besides the fact that the faculty feels a personal financial burden…there’s an entirely different part of the story where the faculty works to do their job the best they can with fewer resources and fewer support staff.”