Running on empty

Gary Kline teaches political science at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

It is with great reluctance that I once again signed my annual contract with Georgia Southwestern College University, which designates the exact same salary for me that I received last year. For six of the last 10 contracts, I received no salary increase. Adjusting for the cost of living, I have seen my actual purchasing power cut by about 20 percent over the past 10 years. It appears the Chancellor and the Board of Regents have decided that only top administrators are worthy of pay raises.

Faculty and staff members are treated as if we are interchangeable, expendable and insignificant. After 25 years of dedicated service to Georgia Southwestern and to students and citizens of Georgia as a department chair, teacher of the year; first GSW faculty member to be the Regents Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning and first faculty member at GSW to be elected chair of the Faculty Senate, I find myself resentful of the way faculty and staffs are being treated.

I spent a decade earning my doctorate. In those years I worked low-wage jobs and paidthousands of dollars to get the education I wanted to pursue a college teaching career. Financially, I would have been better off had I dropped out of high school and become a plumber or electrician. While these are necessary and honorable professions, it was my choice to teach.

I didn’t expect to become rich. In recent years, as I put two children through college, I have had to work overtime. That is how I boosted my income. Over the past year, I taught seven extra classes and two independent studies (for which I am not paid). The normal teaching load for GSW is four courses per semester, so I did a great deal of extra work (15 classes and two independent studies). Preparing classes, teaching, grading and reporting are time-consuming tasks. We are also expected to do committee work, research and scholarly activities. It is a complete myth that teachers spend just a few hours in class and then play golf.

If year after year there are no extra funds to improve salaries for faculty and staff, and if we need to push more and more costs onto parents and students, what is the explanation and justification for huge salaries for these presidents and the Chancellor? In May, a month after the Board of Regents raised tuition between 2.5 percent and 9 percent, they approved generous pay increases for college leaders. Two state college presidents received raises that pushed their total compensation over $1 million a year/ One university president alone has been given a salary increase (yes, on top of his existing generous salary) this coming year that is $100,000 larger than the salary of President Barack Obama.

Are our students alright with this? Are their parents who are struggling to help them pay for college satisfied with this? (I know because I have been there.) Do taxpayers of Georgia believe the teachers and staff (those who actually interact with the students) don’t need to be fairly rewarded so long as the top administrators are lavishly compensated?

Frankly, I think Georgians should also be outraged. Tuition costs have risen steadily, year by year, increasing the burden of debt on our students and their families. However, I want the students and taxpayers to know their costs are not climbing due to salary growth of the faculty and staff of these institutions of higher education.

Will the students of Georgia have access to a quality of education that prepares them for global competition? Georgia is at a crossroad: will we treat higher education like a Wall Street hedge fund and teachers and staff like interchangeable cogs in a machine; or will we fairly distribute the costs and benefits of education so that everyone is treated with fairness and dignity?