Recipe for mediocrity: Gilmour’s paid sabbatical and cuts to budget disturb faculty

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

A contract granting Wilkes President Joseph (Tim) Gilmour a one-year paid sabbatical following his retirement this summer combined with faculty compensation package reductions has created a rift between faculty and administration.

Faculty members are facing a reduction in retirement benefits and another year without raises. In light of Gilmour’s paid academic leave, some are saying it doesn’t add up.

Fred Sullivan, associate professor of math and computer sciences, gave the example of an employee at a $25,000 salary who could potential lose about $2,250 due to reduction in retirement funds and changes in the health care package – a 9 percent reduction in compensation.

“So my question is, ‘How can the president and the cabinet and board sleep at night doing that?’” Sullivan said.

Last week, Faculty Affairs Council Chair Don Mencer addressed the contrast of these reductions from Gilmour’s break terms with an email to Vice President Loren Prescott. The Beacon obtained this email, in which Mencer stated, “How can you justify the absence of raises and reduced retirement benefits in contrast to a presidential sabbatical contract.”

Mencer said most of the comments he had heard from faculty on the budget were negative. He said one of the faculty members went so far to call it a “recipe for mediocrity.”

“There’s real concern that we’re taking budgetary steps that are not in the best interest of the institution,” Mencer said.

The 2013 fiscal year budget proposes a 3 percent cut to matching contribution for employee retirement plans. Mencer said there’s fear this type of reduction will lead to a decrease in faculty efficiency and a loss of a strong faculty commitment to students that Wilkes is known for.

“It affects morale, low morale affects the service and quality of interaction that the students on campus have with staff and faculty.”

Prescott said difficult budgetary choices were aided by discussion and campus participation.

“It’s a balancing act, and you have to reach compromises when you’re in a situation where you have limited resources and you have a lot of competing priorities,” Prescott said.

Mencer outlined the main areas of concern of the FAC to Prescott, beginning with the financial details of Gilmour’s sabbatical.

Though The Beacon learned of Gilmour’s sabbatical two weeks ago, Prescott just confirmed the contract at an April 17 budget forum.

According to Wilkes’ 990 tax form, Gilmour’s presidential salary was $358,874 in 2009. Prescott would not release how much he would receive during his sabbatical.

Vicki Mayk, associate director of public relations, said Gilmour will be receiving less than his current salary. She said the sabbatical was negotiated between the Board of Trustees and a presidential compensation expert, who called granting this type of sabbatical a common practice.

During this sabbatical, Gilmour said he plans to do some work on the capital campaign that funds the new science building, providing background information to the new president, Patrick Leahy, and possibly writing a book.

Gilmour said when he agreed to the sabbatical contract two years ago, Wilkes was in a better financial state than today.

“It was a contract that we negotiated two years ago, and we certainly did not know we would be in quite the position we’re in,” Gilmour said.

However, in February 2010 The Beacon reported Wilkes was trying to close a $2.2 million deficit. Also, according to the 990, many of the highest-paid employees at Wilkes received pay cuts in 2009, including more than $24,000 in reductions in Gilmour’s salary, compared to 2008 data that showed $60,000 in bonuses for the 14 highest-paid employees.

And these days, faculty members are being told the university is financially sound. Mencer said undergraduate, transfer and international student enrollment is up, which he feels contradicts the slashes to faculty benefits.

“From the faculty perspective, when you keep telling them the enrollment indicators are high, then you begin to question, well if the things that positively impact on revenue are encouraging, then why is it we’re being told we have to tighten our belts and have some reductions in compensation packages,” Mencer said.

Mencer also said faculty members have not been receiving salary increases in recent years to keep up with the cost of living. Prescott, however, said Wilkes has made a commitment to provide competitive salaries, including increases to offset steadily increasing costs of living.

“The university has committed itself to trying – for employees, not just faculty – to try to continue to focus on making sure that all of the employees are paid a competitive salary,” Prescott said.

Mencer said the main concerns faculty have are less about the contents of the budget, such as faculty compensation, and more about the lack of faculty input on the contents. He said this lack of involvement does not give the faculty the chance to deem the budget decisions as essential, a classification he doubts.

“If it’s really essential, and it’s the only way the institution can survive, then I don’t think you would have people at the institution arguing against it.”

Contributer: Phat Nguyen