University of Wisconsin System faculty are earning 18 percent less pay than the national college and university average, UW System President Kevin Reilly revealed to the Board of Regents in December.

The lower salaries, UW System spokesperson David Giroux said, are creating an environment that limits the System’s ability to compete on a national scale.

“These salaries have been lagging for some time, and we believe those lower-than-average salaries are beginning to have an adverse effect on our ability to hire and keep talented professors in our labs and classrooms,” Giroux said.

A detailed comparison by the UW System shows professors from the UW schools, excluding the Madison and Milwaukee campuses, are each year earning $19,300 less than professors at 31 peer colleges and universities in the area of about the same size. 

The same data shows professors at other top state universities have salary averages of $28,200 higher than UW professors. UW-Milwaukee ranks number 14 out of 15 peer universities in average professor salary.

“If you start to look at those gaps, they’re pretty substantial,” Giroux said. “We’re paying less for our faculty than people are paying at competing colleges and universities, and we are indeed competing.”

The figures from this data are averages of averages and therefore may not necessarily be the best indicator, Giroux said.

Despite the facts indicating UW System faculty compensation is below average, Giroux said Wisconsin’s financial condition remains in a “fragile” state. The UW System cannot count on a significant inflow of money from the state just because it wants or needs it, Giroux said.

“Our reputation is our saving grace right now,” Giroux said. “A lot of professors want to come work at a UW institution because of the UW name.”

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, chairs the state’s Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee. His spokesperson, Mike Mikalsen, said there will be new funds available in Gov. Scott Walker’s next biennial budget and the governor has publically indicated he will be supporting the UW System.

Yet the area of faculty pay increases remains unknown, Mikalsen said.

“I think most people at the state level can agree there are some issues with regards to faculty payment not being where we would like it to be,” Mikalsen said, identifying campuses outside of Madison and Milwaukee as the biggest holes in UW’s faculty compensative system. “But the reality is: Do we have the ability to raise those funds? The answer is no.”

The biggest obstacles in the budget preventing increased funding to the UW System include K-12 education and the state’s medical assistance trust fund, Mikalsen said.

Mikalsen said the UW System’s claim regarding an 18 percent salary gap is slightly “misleading” because the data fails to weigh Wisconsin’s faculty pensions – which he called one of the best in the country – and health care benefits in the comparisons.

The problem with being unable to recruit or retain top-notch faculty may be over-portrayed, Mikalsen added. The state has been providing the UW System with star faculty dollars, which are additional funds to keep the best faculty within the System and also to recruit new star faculty, he said.

“I support that there has to be a pay increase, but I don’t think you can do it all at once,” Board of Regents President Brent Smith said. “It’s going to be maybe a slow comeback, but we’ve got to start the process. We hope that it can start with the year ahead here.”