Faculty and staff met with administration last week to comb through JMU’s budget and re-evaluate its priorities to address the ongoing salary freeze.

Faculty and staff members haven’t received a raise since 2007 while new members have been hired at equal or higher salaries than veteran ones. Provost Jerry Benson and James Myers, assistant vice president of academic resources, held a meeting focused on this issue on Thursday. 

Myers reviewed the budget using a PowerPoint, explaining its different branches.

For the 2012-2013 year, the education and general budget receives the most funding. The auxiliary budget, which includes Dining Services, athletics and residential services, is another top priority in funding. 

Laura Parks, a business management professor, said the way money is distributed within JMU, particularly in athletics, could be largely responsible for what she sees as low faculty and staff morale. 

“Many of us came to JMU because of the mission of the institution that is about producing engaged, enlightened citizens,” Parks said. “Many of us don’t see how athletics contribute to that mission. We felt that the decision that was being made about how money is spent should be missionally driven.”

Myers said the focus on athletics may have been a way to attract men to come to JMU after it transitioned away from being an all-girls school. 

“Part of that decision is how do you get this small school on the map, and how do you attract males?” Myers said. “They made the decision to invest heavily in athletics.”

Mark Rankin, an English professor and Faculty Senate member, suggested that JMU cut 1 percent from the auxiliary budget.

“That would at least be a token to say, ‘Look, we see there’s a problem,’ ” Rankin said. “One percent is nothing and at the same time could do a huge thing for the morale of the faculty, which, in case you didn’t know, is extremely low.”

Myers also spoke about JMU’s in-state and out-of state tuition and how it compared to other public schools in Virginia. 

Tuition fees are used to fund the auxilary budget, which is $162.7 million for in the 2012-2013 budget. 

At $4,862 per semester, JMU stands 12th out of 15 schools in highest in-state tuition and ninth for out-of-state at $18,850.  

The University of Virginia tops both in-state and out-of-state lists at $10,066 and $36,078, while Norfolk State University and Virginia State University have the lowest tuitions at $3,540 and $13,704. 

It was mentioned that a tuition raise could possibly help resolve the salary freeze. 

“There’s absolutely no reason we should be 12th in the state for mandatory [Education and General] fees,” Rankin said. “We should be much higher than that — that’s another chance that we can bring in more money right there.”

But Mike Renfroe, a biology professor, is concerned about rising tuition costs and how the students may feel about it.

“That’s where we really need to be focusing our energy and make the state realize that this is an investment in the future of the Commonwealth,” Renfroe said. The General Assembly needs “to be forking over cash to support us rather than putting it on the shoulders of the students and leaving them with greater debt.”

David McGraw, an ISAT professor and speaker of the Faculty Senate, said he hopes the meeting will give faculty and staff a better understanding of the university’s budget.

“If we could better understand where the money comes from and where the money goes — if we were better informed as a Senate, then we’d do a better job of writing resolutions and making our voice heard,” McGraw said. 

McGraw also thinks the forum could strengthen the relationships among Benson, faculty and staff.

“I see this as a collaborative venture,” McGraw said. 

Benson said he hoped that the event would encourage new ideas and potential solutions.

“What we want is as many ideas as possible, so we as a university can craft those ideas into a plan of action that will address some of the challenges we’re facing,” Benson said.

Benson, Charles King, vice president for administration and finance, and President Jon Alger gathered faculty and staff to create a task force at the beginning of this month. The task force plans to analyze the situation and develop both short- and long-term plans to address it. 

The next Faculty Senate meeting will be Dec. 6.


Contact IJ Chan at breezenews@gmail.com.