DeKALB – A three percent salary increase for eligible Northern Illinois University employees was approved without opposition Thursday morning during a special Board of Trustees meeting.
For most affected employees, it will be the first pay increase they have seen in seven years.
The increase, slated to kick in Nov. 16, affects certain faculty, professional support staff and civil service employees. As for those represented by a union or or another legally recognized collective bargaining unit, they'll hope negotiations could lead to their own pay raise. That raise could be retroactive to Nov. 16.
NIU President Lisa Freeman said today's action is just a first step in providing for university employees, but longer-term issues need to be addressed, such as pay compression.
"When I accepted the acting president position, I did so with improving compensation as a top priority," Freeman said.
Board Chairman Wheeler Coleman said since NIU's 2018 fiscal year budget has already been passed before the raise was considered, it required some things to be taken off of the table to accommodate the additional expense.
NIU faculty members voiced their appreciation for the raise, but some requested that the board not forget to address the long-term issues with employee pay, such as salary compression.
Alex Gelman, director of the NIU School of Theatre and Dance, said he knew of associate professors who did all of the work that was expected of them to achieve promotion and tenure, but their salaries are still equal to those of first-year professors.
“Somehow, this suggests what they have accomplished has been disrewarded,” Gelman said.
David Valentiner, NIU professor of psychology, said the numbers he consulted from 2014-15 show NIU professors were underpaid to the tune of $30,000 below the industry standard.
Coleman said that with this being the first step of the process, the increase is not expected to cure the years of tough times the university has faced.
“We started program prioritization in an effort to understand where we need to invest and where we need to compress,” Coleman said. “We cannot make up in one year the seven years of salary compression. It won’t happen, and it can’t happen, but what we can do is make a good faith attempt at taking care of the employees of this university.”
Trustee Dennis Barsema said he was in full support of this first step, but worried about the effects of another state budget impasse ahead of the gubernatorial election next year.
“If anybody in this room feels we will have a state budget next year, your optimism may be a little misplaced,” Barsema said. “We are at risk of being right back where we were.”
A list of frequently asked questions on the salary increase is available on the NIU website.
Tuition structure changes
Also on Thursday's agenda was a measure to set out-of-state tuition costs for domestic students at the same rate as in-state tuition. This, too, was approved without opposition.
According to a news release, out-of-state undergraduate students have been charged roughly double the in-state tuition rate, with the exception of students from six Midwestern states who pay 40 percent above the in-state rate.
“The high quality of our faculty and academic programs is well-known beyond the borders of Illinois,” Freeman said in a news release. “We want students nationwide to experience our unique brand of hands-on, engaged learning, and we believe elimination of this cost barrier will help us attract more students from across the country.”
This change will apply to all domestic students enrolled as NIU undergraduates or through graduate school beginning with the fall 2018 semester.
Sol Jensen, NIU vice president of enrollment management, marketing and communications, said Illinois has led the nation in population decline in recent years and is one of the largest next exporters of college freshmen to other states. The hope is to then strengthen the state's workforce by attracting talented individuals who may live and work in the region, he added.
Although the structural changes were approved, actual tuition rates won't be proposed until October.