Last month, a rally was held by UT lecturers at the base of Andy Holt Tower to protest what they see as unfair pay and a petition on the subject was put before the Provost’s office asking for a guaranteed minimum salary of $50,000 for all full-time faculty at UT by fall 2020.
Just before Thanksgiving break, Dr. David Manderscheid, Provost of UT, and Dr. John Zomchick, Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs, sat down in the Office of the Provost to discuss the petition and the possibility of raising lecturer salaries.
Their comments made it clear that it is competition with other universities, and not fairness or lecturer well-being, that dictates budget policies.
Manderscheid began his remarks by affirming the importance of lecturers to the mission of UT, and both he and Zomchick wanted to emphasize the steps that have already been taken to raise pay for lecturers; last year, the minimum salary for full-time faculty at UT was raised to $40,000 and 46 lecturers saw pay raises.
“We consider this first increase as a kind of downpayment, a kind of earnest money to continue to raise the salaries to a competitive level,” Zomchick said.
But to many lecturers, who shouted “Fair pay now!” at their rally and who held signs accusing the Provost and his office of undervaluing them, the very act of touting these incremental changes is offensive.
For one thing, the minimum salary of $40,000 — which is what many lecturers with PhDs make — is lower than the salary of most Knox County Public School teachers. The average salary of lecturers at UT also falls well below the national average and is even much lower than pay at the University of Kentucky and the University of Georgia.
The petition itself outlined all of these disparities, and yet the Provost claims that he does not yet know how UT compares to other universities in lecturer pay. According to him, until he has the numbers on relative salaries, which are currently being gathered by his office, he will not know what a fair salary looks like.
“We have to see what our peers are doing,” Manderscheid said. “Until we have the numbers, we don’t know what’s reasonable and what’s doable.”
Dr. Anne Langendorfer, a lecturer in the department of English, sees this “race-to-the-bottom strategy” as evidence that UT is undervaluing education by doing the bare minimum required to stay competitive.
“Let’s face it: ‘We’re proud to say that UTK provides an education no worse than its peers’ is a lousy slogan,” Langendorfer said. “UTK should be aiming to offer the best education, or at least the best value. And there’s no better value than spending on lecturer faculty salaries.”
Of course, there are other considerations that affect how the budget is spent, and as a mathematician, Manderscheid is cognizant that any pay raise for lecturers could potentially result in higher costs of attendance.
“There are market forces definitely at play here,” Manderscheid said. “We have to balance the priorities of making sure we keep our costs affordable for students.”
Lecturers may agree that the cost of paying them a fair and livable salary should not be placed on the backs of students. They believe fundamentally that there are other methods for raising their pay, one of which is evening out income inequality between lecturers of different colleges and between administrators and academic faculty.
For the Provost, whose salary is above $400,000, and for lecturers in the colleges of business and engineering who often make upwards of three times what their counterparts in Arts and Sciences do, the issue may not seem close to home. But it certainly is for lecturers such asLangendorfer and her colleagues.
“We invite our students to wonder why the lecturer faculty who stand before them in the classroom ... suffer under poor pay, struggle through uncertain work conditions and live in existential dread of a health emergency, an unexpected car problem or a leaky roof,” Langendorfer said. “We love teaching at UTK and we especially love UTK students, but our love doesn’t pay the bills.”