A large portion of Northwest Missouri State University employees will soon be receiving bigger paychecks after the Board of Regents on Thursday voted to raise salaries for all faculty and staff to at least 90 percent of the national median market rate as determined by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, commonly known as CUPA.
The vote was a victory for President John Jasinski who has been pushing hard for the increase since last summer, when the board twice rejected similar proposals.
Since then, however, the composition of the university's governing panel has changed with the appointment of two new members, Dr. Patrick Harr and John Richmond, by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Regent Lydia Hurst, who opposed the market-based increase, left the board this year after her term expired. Regent Douglas Wyckoff also voted against the measure when it came before the board in June and July but left Thursday's meeting before the matter was taken up.
Harr and Richmond both expressed strong support for the pay hike, with Richmond characterizing the small size of pay increases at Northwest over the past four years as "the silliest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Faculty and staff at the state-assisted university received a 2.6 cost-of-living increase in 2012 and a one-time bonus the year before. Discounting the lump sum payment of around $1,000, Richmond said Northwest salaries have increased only .03 percent since 2008.
"If there was ever anything that is a no-brainer, this is a no-brainer," said Richmond of the CUPA adjustment, which acting Vice President of Human Resources Clarence Green said would affect 298 of Northwest's more than 650 employees, some of whom currently earn less than 70 percent of the median market rate.
Board Chairman Mark Hargens also spoke in favor of the increase, saying that the university had an obligation to pay its employees well in exchange for their loyalty and hard work. Regent Gene Dorrel said keeping campus pay rates at current levels could force the university to hire mediocre faculty and staff.
"What you're going to end up with is people who can't get a job anywhere else if you're not careful," Dorrel said.
Money for the raises is already part of this year's budget, but it could not be spent without the regents' approval.
On a related issued, the regents accepted a proposal brought to the floor by Hargens that will allow the university to offer prospective employees salaries ranging up to 115 percent of the CUPA median. The old range ended at 100 percent without special board approval.
In arguing for the ability of Human Resources to push salary offers beyond the 100 percent ceiling, Hargens said that attracting job candidates with "a good range of experience may cost us more than the average low salary."
Hargens' proposal also removed the board from direct involvement in the hiring process for all faculty and staff positions with the exception of the president, the four academic deans and members of the president's Leadership Team, a group that includes Jasinski's nine most senior subordinates.
Page 2 of 2 - In the past, the regents had insisted on being able to hire and fire employees at the "director level and above."
Regent Joseph Bosse said the cap had at times forced the university to hire a "second or third choice because of the salary problem" and was critical of what he called the board's tendency over the past three years to micromanage personnel.
Bosse described regent involvement in lower-level interviews and other hiring functions as "totally a waste of time on my part."
The decisions on pay were only one facet of a board session during which a great deal happened, including the hiring of the large Kansas City law firm of Husch Blackwell to serve as university counsel.
Following expiration of the previous counsel's contract, the university received bids from five firms seeking to fill the vacancy. Dorrel, who sat on a committee chosen to evaluate the offers, said Husch Blackwell, which has has a division specializing in educational institutions, was by far the best candidate. Dorrel added that Husch's $48,000 annual fee would save Northwest about $20,000 a year, exclusive of hourly charges for litigation.
Wyckoff strenuously objected to hiring Husch Blackwell, saying that former university counselor Joe Cornelison, who was fired by the board in 2009, is on their payroll, as is Hargens' son. Hargens excused himself from both the debate and vote on the university counsel issue.
After he was let go, Cornelison sued several board members, including Wyckoff, in an action that was eventually dropped.
"I'm sorry, but it's something I'm not going to let go of," Wyckoff said of the lawsuit, adding that engaging Husch Blackwell would be a "slap in the face to this university."
Hiring Husch required four votes, a majority of the six sitting board members. Since Hargens could not vote, the question failed on the first roll call after Richmond sided with Wyckoff. Richmond said he had a "gut feeling" that hiring a firm with which Cornelison was associated would create "some potential for liability."
The discussion continued after the vote, however, with Bossie, Dorrel and Harr all pressuring Richmond to change his mind, which he did "reluctantly" after Husch Blackwell partner Allan V. Hallquest offered assurances that Cornelison was merely a contract employee and would sign a document pledging that he would not be party to any legal issues related to Northwest.
Hallquest said documents held by his firm pertaining to the university would be password protected and accessible to authorized counsel only.
Wyckoff left the regents meeting following the counsel debate.