Behind all the rhetoric and debate of whether University of Hawaii faculty members deserve more money is this fact: most faculty members lag their colleagues nationwide in salary.
Although the average salary of a professor at a doctoral university was $83,207 in 1999, the latest year for which data is available, the average salary for full professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa was $78,300, according to the American Association of University Professors.
And although the salary range for the entire 10-campus system ranges from $30,000 to $149,000, most faculty members fall toward the bottom end of that scale.
Half of the faculty earn less than $55,000. One-fourth of the faculty earn less than $44,000 a year - the average salary of a Honolulu bus driver. Close to 7 percent earn less than $35,000 a year. More than 90 percent of faculty members have doctorates.
"Its skewed toward the lower income levels," said Lawrence Boyd, labor economist and associate specialist with the Center for Labor Education and Research at UH-West Oahu. "I was kind of taken aback by the salaries."
Although the high end of the salary range is at $149,000, only two in the faculty union earn that much. Ten percent of the faculty earn more than $88,000. Most of the high earners are doctors in the medical school, law school professors or faculty members who bring in millions of dollars in research grant money or contracts to the university every year. About 2.5 percent of the faculty earn more than $112,000 a year.
"Believe me, in the private sector these people could make far more," Boyd said. "These are the people who are doing active research in the field, finding cures. That kind of expertise is extremely rare. The average salary for doctors is $100,000, so theyre even below that."
UH-Manoa and UH-West Oahu show the greatest signs of lagging their peers, according to the American Association of University Professors. Manoa ranks in the 40th percentile, and the West Oahu campus lags behind its peer institutions on all levels of pay for faculty members, falling in the 40th percentile for full professors and the 20th percentile for associate professors.
UH-Hilo compares favorably to its national counterparts, and the community colleges exceeded the national averages in pay for many of their academic levels.
Low-to-average salaries combined with Hawaiis high cost of living make UH a hard sell, said President Kenneth Mortimer. At one time, UH had a goal of offering salaries in the 80th percentile, he said.
"I think it would be good for the state to have the 80th percentile as a goal," Mortimer said. "The cost of living here is higher than most places. The 80th percentile would allow us to be competitive in hiring, to be fair and equitable to the employees we have and would adjust for the cost of living."
The 3,125 members of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly are headed for a likely strike this semester over pay issues. They have not received a raise since 1998 and have been without a contract since 1999. The union is asking for a 14.9 percent increase over four years.
Gov. Ben Cayetano has offered 9 percent for merit raises only - about $24 million on top of a $186 million annual payroll. The merit raises would be awarded to faculty who perform above average, the governor said.
Cayetano has said that the days of giving raises for the sake of giving raises are over. Davis Yogi, the governors chief negotiator, has said that faculty should have to show increased productivity to earn a raise.
"Tenure and promotion is already done on evaluation. Now the university president makes the call," Yogi said. "I dont know what the big deal is. If youre performing satisfactorily, youll get an increase. If youre not getting an increase, theres something wrong with your performance."
Boyd said giving merit raises only would tear the university community apart because many people would receive no raises. Community college faculty in particular are likely to get left behind by a merit system, he said.
"Who has gotten the merit raises in the past? Basically its the people who are above the mean already," Boyd said. "Its the academic stars, the people who run the large research institutions."