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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2004

What? Another UH strike?

By Joel Fischer

Joel Fischer lives in Honolulu

Pardon the sarcasm, but circumstances need fleshing out.

It looks to me as if those uppity UH faculty will be striking again for higher wages. This is difficult for most people to understand. After all, isn't this the best of all possible worlds for those pampered faculty? Some examples:

• Compared to peers at universities around the nation, UH faculty are severely underpaid. Full professors, the faculty with the most experience, are paid at the 20th percentile nationally. That means 80 percent of their peers are paid more. That doesn't even account for the high cost of living in Hawai'i. And UH has to recruit in national competition for the best faculty, but those faculty consistently go elsewhere because of the low salaries here.

• Revered UH President Evan Dobelle promised when he was hired to resign and walk the picket line if faculty ever went on strike on his watch. Faculty must be comforted to know that.

• The very same president and his administrators draw some of the highest salaries in the country. President Dobelle even announced that he tries to hire administrators at the 80th percentile (paid more than 80 percent of administrators nationwide) because "you get what you pay for." Apparently that doesn't apply to faculty.

• UHPA, the faculty union, was the only public union to endorse Gov. Lingle in her election race. The faculty union is requesting a raise of 6 percent retroactive to last year and for the following year, plus 8 percent for the year after. Such a raise would bring them only up to the 50th percentile nationally, a mediocre salary at best, but plenty good enough for UH faculty. Gov. Lingle, who promised in her campaign to work with UH to bring faculty salaries up to the 80th percentile eventually, has showed her gratitude for the faculty endorsement by offering zero percent this year, which would be retroactive to last year, 2 percent next year and zero percent the following year.

• The total amount of general funds that goes for UH faculty salaries is only $180 million. Yet, in 2003 alone, UH faculty brought in to the state $324 million in grants. That money had an economic impact on the Hawai'i economy of almost $700 million, making the UH faculty the third most important economic engine in the state after tourism and the military, and way ahead of the economic impact of agriculture. The faculty just should be proud of their contribution to Hawai'i's economy and stop whining about their pathetic salaries.

• The Hawai'i economy is one of the strongest in the nation and has been for many years. Bank of Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker has the data showing that every economic indicator, from jobs to personal income, is at a record high. General fund revenues are up and are projected to increase. But the surplus in the state budget — that could go for faculty raises — is going elsewhere.

For example, Act 221 (to encourage high tech firms) has siphoned some $50 million in lost tax revenues out of the economy this fiscal year, and estimates are that amount may increase to $75 million next year. Faculty should be proud that investors in the high-tech surf flick "Blue Crush" have earned somewhere between $15 million and $20 million due to Act 221, and even more elated that Hawai'i corporations, according to Brewbaker, after tax refunds, contributed only $5 million in taxes last year to the state economy.

Brewbaker estimates that $150 million per year in lost taxes goes to special business and corporate interests. Well, no wonder the state can't afford to pay its faculty a living wage. There are much higher priorities than education. Makes perfect sense.

Yep, this clearly is the best of all possible worlds for UH faculty. I only wish they would finally realize it, and stop pestering us for raises. How rude!