Wintersteen to council: Salary hike is still top budget goal

Meeting with the Professional and Scientific Council for the first time in her tenure, President Wendy Wintersteen reiterated that a faculty and staff salary increase, however small, remains her highest priority for next year's budget.

Interim vice president for finance and university services Pam Cain is preparing a recommendation for how to raise pay, Wintersteen told the council at its May 3 meeting.

"That's still our top priority, to have a salary increase for this coming year, even though it might be way too small," she said.  

Since taking office in November, Wintersteen consistently has said a fiscal year 2019 pay hike is needed to retain top-notch faculty and staff. Beyond narrowly targeted raises, there was no across-the-board increase for P&S staff and faculty last year for the first time since 2010.

P&S Council's FY19 salary recommendation called for increases between 3 and 5 percent. Council president Jessica Bell, speaking before the state Board of Regents last month, said salary increases would help counter "dangerously low" morale. Faculty Senate president Tim Day predicted stagnant salaries could cause a "crippling loss" of faculty.

With state funding tightening again in this year's now-completed legislative session, including a second consecutive midyear budget reversion, a large salary increase appears unlikely. A 1 percent increase for all faculty and staff paid from the general fund would cost about $4.65 million, Wintersteen said.

Legislative impact

Budget considerations were among the efforts Wintersteen highlighted as she reviewed her first half-year in office. The Legislature kept in the regents' FY19 budget the $10.9 million cut it required in the fourth quarter of FY18 but added $8.3 million -- leaving the university system with a smaller overall appropriation than at the start of FY18.

Regents universities had asked the Legislature for $12 million in new funding, $5 million for Iowa State, to devote to student financial aid. But since the "new" funding still amounted to a net loss, it's not clear how the regents will handle the $8.3 million, Wintersteen said. The board will set budgets and tuition rates at its June 7 meeting. Proposed tuition increases, especially the additional 42 majors and programs that will assess higher differential tuition rates, will help stabilize revenue and maintain quality, she said.

Lawmakers also approved $63.5 million for Iowa State's top building project, a new Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. That includes $1 million in FY19 to begin formal planning. But the funding falls far short of the $100 million in state money requested for the facility, which is critical to Iowa's animal agriculture industry.

"We're very thankful for those dollars, but we haven't quite figured out what the strategy will be," Wintersteen said. "I know we'll be in conversations with the Board of Regents to see what we'll do about that shortfall and what that means."

Plotting the future

Wintersteen briefly mentioned a few other recently launched initiatives to map out the university's future.

A group of senior leaders is discussing Iowa State's enrollment strategy, which Wintersteen said "is probably the most important conversation underway." The goal is to keep enrollment between 35,000 and 37,000 students, a "sweet spot" that would be financially sustainable without overwhelming existing resources, she said. Increasing graduation rates for first-generation and multicultural students also is a focus, she said.

A committee co-chaired by vice president for research Sarah Nusser and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean Beate Schmittmann is studying how to improve service delivery across the university. The group has met twice and will be expanding, including a representative from P&S Council, Wintersteen said.

Addressing a question raised by Bell and president-elect Stacy Renfro in their monthly meeting with him, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told the council that the university-wide group was not involved in some recent service delivery changes. The centralization of some communications and grants work in LAS and Engineering sprang from college-level discussions on improving service delivery, he said.

"That central piece is just at the point of starting," Wickert said.