WHEN most people think of a university, one of the first images that probably comes to mind is a classroom full of students engaged in learning with a knowledgeable professor. Although the social scene and extracurricular activities are important, the key function of a university - educating tomorrow's leaders - is done in classrooms, by students and professors.
U.S. News and World Report recently recognized Bowling Green State University for excellence in three areas of undergraduate education: commitment to teaching, unique first-year experience programs, and fine learning communities. These areas of excellence, combined with a commitment to cutting-edge research and creative work, give BGSU students an educational experience that is second to none.
Because professors play the key role in educating our students, you might think that university spending would reflect this priority. Think again.
In 2009, The Blade has reported, the highest paid employee of BGSU was President Carol Cartwright. followed by a fired football coach who earned $263,077 for not coaching at BGSU. The current head football coach was last year's third highest-paid employee, followed by the men's basketball coach and the university's athletic director.
No faculty members were among the best compensated at BGSU, although a handful of professors without administrative duties came close to earning between half and two-thirds of the amount we paid a coach to go away.
The top earners tell only part of the story. BGSU faculty salaries have been near the bottom among Ohio public universities for quite some time. There are a number of ways of looking at the data, but none paints a pretty economic picture for the Ohio families whose breadwinners make their livings teaching at BGSU.
BGSU faculty are living with a salary freeze. Two years ago, our salaries were raised 1.5 percent, which does not keep pace with inflation. At the same time, our out-of-pocket costs just to keep our same medical insurance have increased.
A pay freeze coupled with higher insurance costs is a pay cut. It is difficult to attract and keep good teachers and researchers under these conditions.
Since 1997, BGSU faculty members' salaries have ranked 11th out of 12 among Ohio's public universities, Faculty salaries account for around a quarter of BGSU's spending.
Think about a BGSU professor who has committed the past 20 years of her life to educating our students. According to an analysis by the American Association of University Professors, it is a near certainty that our hypothetical professor's real salary, controlling for inflation, has actually declined over those two decades.
Many well-intentioned administrators have talked sincerely about wanting to make BGSU salaries competitive with those of other Ohio universities. But nothing changed. Through good times and bad, real salaries of BGSU faculty members have continued to drop.
We hear the same rhetoric from today's administrators, but we are not optimistic that unilateral change will come anytime soon. Lagging salaries are one reason that most BGSU faculty members have signed cards calling for an election on collective bargaining.
They are one reason I accepted the presidency of the BGSU Faculty Association, the organization working to achieve collective bargaining. They are also part of the reason I encourage my colleagues to vote for collective bargaining.
Why should someone who is not a professor at BGSU care how much we make? Because the learning experience provided by a university is only as good as the faculty members it can attract and retain, and because the quality of life in a state or region is vastly improved by the presence of great institutions of higher learning.
Top-notch undergraduate teaching, first-year programs, learning communities, and research require hard work from faculty members. We deserve to be fairly compensated for it.
Most professors I know did not go into academics because they expected to get rich doing so. Believe me, none of us has. We did it because we love teaching and producing our research and creative work. But we'd like a little respect and fairness, too.
David Jackson is an associate professor of political science at Bowling Green State University and president of the BGSU Faculty Association.