EAST LANSING - Michigan State University faculty and staff lost thousands of dollars each in wages due to COVID-related budget cuts, and now they want to be paid back.
Non-union faculty and academic staff at MSU saw their salaries cut by 1% to 7% between September 2020 and July 2021. For deans and executive managers, those cuts were between 2% and 10%. The cuts were made as a cost-savings measure as MSU dealt with the financial impacts of COVID-19.
Those salaries have since been returned to pre-pandemic levels, but faculty and staff are now calling for back pay.
The MSU Faculty Senate passed a resolution Tuesday endorsing a retroactive restoration of all pandemic-associated salary reductions and retirement matches. The resolution also calls for merit raises to be reinstated for non-union academic managers, staff and faculty, who went for two years without them.
Faculty have also begun circulating a petition calling on MSU to retroactively restore the lost wages. More than 700 people had signed it by Thursday afternoon.
"Faculty and academic staff are struggling with increased teaching, research, and service workloads while managing our own family responsibilities," faculty members wrote in the petition. "As wages increase nationally, we've seen our pay, benefits, and purchasing power drop significantly and unnecessarily."
MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen said in an email Thursday: "We appreciate and thank faculty for their input and discussion on these important topics. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult on many throughout our community, including financially. We continue to evaluate our financial situation and we are pleased to be able to notify faculty of a 2% increase in their base pay in addition to restoring full retirement benefits. We also removed the salary reduction this summer."
When COVID-19 hit, university officials predicted a $43 million budget shortfall in state funding and a tuition shortfall of $63 million, according to the Faculty Senate. The pay cuts followed, and MSU also cut its retirement contribution match by half for 18 months, from July 2020 to January 2022.
But faculty leaders argue those cuts didn't end up being necessary.
In the initial 2020-21 budget, MSU anticipated a $46 million drop in total government funding, including a projected $43 million decrease in state appropriations. But that loss never came, according to the school's 2021-22 budget development guidelines. MSU also collected about $7 million more in tuition than originally projected.
Faculty members also point to more than $86 million in federal COVID-19 relief that MSU received after the school projected receiving none, combined with more than $50 million in student financial aid.
Megan Donahue, a distinguished professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said it's time for the lost pay to be returned.
"When we took the cuts, we knew the university was facing risk, and risk is money," said Donahue, who introduced the Faculty Senate resolution. "But a lot of those things didn't come to pass, and the university was made whole by federal and state government."
The calls for a retroactive restoration of wages comes after Stanley on Nov. 12 announced 2% raises for all non-union faculty and academic staff hired on or before June 30.
MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. referred to the pay increases as "merit raises" in a letter to staff, but faculty leaders say that's not accurate.
Merit increases are intended to link pay with performance, said Karen Kelly-Blake, MSU Faculty Senate chairperson and an associate professor in the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice and the College of Human Medicine. She argued that merit raises should be related to the performance of the person earning the raise, which a wholesale 2% increase is not.
MSU's cost-saving measures also included cuts to entire university departments themselves, said Caryl Sortwell, a professor in the College of Human Medicine. Those cuts led to furloughs and other reductions, making the jobs of faculty even more difficult.
"The petition and the resolution capture one aspect of what's been happening," Sortwell said. "In addition to faculty feeling a personal financial burden … there's a whole other part of the story where faculty are working to do their job as well as they can with fewer resources and fewer support staff."
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU staff want back pay for COVID-19 wage cuts