President Merten Addresses Faculty Senate

Posted: October 11, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

In his fall update to the Faculty Senate last week, President Alan Merten addressed three major issues: the Michael Moore “incident,” the university’s legislative priorities, and the need for the university to identify additional sources of revenue.

In discussing the university’s decision to cancel Michael Moore’s appearance at the Patriot Center, Merten said, “I want to make it clear that it had nothing to do with free speech. I’m all for free speech, but I’m not for a $35,000 speech. That was the only issue. I would have loved to have had him here if [his appearance] were free.” Merten explained that using state funds for what he termed a partisan speaker was “a very, very, very questionable use of state funds.” Past appearances at Mason by political speakers were paid for by their campaigns or from private sources, Merten said. As of this week, there was no indication that Moore would appear on campus.

With regard to legislative priorities, Merten said the top four issues are faculty salaries, financial aid, support for enrollment growth, and capital projects.

Increasing faculty salaries is a goal of most of the public universities in the commonwealth, Merten said, and most are following a path similar to Mason’s—funding part of the increase through state funds and part through tuition dollars. In Mason’s case, the next faculty salary increase of 4.5 percent will include a 1.5 percent contribution from the state and 3 percent from tuition. Merten reiterated that the university’s goal is to have faculty salaries eventually reach the 60th percentile of its peer institutions. “We need two to three years of increases at about 5 percent to make the 60th percentile,” Merten noted.

Financial aid for students is another top concern of the university. “It is imperative to increase financial aid to institutions such as George Mason University,” Merten said. He would like to see $12 to $15 million added to financial aid over the next three to four years. “We’ve set aside about 10 percent of tuition dollars for financial aid,” he noted, “but that is not a good policy to maintain long term.”

Enrollment at Mason this fall stands at 29,200, Merten told the senators. The increase results from several factors: the number of applications is up; the percentage of students deciding to attend Mason after acceptance is up; and retention is up. He also noted that more Mason students are coming from out of state, and this year, 20 percent of the freshman class comes from outside Virginia.

Capital projects on the front burner at Mason include Research I, already under construction on the Fairfax Campus; Academic IV; and Academic VI/Research II, for which the university will seek planning money in the next session of the General Assembly, Merten said.

Noting that private gifts to the university “are almost always designated for something specific,” Merten called on the faculty to help in the efforts to find additional sources of revenue. “As we look to the future, we have to ask ourselves, how else can we generate money? We need more of the community to help us identify donors. We also need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we developing courses where we can generate money for the teacher, the department, or the school or college?’ We can do more just about everywhere.”

In other business, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution on Summer Session compensation for full-time faculty members teaching a second course. The resolution recommends that full-time faculty members be paid 10 percent of their nine-month contract for each course taught, up to two courses, as of the 2005 Summer Session; and faculty members who were compensated at less than 10 percent during the 2004 Summer Session be retroactively compensated at that level.

Budget and Resources Committee Chair Richard Coffinberger also reported that as a result of discussions with the president and provost, a new policy is in effect regarding faculty members who move to administrative positions at an increased salary and then return to teaching. When the faculty member returns to teaching, the salary will be adjusted to a level comparable with other faculty salaries rather than having the individual retain the higher administrative salary.

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