Faculty Senate addresses staff hiring, retention issues and fiscal year surplus at Wednesday meeting


Daily file illustration by Angeli Mittal

Northwestern’s Faculty Senate discussed yearly expenditures and staffing shortages at Wednesday’s meeting.

Iris Swarthout, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern’s Faculty Senate addressed budget expenditures and staffing constraints at Wednesday’s meeting. 

The University reported a $87.8 million budget surplus in the 2021 fiscal year, according to Senior Associate Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Mandy Distel. She said the surplus partially resulted from an overestimation of funding allocated to the later-than-expected return to in-person activities. 

Distel added that part of the 2022 fiscal year’s predicted budget will cover the faculty and staff salary pool, dedicated to recruitment, hiring and retention. She said she hopes the recent change to NU’s retirement match, decreasing the waiting period from two years to one, will help recruit new staff and faculty. 

“We know the University has vacancies in several staff positions currently that we’re working hard to fill,” Distel said. “But we’re also looking at ways to provide investment to support the recruitment of those staff positions.”

Distel said bettering the faculty retirement incentive program should help with hiring and retention of employees. But some members of the Senate expressed concern about the security of faculty jobs. Economics Prof. Mark Witte said while wages have grown over the past few years, the rate of pay increases has been below that of rising inflation rates.

Witte added that even though portions of faculty salaries were suspended from movement into retirement accounts because of the pandemic, employees were not satisfied. He said recent bonuses have not factored into yearly pay increases going forward.

English Prof. Barbara Newman said pre-pandemic layoffs of library staff, building maintenance workers and Northwestern University Information Technology staff have expanded professors’ responsibilities. 

“My building now only receives mail deliveries twice a week … and there have been (times when the trash) hasn’t been taken out for three weeks and I’ve emptied my own trash,” Newman said. “That is not part of my pay grade.”

Provost Kathleen Hagerty responded to questions regarding retention and hiring and said her goal is to make hiring new employees easier. She added NU is working hard to source new candidates but is struggling.

Hagerty also said a large part of staff shortages reflects the lack of interest in faculty positions, citing the competitiveness of the current job market.

“We have positions where nobody applies,” Hagerty said. “I’m hoping that after the holidays that’ll improve, but it’s really hard now.”

Many senators across academic disciplines expressed problems with staff retention and hiring in their departments, including Art History Prof. Hannah Feldman. 

Feldman said NU has prevented the art history department from increasing faculty to pre-pandemic numbers, which impacts current professors’ abilities to teach and conduct research. 

“Northwestern needs to honor its commitment to the values of labor and equity that we profess and treat … our staff as humans even as we are educators and scholars,” Feldman said. 

Though financial constraints on hiring and employee retention are considerable, Hagerty also acknowledged difficulties within Human Resources. She said pay grade differentials between departments has led to faculty movement between academic divisions.

With the arrival of Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Human Resource Officer Lorraine Goffe on Feb. 1, Hagerty said she hopes issues within Human Resources will be resolved.

Still, Hagerty maintained that sufficient and competitive salaries is a substantial contributor to improving staff hiring and retention.

“We know it’s all about the money,” Hagerty said. “The number of people who are looking for jobs in the United States is far less than the number of job openings … and just figuring out how to respond is super tough.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the University’s budget surplus in the 2021 fiscal year and mischaracterized the status of payments into retirement accounts. The Daily regrets the error.

A previous version of this article also conflated staff and faculty when discussing hiring and retention difficulty. It also misstated Lorraine Goffe’s position. The Daily regrets the errors.

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