Winthrop president: Campus-wide salary study coming

adouglas@heraldonline.comMay 20, 2014 

Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson.

FILE/ THE HERALD

Winthrop University employees will soon be part of a salary study that could result in pay raises for some faculty and staff members.

Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson sent an email to all campus employees Monday detailing the upcoming “salary equity study.” The email came after she met with elected faculty and staff representatives on May 13 to discuss pay issues.

The meeting was scheduled, she said, in light of some recent news reports on salary increases for senior Winthrop officials. (See a Winthrop salary database here)

Meeting with faculty and staff representatives helped Williamson understand the impact that the news had on the campus and decide the best way to share the context of those pay increases with other employees, she said.

Recent pay raises included at least five top Winthrop officials who saw increases of 10 percent or more. In some cases, those employees were promoted.

The largest increase went to Winthrop’s Chief of Police Frank Zebedis, who was promoted and received an additional $27,442 – a 33 percent salary increase. The second-largest increase went to Athletic Director Tom Hickman, who was promoted to Williamson’s senior leadership group and received an additional $26,192, or 22 percent more.

In total, 88 Winthrop employees received raises this year, totaling $576,000. For comparison, Winthrop officials have pointed to last year's total raises approved: about $779,000 for 104 employees.

Both total numbers include routine faculty promotions, said Jeff Perez, Winthrop spokesman. The $576,000 spent this year includes professors or faculty members who were promoted in 2013. Faculty promotions under President Williamson in 2014 will be part of next fiscal year's budget, he said.

Ensuring that all employees are paid fairly, Williamson said, is a top priority. She plans to include a “salary equity pool” of money in next fiscal year’s budget to address any issues uncovered during the campuswide salary study.

Next month, the Winthrop Board of Trustees is expected to approve next year’s university budget.

Williamson has proposed that any pay inequities discovered through the study will be addressed over a three-year span. How quickly the university can address any salary inequities, she said, will depend on Winthrop’s enrollment for its upcoming fall semester and whether enrollment grows over the next few years.

Tackling employee pay issues is something Williamson achieved at two other universities before her arrival at Winthrop last summer, she said.

Her goal, she said, is to make sure Winthrop is investing in its “human capital.” Addressing pay inequities is one way to improve on the university’s campus culture and show employees they are valued, she said.

“That’s the most important investment we can make,” Williamson said.

Last week’s meeting to hear from faculty and staff members centered on one of the “first challenging issues” she’s faced at Winthrop, she said. She took office on July 1, 2013.

The meeting was scheduled on May 9 – the day of the most recent board meeting where trustees discussed behind closed doors whether they need more oversight of university salaries.

Trustees told The Herald earlier this month that the president did not inform them about the pay raises until after they were approved. One board member said he was concerned that trustees were not told.

After the May 9 board meeting, trustees said earlier that they are considering a new practice or board bylaws change that will give themselves more oversight. Board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham said, “The board and the president felt very comfortable with this new direction."

It’s standard procedure, Williamson said, for universities to provide more money for employees after promotions or when employees are asked to take on new, permanent responsibilities.

State regulations give authority to university presidents to set campus employee salaries. Winthrop board members are not required to vote on raises or salaries.

At Winthrop, raises happened in the past but she learned last week that “something that I thought was general knowledge, was not general knowledge,” Williamson said.

Her email message to campus employees this week said the letter was the “first step toward more open communication about salary adjustments at Winthrop.”

Williamson said she’s dedicated to transparency and shared campus governance. Her email this week is one of more than 30 similar messages she’s sent to the campus over the past several months. The topics have ranged from announcing new employees to celebrating recent achievements.

Forming the new staff assembly – a process that began when Williamson arrived last year – is another step toward improving communication from her office, the president said.

Having staff representatives at the May 13 meeting to discuss salaries, she said, was crucial to making sure all employees have a voice in campus decisions. It was also a chance for her to prove her leadership style, she said.

Williamson said she’s the kind of president who values open communication, listening to others and trying to learn from others’ perspectives. When faced with a challenging issue, her reaction is to “bring in the people who represent the groups who could be concerned about the issue.”

Though most faculty and staff members were made aware of the upcoming salary study last week, Williamson said she’s been working on the issue for several months. Winthrop, she said, is not unique in facing salary equity or fair wage challenges.

Williamson mentioned early on her commitment to fair wages when, in her first major campus speech in August, she assured employees that she would strive to provide appropriate pay increases. Since then, she's publicly discussed with various groups on campus how important she believes fair wages are. Those discussions have highlighted that fair pay for Winthrop employees is a key initiative under the university's newest strategic plan.

Earlier this year, during her inaugural address, Williamson included the topic of fair wages specifically as one of six strategic points she's identified.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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