Winthrop University leaders are finalizing plans for a new committee that will give the Board of Trustees more oversight of employee pay raises and staff contracts.
On Friday morning, the board’s “committee on compensation” gave its initial approval to a list of responsibilities that includes reviewing any planned salary increase of 15 percent or more for any Winthrop employee. The group also plans to review any “salary actions” for top Winthrop administrators and executive-level employees, including some athletic staff members.
The committee’s work is pending approval from the full Board of Trustees. The compensation committee is made up of some trustees, with input from faculty and staff members, Winthrop Acting President Debra Boyd, the university’s human resources director, and others.
Winthrop trustees created the compensation committee earlier this year, shortly after former President Jamie Comstock Williamson approved several large employee pay raises that surprised the board. The series of raises for top administrators included a 33 percent salary boost for the Winthrop chief of police, a 22 percent raise for the athletic director, and $10,000 or more pay increases for at least four other employees. In some cases, the employees were promoted.
At the time, Winthrop did not have a policy requiring the president to gain the board’s approval for such raises. There was also no policy calling for trustees to review employee salary increases or contracts. Still, some trustees said then that the president should have mentioned the proposed pay raises to the board, given the dollar amount of the salary adjustments.
After news of the raises reached the board, trustees learned that South Carolina law no longer required public colleges and universities to gain approval from state human resources officials for significant salary adjustments. Some regulations still exist for classifying campus employees, which determines the maximum pay for each position.
Suggested oversight measures for the new Winthrop board compensation committee mirror some aspects of old state regulations that once required university presidents to get human resources approvals before doling out large pay raises. Winthrop has also since created a staff-level “committee of personnel actions” that will provide updates for trustees on pay raises, contracts, and other salary issues.
The new guidelines mean “a president is going to have to be prepared to justify any of their actions because they will be reviewed,” said Boyd. Proposed policies and the new campus groups will ensure trustees are kept up-to-date on compensation issues – which are critical for employee morale and continuing Winthrop’s commitment to academic quality, Boyd said.
Besides oversight, Winthrop’s compensation committee will also play a key role in an ongoing study of whether the university’s current pay for its professors, staff members, and other employees is competitive and fair. After news of top administrator pay raises under Williamson angered some people on campus, the former president pledged to take a comprehensive look at salary equity issues at Winthrop.
Boyd and others on campus say they’re still working hard on that plan. The group in charge of developing the salary study and making recommendations to the board for solutions has set an April 15 deadline for itself to report the first phase of findings.
On Friday, Boyd said the salary study won’t be a “one and done” but that the review process should happen annually to make sure the issues are continually addressed. The study group – comprised of faculty and staff leaders and professors with business expertise – will look at pay equity problems on campus, including salary compression and inversion issues that leave some new hires earning more money than longtime employees in similar positions.
Though the salary problems have frustrated many people on campus for years, some top faculty members said on Friday that the board’s compensation review plans and Boyd’s leadership on the issue are encouraging.
“It really is a sea-change here at Winthrop,” said biology professor and department chair Dwight Dimaculangan. He is one of several Winthrop faculty members involved with the salary equity study.
After the initial report on salary problems, the compensation study group plans to eventually make recommendations to Boyd and Winthrop trustees on forming campus policies that aim to limit future pay equity issues. The board will also consider how to pay for employee salary adjustments to keep the university’s compensation packages competitive with other schools.
On Friday, the Winthrop board did not vote on the salary issues but several trustees reinforced that compensation matters are a top priority. Boyd told the board the issue is an “ongoing, permanent and high priority of the institution.”
The board is expected to vote at an upcoming meeting on the compensation committee’s proposed “operating guidelines.” Those guidelines call for board-level review of any salary offer to a new hire of $100,000 of more; review of any salary adjustment of 15 percent or more; and review of any pay raise that brings a Winthrop employee’s salary to $100,000 or more.
The new guidelines would also give trustees oversight of any salary action and the employment contract for any campus employee reporting directly to the Winthrop president. The committee will also review the Winthrop president’s annual evaluation and will make recommendations on pay to the board’s executive committee. Any changes in the president’s salary must be approved by the state Agency Head Salary Commission.