Murray State Board approves budget with 3% pay rise, moves forward with housing restoration and improvement plans

This story has been edited to clarify a quote.

Murray State University’s board of trustees passed a budget, elected new leaders and approved a pre-development agreement to improve on-campus dining and housing options in a busy meeting Friday.

Private public partnership

The board voted unanimously to authorize MSU President Bob Jackson to sign a predevelopment agreement with RISE Real Estate and proceed with the development of an appropriate funding model and ground lease for a project to improve on-campus dining and housing options.

It is the next step in a multi-phase campus improvement plan supported by a public-private partnership – often referred to as “P3” – to leverage the experience and capabilities of partner organizations by funding the RISE operations through a not-for-profit organization. The non-profit organization will own the constructed dormitories and dining hall and lease the land to the university. The association will then share the financial risks of the project and help the university streamline the process.

This process – as detailed at a finance committee meeting in May – will begin shaving Springer II (otherwise known as Old Franklin) this summer. The first phase of construction will include the replacement of Hart Hall with two new residence halls that can accommodate approximately 300 people each, the replacement of the Winslow dining hall, the improvement of outdoor living and walking space in the housing complex of the north campus and assessment of next steps for Regents and White Halls.

This agreement will allow RISE to move forward with the creation of project design documents.

“This is another project that has been going on for years and I know a number of different people on different teams at the university and on the board who have done tremendous work,” said the president of the counsel, Eric Crigler, after the signing of the agreement. “Thank you to everyone who made this.”

The council is expected to seek bids this summer for a nonprofit to partner with on the project, with the possibility of approving the entire project in October.

Approved budget and request for salary increase

The board unanimously approved the budget for the coming year, which treasurer Jackie Dudley said increased by 7.5%, or about $11.5 million.

The total salary budget — the largest part of the overall budget, Dudley said — is increasing by $4 million this year.

“A lot of time, months, went into this budget like every year,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. I am very happy with this budget… there is a lot to improve the university of [it].”

A reserve of $2 million remains in the budget, which also contains a general salary increase of 3% to serve as a cost-of-living adjustment for all university employees.

A group affiliated with the Kentucky Campus United Workers – organizing to form a union representing faculty, staff and students – made public comments calling for a 10% pay rise as a cost-of-living adjustment.

A trio of employees spoke on behalf of a group of Murray State workers associated with UCW Kentucky, advocating for increased wages to keep faculty and staff compensation competitive and in line with adjustments Kentucky State Cost of Living Annual Reports.

Associate history professor Aaron Irvin was one of those who commented, saying salaries for campus workers — including tenure-track faculty — are “lagging behind.”

“Under President Jackson’s tenure, university employees have already taken an 8.7% real pay cut,” he said. “Most of us earn less today than when we did when we were hired.”

Irvin pointed out that Kentucky state workers were receiving a cost of living adjustment of 8% this year and up to 12% in 2023. The 3% cost-of-living adjustment confirmed by the board later in the meeting, Irvin said, covers less than half of the cost-of-living increase and “still reduces wages by a total of 14% since 2018”.

The overall increase, according to Dudley, represents an average salary increase of $1,626. Health insurance contributions will not increase with the COLA.

Jonathan Shelly Baskin, coordinator of MSU’s institutional review board, called the 3% COLA “totally inadequate” for the needs of campus workers.

“As the university celebrates not raising tuition and advertises it as one of the cheapest schools in the state, workers are told there is no money in the budget for recurring expenses like raises, benefits or new positions,” he said. “During this time, they see the current plans for future buildings as well as the significant recurring costs that these entail. When we examine the financial picture presented in the university’s annual audits and recent bond statements, we see a university slowly increasing its assets rather than a university in perpetual distress.

Associate Professor of Art and Design History Antje Gamble has called for better treatment of student workers on campus, pointing out that most student workers on campus are paid the federal minimum wage, which was last created in 2009.

Later in the meeting, staff regent Jessica Evans said she was “appreciative” of the 3% increase, the biggest increase in a decade for MSU employees, but said she would like the increase not to be called COLA.

“It’s not a real COLA because COLAs are based on national indices, which would actually be considered a pay raise. We [should] start budgeting for annual salary increases in our budget,” she said. “I know it’s a very complicated thing to do, but if we have the budgets to keep the lights on, our people are just as essential.”

The past two years, Jackson replied, represent one of the largest two-year pay increases in college history.

“Is that enough? I guess it’s never enough,” Jackson said. Jackson and the board’s vice chairman, Don Tharpe, cited the unpredictability of revenue as a major impediment to budgeting for job increases. The vice president said managing the university’s finances amid the current economic challenges will be key moving forward.

“As we come out of this pandemic, we don’t know what this economy looks like,” Tharpe said. “We don’t know what the new normal will be, but now we know we’re paying more for everything – gas, food, clothing and the supply chain is still stuck.”

Jackson’s contract extended

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Eric Crigler has recommended that University President Bob Jackson’s contract be extended for a year after reading an evaluation summary of Jackson’s performance, calling him “very efficient”.

Finance Committee Chairman Leon Owens also praised Jackson for his performance during tough financial times amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff Regent Jessica Evans listed some areas for improvement she hoped Jackson would focus on in the coming year, including exploring policies that could improve or improve faculty and staff, as well as finding ways to improve shared governance on campus through committee work.

Jackson’s contract extension was approved by a unanimous roll-call vote.

In other council events:

  • Council Chairman Eric Crigler retired from his position as Regent and Vice President. Regent Don Tharpe was unanimously elected as the new Chairman of the Board. Finance Committee Chairman Leon Owens was then unanimously elected as the new Vice Chairman of the Board. Jill Hunt was reaffirmed as Board Secretary and MSU’s Vice President of Finance and Administrative Affairs was reaffirmed as Board Treasurer.
  • President Jackson gave some details regarding an institutional gift from trustees Karen Jones Squires and Jim Squires. Although no amount was disclosed, he said it was one of the largest donations in the university’s history. It will establish the Robert “Bob” W. and Caroline “Carol” T. Jones Internship/Academic Merit Scholarship for full scholarships – preferably female students – pursuing degrees in engineering, engineering technology, in industrial technology or cybersecurity and network management.
  • MSU athletic director Kevin Saal’s contract has been extended through June 2026.
  • Three resolutions of recognition and appreciation were approved for Velvet Milkman, retired MSU women’s golf coach; women’s softball coach Kara Amundsen; and the MSU track team and coach Adam Kiesler.
  • Three additional resolutions of recognition and appreciation were approved for outgoing board members, including board chair Eric Crigler, Lisa Rudolph and student regent Ian Puckett.
  • Enrollment numbers for the upcoming summer and fall semesters were detailed, both of which were slightly lower than 2021 numbers. Summer enrollment fell by less than 200 and less than 70.
  • A new set of admissions criteria for freshmen has been approved by the Board of Trustees for the 2023-24 Academic Report Card, lowering the acceptable GPA to 2.75 on a 4.0 scale while keeping the optional tests.
  • Acting Dean of Academic Libraries Christine Ferguson has been approved as Dean of Academic Libraries.
  • The council’s general counsel, Robert L. Miller, was reaffirmed.
  • The dates for next year’s board meetings have been decided.

The Board Meeting can be streamed in its entirety on Youtube.

William M. Mayer