Fort Lewis College is struggling to find ways to increase faculty compensation during an era of tight budgets.
At a board meeting Friday, trustees agreed FLC faculty members are underpaid, but there is no magic pot of money to increase their compensation.
"We all want to do something for faculty," said Richard Ballantine, chairman of the Board of Trustees. Ballantine also is the publisher of The Durango Herald.
FLC professors earned on average $52,000 in 2007-08, the most recent year for which data is available. That was only 84.5 percent of their peers in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, who make about $61,500 on average.
Raising faculty salaries to a level comparable to those paid by other colleges would cost several million dollars.
"How we're going to do that I have no idea, barring huge increases in tuition or huge increases of state support, neither of which I see forthcoming," said Stephen Roderick, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Although higher education avoided a draconian $300 million state budget cut, college budgets still are expected to be very tight in 2009-10.
At the same time, a faculty committee is preparing a report whose initial findings last month said faculty are underpaid, overworked and face a "disconnect" with the college administration. A final version is expected in May.
President Brad Bartel said the college has picked some "low-hanging fruit" to help faculty. These include negotiating lower rates to use the student gym, expanding medical benefits and instituting domestic partner benefits.
"We need to look broadly at other ways to compensate faculty beyond just straight salary," Bartel said.
Bartel said if faculty made about 95 percent of their peers at other schools, retention would be less of a problem.
"If you can get everybody up to 95 percent, psychologically, it would be very rare for someone to leave," he said.
Eleven of the college's 215 faculty members resigned in 2008, the most resignations in a year in Fort Lewis' history.
Brian Bissell, a board member, said the college should strive to pay its faculty members more than their peers.
"We shouldn't aspire to be average," he said.
The college must begin making progress on the issue, Bissell said. "The time has come where we've got to do something."
Housing costs are another stumbling block to recruiting and retaining faculty, given that the median sale price for a home in Durango was $404,000 during the first three months of 2009.
"Housing is probably almost as vital as wages," said board member Leonel Silva.
FLC wants to build a "faculty village" of about 75 residential units to recruit new faculty and retain junior faculty. That project is in its conceptual stages.