UND faculty, staff discuss salaries, work environment at town hall event

·3 min read

Apr. 27—GRAND FORKS — Salary increases, campus building plans and future legislative concerns were among the topics addressed by UND faculty and staff members at a town hall event on Wednesday, April 26.

The online town hall event is held periodically to give UND employees a chance to anonymously ask questions of university administrators. A similar event for students and parents is set to be held on the evening of May 2. Among other concerns Wednesday, UND employees were curious as to how salary increases would be applied, as well as administrators' priorities for the next legislative session.

When asked how salary increases will be handled, Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations, said each department at UND was given an allocation of money to hand out up to 2% salary increases, a number which is largely defined by the Legislature. The increases are based on merit, he said.

Shivers had a similar answer when asked why salary increases are determined by the Legislature, when only a portion of the university's budget comes from state coffers. Shivers said the state funds about 22% of the university's overall budget. He said people need to wait and see what happens with the next legislative session, to see what action might be taken to adjust salaries to accommodate for inflation, which has soared in recent months.

"By and large, we follow legislative guidelines," Shivers said. "We'll see what happens in the (fiscal year 2024) as we get into the new biennial process.

President Andrew Armacost said inflation is at the "top of the list" on people's minds when it comes to seeking legislative support. UND is working to advance a list of its priorities for the legislature, as are other state educational institutions. That list includes adjusting the rate of merit-based salary increases and funding for capital improvement projects.

Other legislative priorities include using earnings from the state's Legacy Fund to support research and development for the purpose of economic diversification — something Gov. Doug Burgum has prioritized through his Main Street Initiative program.

Joshua Wynne, dean of the school of medicine and health sciences, urged people to submit their ideas for legislative priorities, through their usual chain of command.

Peggy Varberg, associate vice president of human resources said salary increases will be determined by supervisors in each department and will be broadly applied. Out of about 1,800 people, fewer than five won't be receiving a raise due to not meeting minimum standards.

"We have a lot of people who do really great work and then we just have a few people that we need to help get there," Varberg said. "That's our plan to do so."

Remote work was also discussed, as some employees questioned why some could work from home while others were required to show up in person. Donna Smith, associate vice president of equal opportunity and Title IX said that the issue is decided on a case-by-case basis through an interactive process between the employee, supervisor and the human resources manager facilitating the accommodation process.

Varberg also said remote work is part of the changing face of higher education. In some cases it is used as a tool for retention and recruitment. Specialized positions may not have a local applicant, and out-of-state people who apply may not wish to relocate to North Dakota, she said. In some cases, people in data-based jobs don't have a counterpart they need to interact with face-to-face.

"This is a shift in higher ed in general that we're seeing," she said.

The discussion continued on to other topics including parking around Wilkerson Commons. Mike Pieper, associate vice president of facilities, said the parking lot would not be taken down, after construction has been completed on new dormitories in the area.

When asked, Pieper said fundraising to renovate Babcock Hall has been approved, but as yet there is no ongoing effort to do so. The building, apparently unused, received a new roof to prevent water damage, and is in a "safe holding pattern" as to its future use.