Higher Education Pay Law a Mistake
Among the last things West Virginia’s state colleges and universities need is to be micromanaged from Charleston when it comes to setting pay for employees.
It is bad enough when case-by-case decisions on policy and practices are made by officials in the state capital. Far worse is when the Legislature enacts laws that remove most or all management flexibility college and university administrators need.
That appears to be what happened in 2011, when lawmakers approved a statute being referred to as Senate Bill 330.
State law previously included rules on pay levels for higher education “classified employees” such as custodians, maintenance workers and secretaries. SB 330 had been intended to update those requirements.
But the complex bill also gives the Higher Education Policy Commission substantial control over what state colleges and universities pay all employees, including faculty members.
Using a concept referred to as “internal equity,” the law seems to be an attempt to ensure state higher education employees’ pay rates are comparable to other people doing the same jobs and with similar qualifications on their own campuses. Using “relative market equity,” it extends that to cover pay in relation to communities and “peer institutions” that may be located in other states.
If all this sounds like the “prevailing wage” laws that waste millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money each year, you are beginning to get the picture. Those rules require contractors on public works projects to pay wages at rates set in Charleston, allegedly to ensure employees are compensated fairly in relation to other people in their areas. Often, the required rates are higher than wages actually prevailing in an area.
So SB 330 could force state colleges and universities to spend more on payrolls. Either taxpayers or students would have to cover the increased cost.
Ironically, some institutions, including West Virginia University, face a problem of not being able to pay enough to get some faculty members they need. That is because of the “equity” restraints in the law.
More than two years after it was enacted, SB 330 still is not being enforced, at least in part because of its complexity.
State college and university officials run very diverse institutions scattered throughout West Virginia. Presumably, they wouldn’t have retained their posts if they did not know what they were doing on various issues, including how to get good employees, pay them fairly, and be good stewards of taxpayers’ and students’ money.
Legislators should take another look at SB 330, listen with open minds to concerns from colleges and universities, and repeal the law.