By Justin Toney
As of Monday, two relatively new assistant professors will be leaving the University of Mary Washington in favor of more economically viable positions at other schools.
Kim Stone and Sarah Allen from the department of English, linguistics and speech said that low entry-level salaries and high costs of living in the Fredericksburg area were major factors in their decisions not to return in the fall.
“I came here with the expectation to stay here, to buy a house, and become a part of the community, and it became economically impossible to do that,” Stone said.
Stone, who made her decision last Saturday after speaking with her real-estate agent, is renting a two-bedroom apartment for over $1,000 per month—more than she paid toward a mortgage at her previous five-bedroom house.
She, like Allen, agonized over the decision long before finally making it.
“I like the students. I love my colleagues. It’s a fabulous department of people which makes the decision that much more difficult, of course,” Stone said.
“They’d have made my decision a lot easier if they’d all been jerks,” she added.
Both professors cited a workload that was much heavier than at other institutions as another motivation for leaving UMW. Currently, first-year professors are required to teach four courses per semester. Next year, their requirements would have changed to four courses one semester, and three courses the next.
Theresa Kennedy, chair of the department of English, linguistics and speech was unable to comment on personnel matters. She plans to begin searching for 1-year visiting professors to replace Stone and Allen pending the approval of the Provost.
For years, Acting President Rick Hurley has attempted to raise entry-level faculty salaries by lobbying the Virginia legislature. This year, he says that the limited availability of state funds has made attempts unsuccessful.
“Even though we make a good case, our problem is that we are not the only state agency in northern Virginia so if they increase our salaries, they have to increase others like Germanna, Fish and Game, VDOT, etc.,” Hurley said in an e-mail.
Dean of Faculty Rosemary Barra also mentioned that some schools offer new faculty affordable school-owned living space, and that the University is considering such options as a solution for the housing problem.
“This has been a topic of concern, but I think if you look back historically, the cost of housing has gone really really high in the last few years and it’s taken us a while to work on the problem,” Barra said.
Barra also mentioned that some faculty members at UMW live as far away as Richmond to avoid the housing and living expenses of the Northern Virginia region.
After working here for little more than two years, Jim Groom from the department of teaching and learning technologies left UMW to work at the University of Richmond for the same reasons as Allen and Stone. He returned less than six weeks later with a different perspective.
“I couldn’t replace what I did here at DTLT,” Groom said. “I don’t think there are many schools in the country doing what we’re doing here.”
He credited his return mainly to amiable faculty, the students and interactions among departments. “I think you have a great teaching and learning community, but you have economic forces greater than anyone’s salary,” Groom said.
President of the Faculty Senate Steve Fuller feels such forces limit faculty attraction more than it does to faculty retention.
“They come here knowing that, and we have a hard time getting people because of that: the high cost of living, the high cost of housing and the low initial salaries,” Fuller said. “Then, once somebody’s here they’ve secured themselves a job in academia.
“It gives them a little leverage to look around and see maybe about getting a job somewhere… You can use this as a stepping stone to go some other places, where you can be accepted for the job,” he said.
Stone expressed dissatisfaction with academia while discussing professorship.
“It’s annoying and frustrating to think that as a wage earner with an advanced degree, and the intelligence of an intelligent person, there are certain parts of my country that I can’t afford to live in, and still do the kind of work I want to do,” Stone said.
“We teach all the time that that happens to the ‘less fortunate’ in our culture… I guess I’m joining the ranks of the ‘less fortunate,’“ she added.
Stone alleged that only with a partner whose wages were equal to or better than an assistant professor, could a person in her situation hope to be a homeowner in the region.
Groom holds the same supposition for himself and his wife, who is currently working on her doctoral degree.
“I definitely understand that if you were to buy here in Fredericksburg that you would need two incomes and healthy incomes,” he said. “But for right now, I still believe that what I do here is more important than owning a house or living that lifestyle.”
Groom currently rents a downtown apartment with his wife and two children.
As one of her department’s newest members, Stone began teaching this past fall with a salary of what she says comes to $50,000 including various grants. The average salary of an associate professor at UMW is $68,556 per year.
Stone has not completed negotiations with SUNY Cortland University in Cortland, N.Y., and so was unable to discuss her potential salary there. She did say that SUNY Courtland afforded her a higher paying position in a more affordable region.