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Faculty, staff, and graduate students rally for better pay

Sean Smith

Dozens of faculty, staff and graduate students recently rallied in the rain for pay raises for all campus workers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The American Association of University Professors, the United Campus Workers of Mississippi, the Staff Council, and the Faculty Senate collaborated on the protest. Their goal was to catch the attention of lawmakers and the university’s administration.

Faculty at USM made $71,100 on average between 2020 and 2021. That is less than the average salary for those at other R1 research universities both in and out of state. For example, faculty at the University of Mississippi, a sister institution, make $82,300 a year on average.

In addition to chanting and holding up signs, they gathered signatures for the UCW-MS’ petition. The petition calls for raising the minimum salary to $25 an hour, raising graduate stipends to $35,000, and adding a 3% annual inflation increase.

Assistant teaching professor of sociology and vice president of USM’s AAUP, Dr. Michelle McLeese says that the low wages make it harder to find and keep faculty.

“Part of the problem is it’s been characterized as a raise,” McLeese explained. “Like, people are upset that they’re not getting paid more for the sake of getting a raise. But we’re just trying to elevate the concern to legislation that we’re not even actually able to deal with the cost of living as it is now. When we think of traditional raises, people sometimes will say ‘Oh this is kind of selfish. We’re all in a kind of economic slump and we need to make due with limited resources,’ but the problem is that…in asking for a raise, we’re actually asking to be at baseline. We’re not at baseline.”

In an open meeting earlier this month, the UCW-MS cited the rising cost of living as another concern.
Corey Lines, electrical foreman for Housing and Residence Life, said that change was necessary.

“I’m quite sure everybody has stores they go to, WalMart, different stores,” Lines said. “You know, we all see the different prices, so it’s well-needed. Personally, I just think that we should stand together and maybe help each other because if not, it’s the same cycle if you ask me. It’ll keep going in five to ten years from now and we’ll still be doing it, so it’s probably time.”

The last time campus workers rallied for a pay raise was in May 2022. They succeeded in getting hourly wages raised to $11.25 an hour and a 3% pay increase for most campus workers. Graduate stipends also increased by $1,500.

The AAUP is a non-profit that works to protect the rights of academics. They have several goals, including protecting academic freedom and the financial wellbeing of “all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education, according to their website.

USM’s Staff Council acts as a “representative voice” for staff members.
Similarly, the Faculty Senate is a body of elected representatives from across USM’s academic departments. They meet regularly to discuss faculty issues and concerns and work with the university’s administration.

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