Faculty Salaries and Healthcare: Strategic Indicators of Success

Editor’s note: This is the text of a motion that faculty brought to the Wednesday General Faculty meeting. The faculty voted 82 percent to approve the motion, which will now go to President Carmen Twillie Ambar and the Board of Trustees. Read more about the motion here.


The Oberlin Board of Trustees has expressed in their recent decisions a lack of appreciation for a vital asset to the future of the College: the faculty. This motion calls for: (1) a return to the joint General Faculty Council – Board of Trustees plan of 2013 that committed the College to raising faculty salaries to the median of Sweet-16 compensation and defined raising salaries as a “strategic indicator” of Oberlin’s success, and (2) a return to a choice between Preferred Provider Organization and High Deductible Health Care Plans, with deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs comparable to those of our peers in the Sweet 16 reference group. 

Huge, historically unprecedented cuts have been made to faculty compensation and benefits, in conjunction with salary freezes and sub-standard raises. As a result, Oberlin has fallen to the bottom of the Sweet 16 reference group in terms of compensation. This is a strategic error by the Board that diminishes the value of the College. It should not have happened. 

If we are, as is often said, faced with an existential crisis, then the real existences of individual faculty members — their daily lives, their health care plans, their retirement benefits, and their highly trained, expert understanding of the core values of the College — must be given priority, including funding priority. No amount of fiscal austerity, admissions campaigns, administrative restructuring, and web redesigns will assure the long-term survivability of the College if we are unable to hire and retain the best, the brightest, and the most socially aware to our faculty. 

Oberlin has an endowment with a reported value of over $1.2 billion. We recognize that the endowment would be even larger if a lower payout rate had been used in past years, and we are sensitive to the desire for Oberlin to use a lower payout rate. Between 1995 and 2011, the average payout rate was 5.9 percent. We are now at 4.5 percent, except for the pandemic-induced excess draw this year, and heading even lower. 

However, better faculty compensation is not beyond the reach of the College and would not require a return to excessive withdrawals from the endowment. For example, we estimate that funding a 10 percent salary increase, and the accompanying increase in benefits (through Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America contributions), for tenure-line faculty would require drawing an extra three-tenths of one percent from the endowment per year (e.g, a 4.8 percent payout rather than 4.5 percent). The Administration’s refusal to prioritize faculty compensation is part of a broader crisis in morale on campus. Unionized employee groups have suffered even more devastating cuts, while the Administration seems unable or unwilling to reduce costs in any other area of the College — e.g. to slow down our unprecedented building program, reduce the number of new administrative positions, or reconsider currently budgeted “strategic” initiatives. 

In order to properly prioritize the faculty and return the College to a state of professional and academic normality, in terms of its alignment with American Association of University Professors guidelines and respect for faculty governance procedures, the General Faculty of Oberlin College calls for: 

– A return to the faculty compensation plan of 2013 enacted by the Board, promising to raise Oberlin faculty salaries at all ranks to the median rank of the Sweet 16 reference group; 

– The continued option for all employees to have access to both the PPO and the CDHP healthcare plans with deductibles and MOOPs on both plans comparable to those of our peers in the Sweet 16.


A motion co-sponsored by: 

Rick Baldoz, Sociology and Comparative American Studies 

Matthew Berkman, Jewish Studies 

Marc Blecher, Politics 

Bob Bosch, Mathematics 

David Forrest, Politics 

Jennifer Fraser, Conservatory 

DeSales Harrison, English 

Evan Kresch, Economics 

Shelley Lee, Comparative American Studies 

Charles McGuire, Conservatory 

Pablo Mitchell, History and Comparative American Studies 

Anu Needham, English 

Kirk Ormand, Classics 

Zeb Page, Geology 

John Petersen, Environmental Studies 

Baron Pineda, Anthropology 

Matthew Senior, French and Italian 

Peter Slowik, Conservatory 

Claire Solomon, Hispanic Studies 

Nanette Yanuzzi, Studio Art