The University of Idaho faces "constant pressure" from other institutions willing to pay top dollar to hire away its best researchers, president Duane Nellis says.
Speaking to the Legislature's joint budget committee, Nellis said recently that his top budget priority remains employee compensation. He brought the same message last year, when all state employees received a 2 percent pay increase.
There's little chance of that happening again this year, however, as Gov. Butch Otter didn't include any money for pay raises in his fiscal 2014 budget recommendation.
"I made my pitch (for a salary increase) directly to him," Nellis told lawmakers. "On average, our faculty salaries right now are less than 90 percent what they are at our peer institutions, the universities we compete with. We lost our top wheat breeder to Oregon State University two years ago, and we lost another of our top interdisciplinary faculty to Michigan State. We tried to make counteroffers, but we couldn't compete. We're losing great people every year."
U of I faculty bring in nearly $100 million in competitive research grants to the state each year, he says, which provides significant economic development opportunities.
For example, Nellis showed lawmakers a small screw used in knee and hip replacements that was sprayed with a special coating developed by a U of I doctoral student.
"The failure rate on hip and knee replacement is 8 percent to 20 percent," he said. "This coating increases the bone growth and strength of the bonding by 500 percent. These devices have gone from theory to reality. The student just started a company in Cataldo and is marketing them nationally."
U of I researchers have applied for 81 patents in the past four years, Nellis says, "and we've executed 36 tech-transfer agreements, to turn ideas into practical products with economic benefits."
Overall, Otter's 2014 budget recommendation includes a 5 percent, $11.3 million increase in general fund support for the U of I and the other state-funded colleges and universities.
He also recommended a 3.5 percent, $819,000 increase for the Agricultural Research and Extension Service.
The governor nixed the university's $400,000 request to expand its College of Law offerings in Boise from just third-year courses to second- and third-year courses. However, he approved a $113,000 request to expand the number of Idaho students participating in the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI) regional medical education program to 25 from 20.
Idaho has been stuck at 20 seats since the program was created in 1973, Nellis says, even though its population has almost doubled. The state pays half the annual cost of the medical schooling, with students picking up the remainder.
The hope is that they'll return to Idaho to begin their practice after they graduate.
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