WSU faculty docs get pay cut as med school tuition rises

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Hundreds of Wayne State University physician faculty members face a 50% salary cut by July and medical school students will pay higher tuition hike in 2020-21.

The pay cut for the faculty physicians comes from their practice group, WSU Physician Group, whose executive board voted Friday to implement a 20% salary reduction, effective immediately, because of dried up patient revenues amid COVID-19, said Dr. Mark Schweitzer, the new dean of the WSU medical school and vice president of health affairs.

During a budget and finance committee of the Board of Governors, Schweitzer said all the physician faculty members would receive the 20% salary cut in May, with those reductions increasing to 30% in June and 50% in July.

Meanwhile, the WSU Board of Governors approved, 5-3, tuition hikes of 4.5% for in-state students and 2.5% for out-of-state students. Current rates are $34,039 for Michigan residents and $61,414 for nonresidents.

Opposing the tuition increase were governors Sandra Hughes O'Brien, Michael Busuito and Dana Thompson, along with students who sent a letter to the board prior to the vote.

 "We are in the midst of the greatest crisis to challenge this country since WWII," said Busuito. "Currently, our students are unable to adequately access the hospitals, the labs, the clinics and the classrooms, thus being denied the educational experience for which they paid. The pandemic is not the fault of the students or the university; however, to raise tuition at this time is dishonest, immoral and unconscionable."

But board Chair Marilyn Kelly said she supported the tuition increase after hearing a presentation earlier at the board's budget and finance committee meeting by Schweitzer.

"I believe you ... when you tell us that by every parameter, the cost of attending our medical school, the percent of our students with loans, their average indebtedness, their overall cost of attending is below average and often very, very much below average for medical students in other schools of medicine," said Kelly.

She added that she also believed Schweitzer when he told the committee that the tuition increase will "leave us in good standing with the accreditation agency which accredits the school of medicine."

"And I believe you when you tell us that if we fail to raise tuition as requested, we jeopardize that accreditation," Kelly said. 

The meeting was held virtually as part of efforts in Michigan to mitigate the spread of the virus that has caused a global pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Schweitzer, who's been on the job four days, highlighted data during the committee meeting that showed the costs to attend Wayne State when compared with other medical schools.

"Currently and even with the proposed tuition increase, we have the lowest tuition by significant margin of all the medical schools in the state of Michigan," Schweitzer said.

Compared with WSU's current tuition of $34,039 for Michigan residents and $61,414 for nonresidents, at Western Michigan University, medical school tuition for 2020-21 will be $63,500 for all students. The University of Michigan projects in-state tuition of $42,282 and nonresident tuition of $61,680 for medical students in 2020-21.

Schweitzer said that various financial issues that the coronavirus pandemic "has affected everyone."

As some board members expressed opposition to the tuition hikes, Schweitzer said faculty members couldn't be asked to sacrifice without students accepting a small tuition increase.

Wayne State University Old Main building in Detroit

"Now, to be honest, that's a really draconian salary cut and it's going to be very hard for these faculty members to continue," said Schweitzer, who joined WSU after serving as chair of the Department of Radiology at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York.

"So this COVID crisis has affected everyone," Schweitzer said during the meeting. "And if I had to be honest, the group it has affected the most, at least in the medical school, if not the entire university, is the clinical faculty at the medical school. And I think that's not going to go back to normal till probably January or at best late November, December."

WSU President M. Roy Wilson added that that the university has to be sensitive to students.

"One thing I think is important to understand, though, is that we're trying to get the medical school to be able to support itself," Wilson said. "Because right now, it is not supporting itself. There's a transfer of about $30 million a year from general fund monies, which is primarily made up of tuition."

More than 300 faculty members would be affected by the pay cut, but Schweitzer said it was unclear how long it would last due to the pandemic.

After the meeting, Schweitzer said WSU's medical school runs a tight budget partly because of the population it serves. About 25% of the medical school budget, which is about $59 million, is based on student tuition.

"Our budget is balanced on a razor's edge," said Schweitzer. "You are on an even narrower razor's edge without the tuition increase. It's no secret that Wayne State is not a wealthy school and Detroit is not a wealthy city. We are not University of Michigan. We have a different mission and a different patient population and a different student population."

"If you want to serve the people of Detroit, these are the concerns that you have," he said.

He also said the university has to address financial stability issues raised by its accreditation agency, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

The medical school tuition increase and the salary pay cuts are the latest controversies at a university that has had plenty over the past year and a half.

The WSU faculty union released a anonymous internet survey created by union leaders to assess job satisfaction. It was administered by the American Arbitration Association, a not-for-profit public service organization

"Survey results were mixed, but generally showed a neutral to low level of satisfaction among faculty and academic staff with many aspects of their work at WSU," said the report's executive summary.

"While respondents had favorable views of their colleagues, department/unit leaders, course loads, class sizes, contract terms, and office facilities, they expressed less favorable views of University governance and leadership, including the Central Administration, President, and Board of Governors. Applicable respondents were especially critical of leadership at the School of Medicine and University Physicians Group. Finally, many respondents said morale in their department or unit was low (Q9) and has gotten worse in the last five years."

According to the survey, 29% have confidence or strong confidence in WSU President M. Roy Wilson, 41% have little or very little confidence and 30% are neutral.

Of 1,853 invitations to participate in the survey, the organizers received 747 responses.

The union said the 40.3% response rate suggests that survey results "accurately reflect the views of faculty and academic staff with high probability" but acknowledged possible biases, including "from members who have stronger opinions on certain issues than overall membership."