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When students come back to school at Eastern Washington University this month, they may be taught by a very happy professor who just got a big raise.

The regional university isn’t celebrating a financial windfall. The new money comes from a creative new faculty contract that focuses on bringing everyone up to the national salary averages in their fields.

That means a few EWU professors will get raises as big as $18,000 a year over the next three years, and seven professors, who are paid well above market rates, won’t get raises.

The unusual contract was embraced both by the faculty union and school administrators.

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A member of the board of the National Education Association says he’s never heard of a college using the approach to bring every professor on campus up to a competitive pay rate.

“It’s a fairly unique way to approach compensation,” said Bill Lyne, a Western Washington University professor who serves on the NEA board.

Mike Conlin, a history professor who was chair of the Eastern faculty bargaining team, said some people may be surprised that the idea for fixing salary inequities came from the administration.

“Our provost is a labor economist, keen to talk about markets,” Conlin said. Several other strategies were proposed but once the idea of tying all salaries to market rates came to the table, everyone agreed.

Inequities were most prevalent among senior professors. Most new assistant professors are paid a competitive salary as a result of recent recruiting efforts, Conlin said.

The university decided to use the first new dollars from the state since the recession started to address this issue.

Eastern has been offering many faculty members below-market salaries for decades, EWU President Rodolfo Arevalo said.

“That historic problem isn’t going to be solved by giving everybody the same percentage increase,” Arevalo said. “When you were historically behind, there’s no way you were ever going to catch up.”

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