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Blue Ribbon Commission: Leona Kelley Papers

Historical note

The Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding of Public Higher Education in Rhode Island, Including the Compensation of Faculty, also known as the “Blue Ribbon Commission,” was created in 1985 by a joint resolution of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Its mandate was to “study the funding of public higher education in Rhode Island, including the compensation of faculty” and to report its findings and make its recommendations to the General Assembly and to the governor.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, consisting of six legislative and two public members, held meetings at the campuses of the University of Rhode Island (URI), Rhode Island College (RIC), and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), collected data from a variety of sources, received written reports, took oral and written testimony, and submitted its report and recommendations to the governor and General Assembly in February 1987. Entitled “Toward Excellence Without Extravagance,” the Commission report made dozens of recommendations in the areas of the missions and goals of the three institutions, governance, funding, faculty compensation, and program and degree duplication.

The most significant of these recommendations were in the related areas of funding and faculty compensation. In the area of funding, the Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that the Office of Higher Education should present to the Board of Governors annually a five year funding plan for public higher education in Rhode Island. In addition, it also recommended the establishment of a fund for competitive grants to the three institutions.

Faculty compensation was the most controversial issue with which the Commission dealt. Faculty members at all three public higher education institutions in Rhode Island had long complained that they were paid less than their peers at comparable institutions and that this low pay was causing Rhode Island to lose outstanding faculty to institutions which offered them more. The Commission’s report supported the faculty claim saying, “faculty compensation in Rhode Island is below the national average for comparable institutions and the gap is widest with regard to faculty holding the rank of full professor at the University of Rhode Island.”

To alleviate this inequity, the Commission recommended two immediate steps. First, it suggested that salary increases during the life of the next contract be directed at upper level faculty with an across-the-board percentage increase as the basis for negotiation. Second, it recommended the establishment of a “one time compensation infusion” program which would make available 1.4 million dollars for faculty salaries in fiscal 1988 and 1989.

The Blue Ribbon Commission report was well received, particularly by the faculties of URI, RIC, and CCRI. As of this writing, some of the recommendations made in the report have already been implemented by the Board of Governors and others are still under consideration.