Dr. Stephen Portch, chancellor of Georgia's university system, received deservedly wide coverage last week when he blamed a soft high school curriculum, coupled with "a pervasive, anti-intellectual culture in this country," for the state's failing grades on SAT and other test scores.
In a blunt State of the System address to the Board of Regents, Portch said high school students need more challenges, including taking tougher courses to prepare for college. Persons who follow education couldn't agree more, but it should be noted that, however controversially, Gov. Roy Barnes and the Legislature are moving to address the K-12 problem.
There was, however, another part of Portch's talk which warrants much more attention than it got - faculty pay for Georgia universities is failing to keep pace with rival states. This is not only making recruitment of quality faculty more difficult, but it also risks losing some of the top professors and researchers who are already here.
Portch told regents the state needs "a strong salary year, in fact, a couple of strong salary years" to catch up. The 3 percent boost in the pipeline won't be enough to cut it, the chancellor said.
Georgia State University has had three key faculty members hired away and at Georgia Tech an engineering professor received an offer from another Southern university of $215,000 - $85,000 more than his current salary.
Until recently, Georgia played a leadership role in attracting quality faculty to the university system. The pay here was better than the national average - unusual for a state in Dixie.
Now other states are catching up and unless salary improvements are made soon, Georgia could find itself behind the eight-ball. There is nothing more important to higher education than the quality of faculty.
Professors with multiple achievements and global reputations are worth every penny the market will bear. Their prestige rubs off on the universities that employ them and they attract other top faculty (and students) who want to work with them.
We strongly urge Barnes and the Legislature not only to protect the faculty we have, but to restore the state's leadership in recruiting the best. It would be a cruel irony if we bring high school test scores up to where they're competitive with the rest of the nation, but allow the state's higher education institutions to atrophy into second rate status.