Martha Newman

The Foundation for Biblical Studies awarded a $1.5 million gift to support religious studies at UT, the University announced Wednesday.

Funds are being directed to the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, as well as the Department of Religious Studies.

“The board was unanimous in wanting to do this,” foundation president Max Miller said. “We talked to the University, and they felt like this would be a great help to them.”

For 12 years, the foundation has supported universities and professors researching Christian origins. In total, the foundation has donated $7 million to the institute, which helped launch the religious studies graduate program in 2011, according to Martha Newman, religious studies department chair.

“The generosity of the Foundation for Biblical Studies has been instrumental in establishing the department,” Newman said.

Newman said she credits institute director Michael White for securing the donation, and Miller said the foundation commends White’s work in the field. White, who is also a classics and religious studies professor, studies the origins of Christianity by comparing archeology with literature.

Newman defined Christian origins as the study of the Bible, archeology and religious history in the time period between 2 B.C.E. and 3 C.E., when Christianity and rabbinical Judaism developed alongside Greco-Roman culture. White and the institute promote graduate research and specialized degree programs in the study of Christian origins.

“Because of ISAC and Dr. White’s ability to raise funds, I have been able to do far more research,” Ross Ponder, religious studies graduate student, said.

Ponder studied classics as an undergraduate at UT and watched the institute grow from afar.

The institute’s primary project for the past 10 years has been the excavation of the oldest known synagogue in Europe, located in Rome. It also supports graduate student conferences, sponsors lectures and hosts workshops, as well as other networking events.

“ISAC has its feet in a lot of different fires,” Ponder said. “It’s a really dynamic institute under the leadership of Dr. White.”

Ponder said he especially appreciates the foundation’s gift, because in this current economic climate, large donations like this are rare.

The $1.5 million Foundation for Biblical Studies Excellence Fund is the fourth such endowment to support the study of Christian origins at UT.

In 2012, History associate professor Alberto Martinez aided in writing a report for the history department which focused on current issues affecting associate professors at UT. Despite having higher rankings than assistant professors and at times working at the university longer, their salaries aren’t necessarily higher. 

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

Associate professors may be ranked higher than assistant professors, but that does not mean their salaries are likely to rise as quickly, according to The Daily Texan’s analysis of University data.

Not accounting for inflation, from 2010 to 2013, associate professor salaries in the College of Liberal Arts increased 5.8 percent, while assistant professor salaries increased 10.5 percent. 

Martha Newman, associate professor and department chair of religious studies, said the discrepancy between increases in salaries is partly influenced by the market for new faculty. According to Newman, to ensure the University continues to hire the best scholars, starting salaries must be able to compete against other universities. 

“This is the reason why assistant professor salaries are increasing at a high rate,” Newman said in an email. “In some departments, the salary of a starting professor may be nearly as high as that of an associate professor who has taught at UT for many years.” 

Associate history professor Alberto Martinez said the problem does not only affect faculty but the University’s overall quality as well.

“It seems that some new hires are paid too much for a state university, which in turn leaves less funds for rewarding good work by current employees,” Martinez said in an email. “It pushes many good professors to seek jobs elsewhere.”

Martinez said, although the University gives more funding for research than it did 10 years ago, there are fewer raises for professors who have attained tenure.

“Maybe researchers now produce more, but the net effect [of using funds for research] is that achievement is hardly rewarded, which is discouraging,” Martinez said. 

David Ochsner, College of Liberal Arts spokesman, said in an email that there are no simple solutions to solving the inequities among faculty salary raises. 

“We are not only looking at professors in different stages of their careers,” Ochsner said. “We also need to consider variables between the disciplines themselves, for example, opportunities for sociology vs. classics faculty.” 

According to Martinez, job advertisements for professors do not list salaries, so universities may end up overpaying new faculty because salary negotiations do not begin until after candidates have been hired.

“If instead we cap and list specific salaries, then we’d save funds that can be used for raises to fix inequities,” Martinez said. “You can get a great professor for a $120,000 salary, but you can get one equally good for much less.”