The University of Maine System handed out a total of $7 million in individual salary increases in the past seven years, during a period of budget cuts when most workers went without regular raises, according to systemwide data released Monday.

System Chancellor James Page, who started his job last month, halted additional discretionary raises and is reviewing compensation policies in the wake of a March 22 Portland Press Herald report that uncovered the impact of individual increases at the University of Southern Maine.

“Legitimate questions have been raised,” Page said Monday. “This is a complex issue. It needs to be handled with great consideration.”

Most of the university system raises, ranging from 5 percent to 63 percent, rewarded additional duties and promotions or provided pay equity under the Salaried Employee Compensation and Classification Program that was started in 2005.

System officials included top management positions, with raises as high as 101 percent, in the totals provided Monday to give a more complete picture of individual salary increases granted from fiscal 2006 through fiscal 2012.

USM gave a total of $2.34 million in individual raises from fiscal 2006 through fiscal 2012. During the same period, the University of Maine at Orono gave $2.74 million; University of Maine at Augusta, $424,161; University of Maine at Farmington, $375,569; University of Maine at Presque Isle, $147,291; University of Maine at Fort Kent, $140,787; University of Maine at Machias, $66,290; and system administration, $757,041.

Over seven years, since the compensation and classification program started, the system gave a total of 1,022 individual raises to 809 people. Some people received several raises during that period. The system has 5,756 full- and part-time employees.

One USM employee, Student Life Director Jason Saucier, got five raises in seven years. Reasons are listed as three job reclassifications, one new appointment and one adjustment. His salary increased from $24,815, when he was a resident director, to its current level of $58,000.

With Monday’s data release, some are questioning the fairness of a compensation program that has awarded raises to certain people while many other university employees have taken on additional duties in the wake of budget cuts and gone without raises for years.

“If the program is about making sure people are paid fair, competitive wages, that should apply to all employees,” said Ed Collom, president of the USM faculty union. “It can’t be for a selective group. This program needs to be tracked carefully to make sure it’s not abused.”

Collom noted that the reasons listed for individual increases vary widely and are sometimes obscure. While increases based on promotions and job reclassifications are apparent, 12 people received raises for “job progression.” Twenty-seven got “equity increases.” For about 80 people, the reason listed is “adjustment.”

“It’s hard to tell the real reason many of these raises were given,” Collom said.

The system gave $827,395 in individual raises during the current fiscal year, which started July 1, with the following totals at each campus: USM, $275,893; UMaine, $262,073; UMA, $69,930; UMF, $56,124; UMFK, $27,020; UMM, 9,500; UMPI, $27,931; and system administration, $98,925.

The largest total increases came in fiscal 2006, 2007 and 2011, when the system granted individual raises that added up to $1.2 million, $1.3 million and $1 million, respectively.

The Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program targeted about 1,800 union and nonunion workers across the system, excluding faculty, deans, vice presidents and directors of major divisions. Faculty are eligible for merit raises through a post-tenure review program.

The program continued to allow individual raises even though the system’s employees have been working without contracts since July and haven’t had cost-of-living increases in three years. Systemwide enrollment has dropped 9 percent since 2002, from 34,089 students to 31,108 students. USM has taken the biggest hit, seeing its enrollment decline from 11,382 to 9,301 in the same period.

USM faces a $5.1 million budget cut in the coming year that will likely bring staff reductions. The university has eliminated 118 positions since 2002, which is why some salaries were increased to reflect increased duties or promotions.

Still, USM President Selma Botman announced last Wednesday that she had rescinded large, discretionary salary increases granted to her chief of staff and executive director of public affairs.

Botman had given raises last summer to Tim Stevens, her chief of staff, increasing his salary $16,500 (18 percent), from $89,500 to $106,000; and to Bob Caswell, the university’s public affairs director, increasing his salary $18,212 (22 percent), from $87,788 to $106,000. They were two of 44 USM employees who got discretionary raises in the fiscal year that started July 1.

The system totals released Monday excluded Stevens’ and Caswell’s increases, which Botman said she rescinded because they generated the greatest public concern.

Salary increases and pay equity are growing concerns at colleges and universities across the United States as economic constraints have resulted in widespread budget cuts and staffing reductions, said Linda Hagedorn, an associate dean and professor of higher education at Iowa State University.

“As positions go unfilled, people end up doing more work and their job descriptions meld into something very different from what they were hired to do,” Hagedorn said.

The challenge is particularly acute in communities that have few employment options, so workers stay despite increasing workloads and flat pay, she said.

Many colleges and universities have compensation programs that adjust salaries to account for additional duties, Hagedorn said. However, employee discontent can crop up if adjustments aren’t made equitably.

In researching faculty compensation issues, Hagedorn found that professors often willingly work harder in tough economic times, taking on more classes or students without additional compensation, but they become dissatisfied when they learn that colleagues are being paid more for the same work.

“I think it’s human nature,” Hagedorn said. “Any compensation program has to be done with fairness and openness, so if there’s identified bias, it needs to be addressed.”

Chancellor Page, who oversees a $531 million budget, said he will review the salary policies to make sure controls are adequate and being enforced. He will recommend any necessary changes to the system’s board of trustees.

Page said he believes “the great majority” of individual increases will be found to be “unexceptional,” and therefore appropriate and justified.

He declined to say whether he would rescind raises that were found to be inappropriate or unjustified. He also wouldn’t comment on Botman’s decision to retract certain raises.

Page promised that the review would be transparent, comprehensive and quick, but he wasn’t able to give a deadline.

Tracy Bigney, the system’s chief human resources officer, described the Salaried Employee Compensation and Classification Program as a sound and useful tool.

It was developed with help from a consultant and modeled after similar programs used at other university systems.

Bigney said she will take steps to ensure that each of the system’s seven universities is using the same standards to review individual positions and gauge salary raises.

In particular, she will recommend that the system develop a list of reasons for increases to be used by each university.

Bigney acknowledged that it’s difficult to inject objectivity into a subjective review of job responsibilities.

“You need some way to set salaries,” she said.

CORRECTION: This story was changed April 4 to reflect that system raises given during fiscal 2006-12 ranged from 5 percent to 101 percent. Incorrect data was provided to the newspaper.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com