Low faculty salaries at Utah Valley Community College are "embarrassing" despite a 3.2 percent raise for 1990-91, college officials say.

"Once again our faculty will be losing ground to inflation and to their peers. I think that's a shame," said UVCC President Kerry Romesburg.Although the UVCC Board of Trustees approved the college's faculty and employee compensation package last week, it deemed the salaries unacceptable. The board directed Romesburg to send a letter to state officials outlining the board's displeasure.

Faculty, professional, administrative and classified employees will receive an average 3.2 percent increase. The 1991 Legislature approved a 4.5 percent raise for higher education. About 1.3 percent of that was shaved off for benefit cost increases leaving the remainder for salaries.

Salaried faculty will get a 1.6 percent base increase; other employees will not receive a base raise. Rather, step and merit raises will be awarded on performance. Eligible instructors also will receive step increases.

"It's almost embarrassing to talk about merit when you don't keep up with inflation," Romesburg said.

The 1991-92 faculty salary schedule indicates that a first-year teacher with a master's degree will earn $18,593 a year. UVCC does not hire instructors with less than a master's degree. The schedule tops out at $34,921 per year for faculty with a doctorate.

"It's really embarrassing," said trustee Nancy M. Heuston. She said she was "shocked" by the schedule.

Heuston said the quality of education depends on the quality of the faculty. "They deserve to earn a living wage," she said. Heuston said it is "immoral" to believe that it's OK to underpay teachers and assume they teach because that's what they want to do.

"Teachers are being imposed upon in a way that none of us would accept professionally," Heuston told her colleagues on the board.

Heuston suggested the board send a letter to the state Board of Regents saying the current salary structure is unacceptable.

Board members agreed but were hesitant to use the strong language Heuston did in expressing her opinion. The board decided Romesburg should write the letter, taking a softer approach. Trustees said they fear a terse letter would not be in the best interest of the college, especially because regents are studying whether to make UVCC a four-year school.

Nevertheless, "I think it has to be strongly said," Heuston said.

Trustee Brent J. DeMille said low faculty salaries are a statewide problem.

"Utah pays abysmally. And it's going to get worse," Romesburg said. UVCC has a difficult time attracting faculty because of its salaries, he said.