"Discouraged by three years without pay, almost one-third of University of Utah faculty members responding to a survey say they have sought other employment in the past year."

This story last week was hard data supporting what college presidents have been saying all year - faculty won't tolerate having inflation nibble away at stagnant salaries and are leaving Utah in increasing numbers.That one-third are actively seeking out-of-state offers is startling. Of course, that's 30 percent of the 52 percent who responded, but that still translates into more than 200 faculty members.

U. Provost James L. Clayton says he finds the figure "very disturbing." It can't be compared to previous years, because no similar survey exists, but the traditional turnover rate at the U. is 4 percent a year, not 30 percent.

It would be reasonable to assume that all 30 percent won't find new jobs, but a loss of 40 or 50 faculty, especially key people, could severely damage U. programs and even decimate several departments, if the loss is concentrated in one or two areas.

And it's certain that the ones who are leaving are ones whom the U., and Utah, need to keep - the best and the brightest.

The survey coordinator, Dr. Dona Harris, associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, is one example. For the first time in her career, after 20 years at the U., Dr. Harris is looking for another position.

Annually, the U. receives $150,000 in federal money to support Dr. Harris' work. She directs a program that sends medical students to work with Utah family practitioners in rural areas. The program is designed to give medical students a taste of rural medicine, with the hope that they will return one day to establish medical practices in Utah's rural areas, which so badly need physicians.

If Dr. Harris leaves, the federal grant goes with her to her new, out-of-state job.

She is not alone. She can name numerous colleagues who are typing up resumes. She says they don't want to go, but they have been backed into a financial corner and there isn't much hope on the horizon. The state does not appear very willing to increase salaries.

Gov. Norm Bangerter's budget plan will recommend to the Legislature that a pay raise of 3 percent be given all state employees, including university and college faculty. The amount doesn't cancel out this year's 4.5 percent inflation. In addition, the plan decreases funding for benefits.

State appropriation for faculty salary increases has been practically nonexistent for the last three years. It was .4 percent in 1986-87 and zero since then. There have been some increases at the U., given on the basis of merit, but those came from a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul process. In other words, the U. internally reallocated money, meaning it cut or reduced programs to gain salary money.

Even with internally reallocated money, U. faculty salaries and those of faculty at other Utah colleges are far behind those of professors at comparable out-of-state institutions. A study done for the regents placed that salary equity gap for Utah's nine colleges and universities at 20 percent. Utah faculty receive pay 20 percent lower than faculty at comparable institutions.

Dr. Jewell J. Rasmussen, retired U. economics professor, looks at it another way - in real income. In his report for the Utah Association of Academic Professionals, Rasmussen compared salaries in current dollars with 1969 dollars.

He concludes that the buying power of a faculty member at a Utah college is less than it was 20 years ago. He reports that today's estimated average faculty salary, in constant dollars, is 12 percent below the 1969 level.

Rasmussen writes that faculty salaries must keep up with inflation and catch up with comparable institutions if quality is to be maintained.

You can be certain that higher education will send this message loud and clear to the Legislature next month. If legislators don't listen, the 30 percent looking for new jobs will undoubtedly be joined by others next year. How many can we afford to lose?