When professors at Northern Virginia Community College asked state Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax) what they could do to get more money, he had a very specific suggestion: Hire a lobbyist.
So the professors, unaccustomed to political activism, decided to follow DuVal's advice.
Several months ago they incorporated as the Community College Faculty Political Action Committee, and when the General Assembly opened early this month, the committee, known by the unwieldy acronym COCOFACPAC, had a representative pleading its case in Richmond.
The primary task for the lobbyist -- Elaine Kent, a Fairfax resident long active in county Democratic affairs -- will be to seek higher salaries for community college faculties.
"Faculty members are voters and they are taxpayers," says Vivian Kallen, a government and politics professor at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College and chairman of the Political Action Committee. "When you're thinking in terms of the lag in faculty salaries, it's only natural to think in terms of going to the legislature."
Kent is paid $1,000 a year to lobby for the professors. The faculty of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hamption has joined the effort, and the group hopes professors at all 23 community colleges in Virginia eventually will support the Political Action Committee.
Coincidentally with the lobbying effort, the administration at Northern Virginia Community College has launched its own drive to persuade legislators to restore $2.4 million cut from the school's 1980-81 budget by Gov. John N. Dalton.
Cecil W. Shuler, acting president of the college, says the funds are needed to avoid faculty and staff cuts, to buy books for the library, to expand the Alexandria campus, to increase faculty salaries and to maintain a fulltime-parttime faculty ratio of about 65 percent to 35 percent.
"If we don't get the money, we'll have to retrench," says Shuler. "I have some real concerns about whether we can really do our job."
Faculty members are as concerned about money as the administration. Political Action Committee Chairman Kallen, a former Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates and a campaign coordinator for Sen. DuVal, said community college faculties have been complaining for years about low salaries, but no one had ever considered doing anything about it.
Kent, the woman faculty members hope will "do something about it," already has one success to her credit. Last year she coordinated the lobbying campaign that resulted in the formation of a law school at George Mason University.
"If you're down here (in Richmond) talking to the legislators, then they're going to listen to your views," said Kent, who plans to spend about three days each week in the state capital.
In addition to her salary from the community college faculties, Kent is being paid $200 for expenses and another $125 a week for a civic group in Williamsburg that is opposing expansion of the football stadium at the College of William and Mary.
"I'm doing this basically for the experience and because I believe in it," said Kent. "I'm trying to help the people who can't really afford lobbyists. s
"I'm trying to present the case that the community college teachers have been underpaid for years. Most of the legislators I have talked to are in favor of an increase, but I don't have a commitment."
To raise money for Kent's salary, faculty members gave a party in December at DuVal's home. The gathering netted almost $1,000, and another $400 was collected at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton.
The argument that Kent will be presenting in Richmond is one formulated by the faculties. They contend that, even by the standards of the state's own guidelines, community college teachers have been underpaid for years, compared with faculties at other Virginia colleges.
"In the period of rapid growth during the early years of the community college system, the faculty adopted the necessity of subordinating salary needs to the overall growth of the system," argues the Political Action Committee in a report to the legislature. "Today, growth has leveled off; faculty salary needs must be addressed and long-standing inequities corrected.
In Virginia, college faculty salaries are set at a percentage of "benchmark" -- the national average paid at similar institutions.
For community colleges this year, the average salary nationally was $19,650, but in Virginia it was $16,500, or approximately 84 percent of the benchmark level. By contrast, faculty members at the University of Virginia last year were paid an average of $23,207, or 97.5 percent of the benchmark figure for comprehensive, doctoral-program institutions.
For next year, Virginia community colleges have set a goal, an average salary of $19,475, or 95 percent of the benchmark figure of $20,550.
"What we're saying is that we want to play catch-up with our sister institutions," said Kallen. "We have a lower benchmark to begin with and we're funded at a much lower percentage of benchmark."
On the five campuses of Northern Virginia Community College, according to assistant to the president James Bradley, budget reductions proposed by Dalton would force the school to cut the full-time faculty from 540 to 498 and increase part-time positions from 253 to 266.
Additional cuts proposed by Dalton would block the proposed purchases of John Tyler Elementary School from the City of Alexandria for use as an addition to the college's Alexandria campus, and would reduce to 7 percent a proposed 9 percent faculty pay raise.