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Reminders about the Economics of Becoming an Academic
July 15, 2013 - 8:58pm

Dean Dad asked, and I answered.  And of course, I got called out for it.

I’ve written about the unsustainable economics of getting a PhD and becoming an academic in the past; you can read all about it here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.  Katherine D. Harris has recently blogged her financial reality of being a tenured professor (and of course opened herself up to criticisms about how she spends her money and free time). Increasingly, people are citing financial reasons for passing on an academic career.

But I want to bring up the question of debt when it comes to salaries, that the two aren’t related. That’s not necessarily true; plenty of professions recognize the heavy debt load their young professionals graduate with and work to alleviate that burden (one thinks of nurses, doctors, and – although less now – lawyers). In order to attract graduates to less-desirable locations or lower-paying jobs, the employers often offered them the chance to have their debt paid off by the employer (or forgiven by the government, for public-sector jobs).

If salaries stay depressed, but the cost, opportunity and real, of doing a PhD continue to rise, then the only people who will become professors are those who are independently wealthy. Maybe that doesn’t bother you. But it bothers me. It’s not about professors who make more than CC professors who make more than adjuncts who make more than working in fast food (wait, they don’t). This is about rewarding the very real work, compensating for the very real opportunity costs, and rewarding the important role professors (at any and all levels) play. 

This is about making sure that higher education isn’t some hypocritical shell game.

I’m going to keep saying this: faculty work conditions are student learning conditions.  Adjuncts deserve higher pay and more job security. There ought to be more TT jobs available so that 75% of classes aren’t taught by instructors with little or no job security and low salaries. But nor should we all just be relieved and thankful if and when we do get a tenure-track job; there are some serious issues with salary compression and wage stagnation.

It’s a vicious cycle: our work is devalued which leads to lower salaries which leads to our work being devalued. How much salary is enough? I don’t know, but the salaries should at least keep up with the increasing cost of actually becoming a professor. Or, more of us will take the advice of the trolls and just not bother or get the hell out. 

 

 

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