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ABC Thinks You're Rich; 'U.S. News' Says Your Job Is Cushy

January 7, 2008

It turns out that college administrators and professors should stop complaining about their pay and working conditions, at least according to U.S. News & World Report and ABC News.

On Saturday night, Charlie Gibson, the ABC anchor, was introducing a question in the Democratic presidential debate about proposed tax increases for wealthy Americans and his example of those who might be affected: college professors at a liberal arts college.

"If you take a family of two professors here at Saint Anselm, they're going to be in the $200,000 category that you're talking about lifting the taxes on," Gibson said. (The exchange comes toward the end of the debate, a transcript of which is available from The New York Times.)

The audience at Saint Anselm College laughed, and the three leading candidates for the Democratic nomination suggested that Gibson was off on his estimates, with Sen. Hillary Clinton saying: "That may be NYU, Charlie. I don't think it's Saint Anselm."

Sherman Dorn wasn't laughing -- because two full professors at Saint Anselm, not to mention most academics -- don't earn enough to be a decent example for the impact of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Dorn is a blogger about education policy and is president of the University of South Florida's faculty union (affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association).

Dorn checked the annual data compiled by the American Association of University Professors and found that the average salary for a full professor at Saint Anselm is just over $77,000 while the average for assistant professors is under $50,000. Dorn said in an e-mail that the question showed "astounding ignorance" of faculty salaries.

"I'm sure that St. Anselm faculty fantasize about salaries that Charles Gibson assumed were the case," said Dorn. "This is one more case of a television journalist making false assumptions about higher education." He noted that the average salary for full-time professors nationally is about $73,000 in the AAUP survey, and that only about half of all professors nationwide have full-time faculty jobs. "The truth is that most college professors are underpaid for their education and the work they do."

Maybe Gibson has been reading U.S. News. The list-loving weekly has named the 31 "best careers" for 2008, based on strong outlooks and high job satisfaction. Along with clergy, hairstylist/cosmetologists and genetic counselor, higher education administrator made the list, as did professor.

The administrator job description praises the intellectual stimulation and beautiful surroundings of campuses, and says that "compared with most office environments ... the work hours [are] more forgiving." U.S. News does warn about political correctness and notes that many colleges expect administrators to have graduate degrees. "Universities sell degrees, after all. They need to practice what they preach," the magazine says.

The professor job description describes a pretty cushy position that we suspect many of our readers won't recognize. Those who earn tenure at a four-year institution will primarily focus on research, with minimal student contact, the magazine says. U.S. News does note that it's tough to get such a job. "It helps if you were a star in your Ph.D. program -- and it help more if that was at a prestigious university. It helps even more if you're a woman or minority with the potential to bring in grant money."

Karl Steel, an assistant professor of English at Brooklyn College, has published a critique of the magazine's analysis. While Steel writes that he loves his job, he notes some tasks left out of the U.S. News calculations of time on task -- grading, class preparation and the like. And that leads to corrections on issues like hours and pay.

 

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