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One of the questions that came up in the wake of last week’s post on “Just Returns” for nontenurable instructors, in which I advocate for fair pay for the work of instruction, is how do we determine exactly what is “fair pay”?

Fair question.

I’d like to introduce everyone to the Teaching Labor Wage Gap Calculator (you can copy a version at that link), which determines the different per-course wages received according to rank and status, and then provides an adjusted wage (Teaching Labor Equity Wage) if that available pool of money were redistributed to reflect equal pay for equal work.[1]

In order to calculate the Teaching Labor Wage Gap, we need to aggregate the salaries for all faculty who teach at least one class, determine what portion of those salaries is dedicated to instruction and then do some addition, multiplication and division, and also more multiplication, and addition, and division.

For simplicity of illustration, let’s imagine a department that’s equal parts tenured faculty making $88,000 per year, assistant professors making $67,000 per year, lecturers making $35,000 per year and adjuncts making $3,250 per course who teach two courses per year.[2]

Calculation of Dollars Earmarked for Teaching

Tenured professor: $88,000 salary, 2/2 load (4/year), 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service. Amount of salary earmarked to teaching labor calculation: $88,000 x 0.4 = $35,200. Per-course wage: $35,200/4 = $8,700.

Assistant professor:[3] $67,000 salary, 2/2 load (4/year), 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service. Teaching labor salary: $26,800. Per-course wage: $6,700.

Lecturer: $35,000 salary, 4/4 load (8/year), 100 percent teaching. Teaching labor salary: $35,000. Per-course wage: $4,375.

Adjunct: $6,500 salary[4], (2/year), 100 percent teaching. Teaching labor salary: $6,500. Per course wage: $3,250.

Total amount earmarked for instruction = $103,500

Total number of courses taught = 18[5]

Average per course wage = $5,750

Per-Course Equity Wage Gap

Adjunct: $3,250 - $5,750 = -$2,500

Lecturer: $4,375 - $5,750 = -$1,375

Asst. Prof.: $6,700- $5,750 = +$950

Tenured Prof.: $8,700 - $5,750 = +$3,050

Equity Model Adjusted Pay

Redistributing the pool of money ostensibly earmarked for instruction on an equitable per-course basis ($5,750/course) changes the salaries by rank like this:

Adjunct: $11,500 (previously $6,500)

Lecturer: $46,000 (previously $35,000)

Asst. Prof.: $63,200 (previously $67,000)

Tenured Prof.: $75,800 (previously $88,000)

If I haven’t made it plain, contingent faculty are subsidizing the salaries of tenurable faculty to the tune of thousands of dollars per course. Make of that what you will.

Some Questions I’ve Tried to Anticipate:

Q: What about big-time endowed professor types who are hired as much for their eminence as their teaching? How do we handle them?

A: Simply adjust the portion of their labor that reflects their teaching. If they’re doing one course a year, they’re obviously getting paid for their reputation, not their instruction. Say that 10 percent of their job is teaching. This calculation seeks only to make the labor of teaching equitably paid work. Everything else is untouched.

Q: Shouldn’t tenured faculty, having been there longer and having established seniority, deserve a higher per-course wage?

A: Adding a multiplier for seniority and length of service in the department is perfectly defensible, but for equity’s sake it must be applied regardless of rank. Ex. contingent faculty with 20 years’ service should be receiving the same multiplier as full professor faculty of the same duration of employment.

Q: Upper-division courses that tenured faculty primarily teach require more expertise. Shouldn’t that be rewarded with a greater per-course wage?

A: Here we get into a discussion of labor and values. I would argue that the expertise is already baked into proportion of the tenured faculty’s salary dedicated to research. If we believe that these upper-division courses require more labor, one could argue for more per course, but is this true? I’ve taught up and down the curricular ladder, including master's-level grad classes, and in general, the time spent on the labor decreases as one moves up. The most “difficult” course in terms of the amount of labor I have or ever will teach is first-year composition.

Still, it’s a discussion worth having. Just make sure that the grounding is in equity -- equal wage for equal work -- rather than seeking a rationale to justify higher pay (for teaching alone) for higher rank. Prestige is not labor.

Q: How do you think this would look at different kinds of institutions?

A: It would be interesting to see. My guess is that the teaching wage equity gap is largest at public R-1s and shrinks as you move down the Carnegie classifications where tenured faculty teach more while also being required to do service and research.[6] It’s possible there are some places where tenured faculty have been squeezed so hard that the teaching labor equity wage gap is much smaller or nonexistent.

Q: In an effort to achieve a surface-level equity around pay for teaching labor, couldn’t institutions (arbitrarily) declare that some smaller proportion of all tenured faculty’s salaries are earmarked for teaching, thus driving down the per-course wage?

A: Sure, but in my scenario, even if the tenurable faculty go down to 20 percent of their job being teaching-related, the lecturers and adjuncts would see sizable increases over their current wage. I’d also ask how institutions that are predominantly supported by student tuition (almost half of Clemson’s unrestricted funds come from tuition) can justify using that money to subsidize nonteaching activities by tenurable faculty more than they already do.

Q: You’re aware that there’s no way in Hades that tenured faculty are going to take that kind of salary haircut in order to achieve pay equity for teaching labor?

A: Indeed. A potentially more palatable solution would be to set a floor for a per-course wage as the average across all ranks and then find some additional money to bring people up to that floor.[7] It wouldn’t achieve total equity in terms of the teaching labor, but it would mitigate the exploitative nature of the current system.

I don’t expect a sudden act of solidarity among the nation’s tenured faculty as they sacrifice their salaries in order to push the subsidy that currently flows upward back down, but let this be a thought starter.

Q: Could you imagine a world where the Teaching Labor Equity Wage Gap shows up in the U.S. News & World Report rankings?

A: Now you’re really dreaming. Let’s stay in the realm of possibility here.


[1]I am declaring teaching credit-bearing college courses as equal work.

[2]It’s an oversimplification for the purposes of illustration, but it works. The salaries are derived from the South Carolina state employee salaries database and reflect the conditions at Clemson University’s English department, the example discussed in the previous post.

[3]I’m not going to show all the math to save space, but I’ve got a spreadsheet doing my calculations for me, so they’re accurate to the best of my ability. If anyone sees an error, please alert me.

[4]Let’s not forget that adjuncts also don’t get benefits and are often kept at “part-time” levels to prevent institutions from having to absorb that additional expense.

[5]This likely underestimates the proportion of courses taught by nontenurable faculty, but again, for the illustration, it’s close enough.

[6]Faculty at a regional comprehensive may have the same 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service divisions in their job while teaching six or eight courses a year instead of four, as at an R-1, while also making lower salaries.

[7]My model shows under this scenario, on an annual basis, it would cost $5,000/adjunct (teaching two courses) and $11,000/lecturer to bring them up to the floor. I’ve put a column in the spreadsheet that will calculate the total dollars necessary to bring everyone in a department up to the floor, in case any enterprising person wants to make use of it. I could imagine a scenario in which a department chair, who is concerned about the exploitation of contingent faculty, calculates what could be done with a retiring tenured faculty member’s salary of $110,000 and presenting their case to the higher-ups, that rather than taking a tenure-line replacement as is current practice, they would like to repurpose that salary toward the underpaid adjuncts and lecturers. A single retirement of a senior faculty member could, in this scenario, bring 10 lecturers up to the per-course wage floor. It would pay for 44 courses being taught by adjuncts being brought up to the per-course wage floor.

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