Confronting Salary Inequity

C.K. Gunsalus offers advice to a senior faculty member who finds herself with excellent evaluations -- and a lower salary than her male colleagues.

Filthy Lucre

I know a man who teaches at a branch campus of one of the largest state universities in the country. He hates it. One reason: his colleagues. Not only do many of them lack his professional seriousness or scholarly aspirations. Some have other jobs on the side, in real estate or auto dealerships. He tells of a few people who have worked out deals with the English department to steer students their way who write about difficulties with housing or cars.
Academe, one of thy names is money. Not officially of course. For public consumption, we faculty members -- tenured or adjunct -- accept our salaries in the name of our responsibilities to our students or our dedication to our discipline. Of course we all deserve more money, although not as much as football coaches, who deserve less, and don't get us started on overpaid administrators. But we did not become teachers to make money. We became teachers to profess ideals.

Result? We are baffled with the vulgar particulars of what we do make, ranging from the starting salary we command or the pay raise we receive upon promotion to -- well, to what, exactly? In fact, aside from the special case of merit pay, the only money virtually all of us make is represented by our respective salaries. This is why we are so reluctant to disclose them. This is also why anybody who actually tries to make additional money, much as my above friend's colleagues, makes us so uneasy, to say the least.

Adjuncts can be excused. Everybody knows they are woefully underpaid. So if they do something other than teaching -- I've taught with a man who runs a T-shirt business, another who was a salesperson at a mattress company -- more power to them. 
However, back on the tenure track, even if our contracts do not in theory forbid us from working at something other than teaching, we are effectively enjoined from additional work. That is, unless we are in science or engineering, grant-driven and consultancy-rich fields both, where, if anything,  the opposite might be true.

These significant exceptions, I believe, prove the rule: the closer to business, the more accepting of money. My own experience has been far removed, at an opposite pole, in the humanities, where money is understood to be necessarily distant from the community of learning, the mission statement, the spirit of diversity or any number of other pieties designed (in part) to keep us on track. Not to mention the venerable triad of teaching, scholarship, and service.

Whatever "service" means, come tenure review, it does not mean affordable housing having been brokered by the individual under consideration for selected members of her or his community, or used automobiles having been sold to them at equitable prices. Nor does "research" always translate into consultancies held or grants recieved, much less invited lectures given, or book contracts signed.

But of course the first set of activities is precluded from consideration -- in any field -- because they are too obviously motivated by money. The trick for an academic is to make money without appearing to be doing so, in some way apart from teaching. Granted (if the pun be forgiven), this is easier to accomplish in some fields than in others. But the necessity for it to remain a trick remains, I think, essentially the same.
Let pro athletes yowl about being "disrespected" while demanding more millions or politicians whine about being "smeared" concerning their financial dealings while denouncing their opponent's "tactics." We academics go about our monetary business  differently, beginning with the fact that we disdain the business. If we write an op-ed column, it is because we either are or aspire to write as public intellectuals, not because we crave a quick $500, which buys a lot more groceries that the two free magazine copies or 25 offprints we received for the publication of our last scholarly paper.

Just so, if we publish a book, it is because we are scholars, not because we hope for a big royalty check. The most I have ever received for one of my books was $137, at the end of its first year of publication. It seemed like a fortune! My totals for the three preceding books were: 0, 0, and $12. So it goes with most of us, who, er, count ourselves lucky to publish a book at all. Stephen Greenblatt was rumored to have received a six-figure contract from W.W. Norton for what became his prize-winning book on Shakespeare, Will in the World.

In terms of the academic publishing business as usual, though, one may as well be reading about J.K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter. As usual, consideration of the academic Big Leagues suggests the existence of a whole new ball game. Awhile ago I chanced to learn that the standard lecture fee of one of the Biggest Names in the country was $5,000 -- up front, period, no more, no less. The cost has the immense virtue of being neat and clean; nothing more required of his hosts, thank you, ranging from airport pick-up to hotel reservation or dinner.

How not to swoon that such an assessment represents, in its way, the conduct of a real pro? And yet how to compare such a fee to the salaries of his audience?

Moreover, how not to wonder, well, whether there was more than one previous lecture that this Eminence had given just for the money? And finally, how not to imagine the opportunity without envy? Just as the man had earned his eminence, after all, he had earned its price. If the very nature of a "public intellectual" continues to be disputed, is it not at least partially because the role takes place too intimate with the marketplace, where ideas are customarily converted into cash? Once again, we academics are uncomfortable with money, which becomes, in turn, one measure by which we are uncomfortable with ourselves.
Furthermore, this discomfort (other words could be used) is all of a piece with our constitutive unwillingness merely to utter the very word "money," except perhaps when either a new football coach or a college
president is hired.  Instead, we try to employ a vocabulary scrubbed clean of filthy lucre. A friend tells me, for example, of meetings with a dean to whom as a chair he would regularly conclude something like, "so the problem is money," only to have the dean usually reply, "Yes, Jim is right, we do have a resources issue."

A happier attitude toward money would begin with a better vocabulary, which would grant the element of competition fundamental to any enterprise. Our academic version is not exempt. Competition of course
does not necessarily have to be subject to monetary valuation. (But try writing a grant without it.) Such valuation does not necessarily have to be withheld either, and we all, academics included, live in a culture in which such a withholding is not only almost impossible to perform but even more impossible to perform in good faith.
Instead, what we find throughout academic life concerning just about anything to do with money is bad faith. I find this impossible not to be the case even in science and engineering. Bad faith hurts adjuncts in any field most of all. Adjuncts receive a fee, not a salary. They are obliged to writhe in the coils of such dressed-up ideals as "respect" or "security" when what they want most is simply a living wage, expressed in dollars and cents.

Alas, their labor takes place within a system that insists such an expression is vulgar, embarrassing, and alien to academic traditions. Meanwhile, everybody else looks high and low for money, whether in the form of grants and fellowships to pay off research or merely a summer section of one of the department's basic courses in order to pay for the new roof on the house. There need be no scandal in any of this. Or rather, the scandal, it seems to me, is to purport that any consideration of money is on a par with that of the student who protests, "I'm paying for this course," and then solidifies the claim with, "I'm paying for your salary."
The course is not reducible to a commodity. (Nor are we.) However, it can be transformed into one. The conversion cannot be denied out of hand (or out of pocket). Money is a consistent, ineradicable presence
in our values as well as our lives. Until we academics learn to talk about money at once more candidly and more searchingly, we have not earned the right to chortle at those of our colleagues who, like those of my friend back at the branch campus, have other business ventures on the side. Even in their crudity or dishonesty, these ventures illuminate ours. Especially working alongside adjuncts so radically exploited, even the most favored among us can no longer afford to act as if our ideals or our ideas pay for themselves.

Terry Caesar
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Terry Caesar's last column was about the relationship between professors and their former students.

The Faculty Salary Game

Nothing generates academic interest like a conversation about pay. Much faculty salary discussion focuses on why someone else makes more money. Often the contemplation of salary differences takes as its premise that the disparity must come from favoritism or some other illegitimate source rather than being a reflection of merit or that surrogate for merit, the market.

These conversations tend to be one-sided since the initiative comes primarily from the colleagues who feel underpaid. “Overpaid” colleagues rarely participate in this discussion. Thus, it is always good to see a systematic, data driven discussion of the subject of faculty salary differentials such as the recent much-quoted item from Ehrenberg, et al. at Cornell University.

Their study shows not only significant salary differences between disciplines on average (economists being paid more than English professors) but significant variation in that difference among institutions. This, they say, is because high quality departments pay more than low quality departments in the same discipline. If English is a weak department and economics is a strong department in one university, the difference in average salaries will be greater than if, in another university, both departments have the same quality.

These results validate in a systematic, statistical and aggregate way what individual participants in the academic market place have known and practiced for years. We who hire faculty or seek employment know that desirable scarcity drives up the market price of faculty. High quality, defined almost entirely by research success, is scarce, so the university has to pay for it. Medium quality is common so salary levels are less. The "outside offer" that comes to the faculty member whose local salary is significantly below the market resets that individual’s salary to meet the national market, whether through a counteroffer or a change in institution.  

This process, however, has many complexities not easily reflected in the aggregate data. Faculty have a local salary, the amount paid by their current institution. At the time of first hire, the local salary and the market salary are the same, because the hiring university must pay the market rate for the faculty member. This market rate reflects the faculty member’s current and expected value and includes any special premiums that might apply. However, the local salary diverges from the market the day after the faculty member begins work. 

Changes in the local salary depend not on the market, but on local circumstances. Across-the-board and merit increases negotiated by unions or established by administrations adjust the local salary to local concerns. Faculty who publish and get grants, and therefore are connected to the external market, tend to increase their local salaries faster than faculty who teach and perform a variety of service roles for the institution. Even so, the rate at which the local salary rises is somewhat to significantly independent of the national salary market place, although most institutions attempt to keep local salaries above the level of initial hires in the same field at the same rank. 

Promotion increases, which reward achievement as defined locally, also increase local salaries, but again at rates relatively independent of the market. In these local markets, politics and personality can intervene to slow or increase the rate of salary improvement. Other circumstances such as major budget crises in public institutions for example can hold back salary increases. On unionized campuses, the union’s principal effect is to raise the floor for all faculty, and in some places regulate the rates of increase.  

The market salary for a faculty member is not always higher than the local salary. The market may not pay more than the faculty member currently earns. This is often the case for faculty who have been in rank for a number of years, who do good work, but who have no particular distinction that the external marketplace cares to reward. This is the case for a majority of the faculty at most institutions. Simply put, the marketplace is not much interested in hiring midlevel faculty with good if not distinguished capabilities because an institution gains little by doing so. 

The hiring institution will have its own cadre of embedded faculty who are also good and experienced, but not spectacular. They rarely need to buy more of this kind of talent. The marketplace is available for those relatively few faculty members whose value is substantially above their local salary. These people can enter the market and receive an offer from a competing institution. This will set a new salary level for them because either their current institution will match the offer or they will leave and take the new, higher salary offer at the competing institution.  

Special circumstances complicate this marketplace. For example, senior minority or women faculty of significant scholarly distinction often carry a premium over equivalent individuals without the special characteristics. Faculty with the potential for leadership at a new institution but no leadership opportunities at their current institution can often command a premium because the new institution needs that leadership more than the current institution. Faculty with expertise of value in external commercial marketplaces command a premium over faculty of equivalent quality who have no commercial market value.

Staying Put

Many other circumstances discourage faculty entry into the national marketplace to attempt to improve their salaries. Faculty with a marketplace value may not enter the market because they do not want to pay the relocation costs, because they have an employed spouse in their current location, or because they have a life style that would require substantial change. Other faculty have retirement plans and options that they would lose if they enter the market and take another position elsewhere.  

These conditions help explain faculty behavior in their local environments. Because only a few actually access the external marketplace in any one year, and for most faculty the opportunity to take advantage of the external marketplace will happen only once or at most twice in their 30 year careers, most faculty salary effort is locally focused. This increases the politics around local salary policies. It also encourages faculty to develop strategies that manipulate and usually reduce their workload as an alternative to increasing direct compensation.  

The inaccessibility of the national market for most faculty encourages the local proliferation of quasi-administrative roles such as program chairs, faculty governance leadership, micro departmental organizations, and other structures that provide a rationale for a salary supplement for administrative service. Faculty pursue major administrative appointments that offer salary increases unavailable to them in the academic marketplace. They take on consulting, publish textbooks, create start-up companies, and supplement their salaries with summer grant funding.  Unions and tenure ensure that the institution cannot force faculty members into the marketplace where they might have to accept a lower, market-determined salary. Unions also usually ensure that whatever happens in the marketplace, the salary levels of continuing employees will keep rising. 

Faculty salaries also capture the value of security. Compared to many outside professionals of equivalent education and sophistication, faculty salaries appear low. When we account for the fact that faculty, once tenured, have a lifetime employment with compensation and benefits guaranteed, we recognize that part of the lower dollar payment reflects the much lower employment risk for tenured faculty compared to their professional counterparts in the commercial marketplace. College coaching salaries offer a clear demonstration of this. They often appear very high to many observers but actually capture two high-risk circumstances: coaches must win or be fired, and their compensation frequently depends on the amount of revenue their teams earn. 

Universities in search of high quality research faculty, defined in the national competition for grants, awards, publications, and the like, will always pay a premium for the individuals who fit their expectations. As the Cornell study shows, if an institution has a particular disciplinary focus for its quality aspirations, it will pay more for the faculty in that field than it will for faculty in fields where its aspirations are less.

At the top rank of public and private universities, almost every field is expected to be at the top level of quality, and in those universities, the salaries of all faculty will most closely reflect the national marketplace for their subdisciplines, including the built-in differentials between English and economics. The farther from the top rank a university is, the more its salaries will diverge from the marketplace level set by the top performers and the more its salary system and interests will focus on local concerns.

To understand the faculty salary game, it helps to know the whole system.

John V. Lombardi
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A Professional Development Bill of Rights

Like many professors at this time of year, we are receiving calls for academic papers to be presented at conferences of our main associations. Papers, along with the publishable manuscripts that often emanate out of them, usually are weighted significantly both in annual reviews and promotion and tenure processes.

So it surprises us that often many academic units do not invest adequately in professional development, paying for travel and expenses for faculty members to attend conferences and partake in activities that benefit individuals as well as institutions.

Conference offerings keep professors on track -- especially if they are on the tenure track. Sessions cover influential new books, exciting scholarly breakthroughs, and hot-button topics ranging from assessment to free speech zones. Also, the more paper acceptances and presentations that a department or school enjoys at conferences, the more prestigious that unit will seem to others. That plays a role in recruitment and retention of future and current colleagues.

A record of presentations by a particular department or school also may have assessment or re-accreditation value. There are service opportunities for professors who become chairs of divisions where they can build or enhance their national reputations. Also, faculty members who win election to serve on standing or executive committees elevate their programs and institutions yet again.

As senior scholars who are active in our associations and who realize the benefits of that in annual reviews and P&T processes, we have consulted with peers to develop a “bill of rights” to safeguard and enhance professional development funds (assuming, of course, you have them).

Rights and Responsibilities

All ranks of professors -- including adjuncts -- deserve professional development. However, it is imperative if you are on tenure track. Along with mentoring (often done by continuing faculty members for little or no reimbursement), your unit should set aside research funds necessary to place papers in conferences and later get them published in journals or books. Tenure decisions can be harsh or even fickle; standards can be high; and your career -- dare we say, life -- can be put on hold during the typical six-year process.

You deserve professional development.

True, tenure may represent an institutional multi-million-dollar investment in a professor. The question is, how has the unit invested in an assistant professor before that tenure decision is made and then afterward through promotion to professor? Moreover, with many institutions mandating post-tenure reviews, professional development is important even at the highest levels to maintain national reputations or innovative research. And finally, conference participation can be as much about teaching or pedagogy as research, with everything from panel presentations to poster and discussant opportunities. In other words, professional development is important in the small teaching college as well as the large public research university.

As such, we have conceived this bill of rights:

1. Pre-tenured professors should enjoy reduced teaching and/or service responsibilities.

2. Pre-tenured professors should receive additional, tangible incentives -- fewer advisees or summer research stipends.

3. All ranks of professors should have access to research assistants if your program has graduate students.

4. All ranks should have a teaching schedule that allows at least one free day per week so that you can do research.

5. You should have a somewhat flexible professional development fund, not only enabling you to travel to a conference but also to pay membership dues in at least one flagship association related to your discipline.

6. Your professional development fund should be at least $1,000 annually.

7. You should have access to an administrative or a faculty committee to approve funds in excess of that amount for exceptional accomplishments -- top paper acceptances or outstanding book awards., necessitating more travel or extended hotel stays.

8. You should receive additional funds if you are a chair or vice chair of a division in your major association, enabling you to attend mid-winter or plenary sessions.

9. You should receive additional funds or release time if elected to national office.

10. You should receive recognition in annual reviews, newsletters and departmental communiqués for your association-related accomplishments, providing official documentation for annual review and P&T purposes.

With all rights come responsibilities. Keep in mind that documentation can go against you in personnel reviews and decisions. If your research and publication records are mediocre when you have been given graduate assistants and reduced course, service and advising loads, your department chair and colleagues will have ample proof that the investment was squandered.

In other words, you are expected to perform.

Focus your efforts on one or two major associations in your discipline, attending conferences relevant to your research or teaching. You are expected to practice fiscal restraint. Do not pad expenses for meals or insist that conference tours to historic sites in host cities are part of your research protocol. You should come prepared to present at conferences without visiting the hotel’s business offices for extra copying or other clerical and computer chores. Concerning Internet, conferences often provide free wireless access or computer banks for you to e-mail colleagues, family and friends. So there usually is no need to pay expensive hotel room rates for Web access.

It goes without saying that bad conference behavior is legendary in academe. We have witnessed or heard about colleagues who were drunk, rude, solicitous and even harassing at conventions. If you are spending your department’s money, you had better behave appropriately, not only at your designated session, but also while in public (and private, too).

Neither should you attend conferences to scout for other jobs. Colleagues may hear first- or second-hand about your ambitions, and that can jeopardize rather than enhance future funding. You may think that you can fool a colleague about why you are at the meeting, but experienced colleagues easily can discern job-hunters from attendees -- sometimes by way of attire, sometimes by the company they keep.

General rule: If you use professional development funds, act professionally. Set a good example because the conference grapevine is digital and global. In fact, the best way to be recruited or to impress influential scholars and editors is by presenting stellar research at your session and interacting appropriately with others during your entire stay.

Billing Your Bill of Rights

At the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, each professor gets a $2,500 professional development account to use for travel, membership and participation. If the researcher requires more funds for significant projects, we bring the matter to our executive committee, which can recommend enhancements. We pay extra for conference memberships for faculty serving as association officers. We invest in conferences because there is no better return on the dollar to retain and recruit faculty.

By and large, this perception is shared. In an informal survey of deans across the country we found good investment in professional development. At the journalism program at California State University at Long Beach, new faculty members receive $2,000 per year in travel/conference/research support. Additional funds can be -- and frequently are -- obtained from elsewhere on campus. We saw the same pattern at Arkansas State University, where the College of Communication finances at least one and sometimes two or more trips to scholarly conference per year for all faculty. Our colleagues at Syracuse University receive $2,500 for every faculty member (junior and senior) to use for travel, and if a faculty member can make a good case -- and funds are available -- he or she can receive more.

The University of Missouri School of Journalism provides $500 per faculty member per year for travel. Those who present at more than one conference routinely apply for and receive additional funding. Many administrators consider funding to attend conferences part of a total package to attract and retain faculty. Shirley Staples Carter, director of the journalism program at the University of South Carolina, says that, in addition to funding travel to regional and national meetings, her college also provides reduced course loads during the first semester to complete conference papers or journal submissions, a summer research stipend and a faculty research mentor.

We also know of departments that invest as little as $200 per person for travel and conference attendance, and a few that invest nothing at all. (We’ll spare those units the embarrassment of disclosure.) However, we’ll be eager to check the comments sections below this article to get a feel from Inside Higher Ed readers about how widespread inadequate funding actually is across disciplines and institutions.

A goal of this article is to counter oft-heard excuses for insufficient funding and to make suggestions on how to remedy that.

Making a Commitment

Of course we realize that budgets are tight and may continue to be so for years to come. But there are steps that every department can take to ensure adequate funding for conference attendance and participation.

The first step is making a commitment to professional development. That can occur informally with your chair or dean or formally in a faculty meeting through a resolution.

Making this a priority is one thing. Financing it is another.

Unit heads who repeatedly state that they lack funding might also be less than transparent on how the budget is being allocated. Some chairs may be top scholars and poor fiscal planners. Situations will vary from department to department, of course, and what one person may deem frivolous (alumni receptions, say) another may deem vital. Concerning budget, sometimes professors themselves are to blame in that they increasingly add to the curricula to teach pet or low-enrolled courses, requiring ever more adjuncts to teach large or required courses, wasting supplemental budgets that otherwise can be used for professional development.

Chairs also can commit to the cause by creating a “faculty excellence” or “research fund” for the express purpose of professional development, soliciting support of benefactors. Unit heads also can raise funds externally for speakers, student organizations and/or other in-house events, re-dedicating funds previously set aside for those functions to professional development.

Professors also should investigate institutional research incentives. Iowa State University and the University of Missouri have programs to help fund research-oriented international travel, for instance. There are also programs for matching funds associated with initiatives identified by deans of colleges.

And it goes without saying, especially at research universities, that grant acquisition not only can fund conference-related research but also the graduate assistants necessary for top papers and eventual peer-reviewed publication.

Finally, chairs and professors should keep detailed records to provide documentation for annual review and P&T purposes and to showcase the value of conference attendance and participation, using that data for assessment purposes.

If the outcomes are impressive over time, everyone from students to benefactors will see the value of the investment. Professors will augment lectures with cutting-edge research. Department chairs will be able to fund-raise more effectively and increase budgets, recruiting new faculty to your program and retaining your most accomplished colleagues.

Michael Bugeja and Lee Wilkins
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Michael Bugeja, author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford University Press 2005), directs the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Lee Wilkins, author of The Moral Media: How Journalists Think about Ethics (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and associate editor of The Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

Beyond Merit Pay and Student Evaluations

What tools should colleges use to reward excellent teachers? Some rely on teaching evaluations that students spend only a few minutes filling out. Others trust deans and department chairs to put aside friendships and enmities and objectively identify the best teachers. Still more colleges don’t reward teaching excellence and hope that the lack of incentives doesn’t diminish teaching quality.

I propose instead that institutions should empower graduating seniors to reward teaching excellence. Colleges should do this by giving each graduating senior $1,000 to distribute among their faculty. Colleges should have graduates use a computer program to distribute their allocations anonymously.

My proposal would have multiple benefits. It would reduce the tension between tenure and merit pay. Tenure is supposed to insulate professors from retaliation for expressing unpopular views in their scholarship. Many colleges, however, believe that tenured professors don’t have sufficient incentives to work hard, so colleges implement a merit pay system to reward excellence. Alas, merit pay can be a tool that deans and department heads use to punish politically unpopular professors. My proposal, however, provides for a type of merit pay without giving deans and department heads any additional power over instructors. And because the proposal imposes almost no additional administrative costs on anyone, many deans and department heads might prefer it to a traditional merit pay system.

Students, I suspect, would take their distribution decisions far more seriously than they do end-of-semester class evaluations. This is because students are never sure how much influence class evaluations have on teachers’ careers, whereas the link between their distributions and their favorite teachers’ welfare would be clear. Basing merit pay on these distributions, therefore, will be “fairer” than doing so based on class evaluations. Furthermore, these distributions would provide very useful information to colleges in making tenure decisions or determining whether to keep employing a non-tenure track instructor.

The proposal would also reward successful advising. A good adviser can make a student’s academic career. But since advising quality is difficult to measure, colleges rarely factor it into merit pay decisions. But I suspect that many students consider their adviser to be their favorite professor, so great advisers would be well rewarded if graduates distributed $1,000 among faculty.

Hopefully, these $1,000 distributions would get students into the habit of donating to their alma maters. The distributions would show graduates the link between donating and helping parts of the college that they really liked. Colleges could even ask their graduates to “pay back” the $1,000 that they were allowed to give their favorite teachers. To test whether the distributions really did increase alumni giving, a college could randomly choose, say, 10 percent of a graduating class for participation in my plan and then see if those selected graduates did contribute more to the college.

My reward system would help a college attract star teachers. Professors who know they often earn their students adoration will eagerly join a college that lets students enrich their favorite teachers.

Unfortunately, today many star teachers are actually made worse off because of their popularity. Students often spend much time talking to star teachers, make great use of their office hours and frequently ask them to write letters of recommendation. Consequently, star teachers have less time than average faculty members do to conduct research. My proposal, though, would help correct the time penalty that popularity so often imposes on the best teachers.

College trustees and regents who have business backgrounds should like my idea because it rewards customer-oriented professors. And anything that could persuade trustees to increase instructors’ compensation should be very popular among faculty.

But my proposal would be the most popular among students. It would signal to students that the college is ready to trust them with some responsibility for their alma mater’s finances. It would also prove to students that the way they have been treated at college is extremely important to their school.

James D. Miller
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James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College. He keeps a blog here.

Why Assistant Professors Should Earn More Than the Tenured

Although it is far from the norm, a few colleges pay their assistant professors more on average than they do their tenured professors. Although such pay scales might harm the egos of tenured professors, they can benefit colleges.

Organizations often pay high salaries to (1) attract new employees, (2) keep existing employees, (3) compensate workers for unpleasant working conditions and (4) compensate workers for taking on risks. These four criteria support colleges giving relatively higher salaries to assistant professors.

Consider a college that has some extra money to spend on faculty salaries. In many fields, this college competes intensely with other schools for talented assistant professors. So the college could increase the quality of its faculty by using its extra money to boost assistant professors’ salaries.

Compared to assistant professors, tenured professors rarely switch jobs. Our hypothetical college probably won’t lose a significant number of its non-superstar tenured faculty if it doesn’t allocate its extra money to raising their salaries. (And the college can always cut separate deals with it superstars.) So to maximize the quality of its faculty, the college should create a pay structure in which tenure-track assistant professors earn more than tenured professors. As the following example shows, a college can do this without ever decreasing a professor’s salary even if the professor is promoted.

Year Tenured Professor’s Salary Assistant Professor’s Salary
2008 $77,000 $80,000
2009 $80,000 $83,000
2010 $83,000 $86,000

[If an assistant professor were promoted at the start of 2010 he would make $83,000 in both 2009 and 2010.]

Assistant professors in many ways have harder jobs than tenured professors do. They have more pressure to publish. They usually spend more time on class preparation because they have taught their classes relatively few times. And, keeping in mind their looming tenure bids, they often feel compelled to be more deferential to their senior colleagues than they would prefer. Those who care about economic fairness consequently should support the idea of assistant professors making more than tenured professors. And those who care about markets should understand that the less pleasant the job, the higher salary you must pay to attract top talent.

Job security is a large part of tenured professors’ compensation. So even if a tenured professor has a somewhat lower monetary salary than an assistant professor does, he probably, over all, receives more total compensation than his non-tenured colleagues. After all, I suspect few tenured professors who are not superstars or close to retirement would agree to exchange, say, $3,000 in extra salary in return for abandoning tenure.

Markets compensate intelligent risk takers. For example, investing in the stock market yields a higher average return than investing in safe government bonds does. Up or out tenure decisions foist enormous risk on tenure-track assistant professors. Ph.D.’s in practical fields in which many non-academic jobs are available should be willing to take on tenure risk only if they are suitably compensated for it. In contrast, however, being a tenured professor is one of the safest jobs on the planet, and consequently you would expect markets to pay tenured professors a negative risk premium that reduces their salary.

It’s relatively less risky for a college to increase its assistant professors’ salaries. For reasons economists don’t fully understand, employers almost never decrease their workers’ nominal salaries. So if a college gives a raise to a tenured professor, it is stuck paying this raise until the professor retires. In contrast, if an assistant professor becomes too expensive the college can simply not reappoint him.

I’m actually surprised that the academic market doesn’t induce more colleges to pay greater salaries to assistant professors than to non-superstar tenured professors. Tenured professors, however, have on average vastly greater bureaucratic power than their untenured co-workers and perhaps such power discrepancies explain why at most colleges tenured professors earn more than assistant professors.

Some might claim that not rewarding tenured professors for their long experience would harm their morale. But I wonder how many talented assistant professors have had their morale damaged (or indeed have even voluntarily left academe) because they are paid less than some of their less talented and less hardworking senior colleagues.

James D. Miller
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James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College. He is the author of a newly published Principles of Microeconomics textbook.

Let Professors Choose

Endowments have plummeted, alumni will donate less, and students won’t be willing to pay as much. Because of all this financial trauma, colleges will inevitably expect more from their faculties. But I urge college presidents and trustees, in responding to this situation, not to make inflexible demands of professors, but to rather empower us to decide which sacrifices we shall bear.

Colleges need to reduce costs, and one way could be to cut professors’ salaries. But some professors would do a lot to maintain their incomes, so why not give us the option of keeping our salaries as long as we agree to teach an extra class or take on significantly more administrative responsibilities? After all, if some professors did more work, a college or university could postpone when it needed to hire new employees.

To make up for a hiring freeze, some colleges might be tempted to force all professors to teach additional classes. But some professors live frugally, have lots of family income, or would do most anything to preserve research time. Why not let these instructors take, say, a 10 percent pay cut in return for not having extra teaching responsibilities?

A hiring freeze might also necessitate some professors taking on more administrative duties. But no school should push all professors into doing what college administrators do. If, for example, one instructor hates meetings while another dreams of being a dean, let the former teach one of the latter’s classes, thereby freeing up the latter’s time for paperwork.

Colleges should present professors with a menu of sacrifices they must pick from. Of course, there will have to be some planning so that not too many professors pick the same option. Perhaps the most senior faculty members would get their first choice from the menu, and less senior members would get to choose only among sacrifices consistent with their institution’s needs.

But a better way to allocate sacrifices would be to have professors bid for what they want. For example, a college could declare that all but 100 members of the faculty must teach an extra course each year. Professors could then bid with their salaries for one of the 100 slots, with some kind of limitations built in so that not too many professors from the same department win the auction. The auction winners would be the professors who value money over time, and the “losers” those who value time over money. Each professor would be making the choice that best suits his or her needs. True, affluent professors might seem to have an advantage in such an auction, but it would be the least affluent who would most benefit if the auction’s revenue prevented the college from cutting everyone’s salary.

Departments, too, should be given choices over how to share their college’s financial hardships. A department, for example, might be told to either postpone its next hire by a few years or give up half of its administrative budget. Each department would use its knowledge of its own needs to make the decision that would best serve it and would probably best serve the college.

Professors care about many aspects of their jobs, including salaries, teaching loads, administrative work, sabbatical opportunities, travel money, office space, research expectations, and grants. Most professors accept that, because of the financial crisis, our terms of trade with employers will become less favorable to us.

By giving professors options over how these terms will change, schools can potentially get more out of their professors while inflicting less harm on them (and so encountering less resistance). And this most holds true if different professors can make different choices, rather than the college negotiating with the faculty as a whole for all professors to make the same sacrifice.

James D. Miller
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James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College.

Dear Adjuncts: Don't Get Sick

I’m sick. And I don’t mean sniffles and tickle in my throat. I mean swallowing pitchforks and a jackhammer on the brain. That kind of sick. The doctor calls it strep throat. I call it hell on earth.

In this state, in this death-bed existence, I feel lucky.

I have written a lot about unfair pay for adjunct faculty, or how they aren’t included enough in most departments. These are all important issues, but I think I’m overlooking one of the biggest problems in the adjunct profession: health benefits.

This is an issue some will squawk at. They’ll say adjunct faculty members are part-time faculty and they shouldn’t have any benefits. That’s true … some of the time.

At many institutions, mine included, adjuncts are expected to teach the maximum number of allowed classes in a semester. For me, it’s four. I suppose I could tell the administration that I don’t want to teach all four, but is that really my responsibility? Does a 15-year-old part-time busboy who is saving for a car during the summer remind the boss that he’s only a part-time employee? Not really. It’s the boss’s job to make sure the kid doesn’t work more than he’s legally allowed. And really, since adjuncts teach the majority of required, gen-ed courses in so many departments, it’s hardly fair to brush them off as teaching fodder.

Let’s face it: “part-time” and “adjunct” are no longer fitting monikers for so many faculty members. It seems clear that departments, maybe even entire universities, have come to rely on adjuncts so much that they would fail without the adjuncts.

Like I said, I’m lucky. My wife works and I get health insurance through her. Strep costs me a $25 co-pay and about $15 for two prescriptions. A colleague in the cubicle near mine can’t get sick. She can’t afford it. And the thought of a personal injury -- a car accident, perhaps -- nearly causes her to have an anxiety attack. For me, strep throat means Percocet for the pain and amoxicillin for the infection. For my colleague, strep would mean herbal remedies and drinking lots of juice.

Only recently, and thanks to Obama’s health care initiatives, more and more institutions have begun to offer health care buy-ins for adjuncts. This would be great if all these adjunct issues were mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, they’re not. The truth is, adjuncts have always had the option to buy health care; anybody with money can buy health care. But adjuncts don’t receive adequate pay.

What we’re talking about here is academe demanding full-time work from adjuncts, but failing to adequately compensate them for that work. Institutions rely on adjuncts to meet the institutions’ basic needs (in many cases, required, gen-ed courses) but they fail to meet the basic needs of the adjuncts (living wages).

This method, like fighting strep with juice, just doesn’t work that well.

Isaac Sweeney
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Isaac Sweeney is an adjunct faculty member in James Madison University's School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication and an adjunct instructor in Blue Ridge Community College's English department..

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