Paul Caron, over at TaxProf Blog has parts of two articles on the dispute over faculty workload. Joseph Epstein asks, “Who’ll Take A Pay Cut For Free College” over at the WSJ (subscription required). Among other things, Joe says faculty have a sweet racket. Coleen Flaherty calls shenanigans on Joe and wants to fact check him. We’re generally with Colleen but think even Coleen could do better. Do read all of what Colleen has to say. Only read Joe if you want a rant.
Joe leads with a picture of Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach, and spends three paragraphs on college athletics. We are not a fan of Division I sports, but they are irrelevant to the tuition cost. Students do pay a separate fee but Division I athletics generates essentially all of their own revenue. You can also ignore the college president but Joe has an important point on administrative creep. He does get a bit wound up but he is close the the mark when he says:
The next big cut in the cost of higher education would be in superfluous administrative jobs, for the contemporary university is nothing if not vastly overstaffed. All those assistant provosts for diversity, those associate deans presiding over sensitivity programs, those directors for student experience—out, out with them.
He actually only spends two paragraphs on faculty. Joe starts out imprecisely:
Which brings us to the faculty. Faculty jobs in American universities have risen well in excess of any visible improvement in the quality of university teachers: $200,000-a-year-or-more professorships are now not uncommon. [Emphasis added]
Joe should have given us a little data on what the bold part means. Yes, there are some highly paid faculty members in some departments. Because we are retired we don’t have access to the data we did before. Here is an AACSB summary of worldwide salaries for 2018/19. AACSB is an organization of business schools. It is hard to become part of AACSB so we could describe it as an elite organization. Business school faculty make substantially more than most other faculty and elite schools pay more too. There are just under 5,000 accounting (to pick a large discipline that is close to our heart, highly paid, and at the beginning of the alphabet) faculty in the survey and at least 300 are in the $200,000 category.
Sidebar One: We only have a very rough estimate from this data as it is 75 percentile, median, 25 percentile, and mean for four levels of faculty. We can infer that there are some big salaries because the mean is above the median. End Sidebar One.
So in one of the highest paid disciplines at the tonier universities, to use Joe’s term, perhaps 10% (that would mean 500 out of 5,000) make $200,000. Some make much more than $200,000 but there are lots of schools and lots of disciplines where nobody is making $200,000. We are close to certain that no faculty member at our former school is making $200,000 per year. There is substantial faculty income inequality within and among universities.
Then Joe gets silly and decides he wants to pay us all on an hourly rate by experience. We might be able to staff the English department but the business school and many other departments would be out of luck. We are not sure about what Joe plans to do about scholarship and service. It is a bit of an overstatement to say that the faculty run the university but faculty committees do stuff like hire, fire, and budget. Colleen notes one study finds professors spend 17 percent of their time in meetings.
Colleen brings up the opposite of the racket: the expansion of what are often called adjunct faculty who are paid by the course at a much lower rate than faculty and are not expected to do service or scholarship. She says:
Among other things, Epstein’s essay ignores the structural shifts that have occurred since he began teaching — most significantly the transition to majority-non-tenure-track work force. This means that many professors don’t make a salary at all, but are paid on per-course basis. (In this sense, he’s closer to his “strict hourly wage” reality than he thinks. But adjuncts say that the $3,000 they often get to teach a course vastly undervalues the actual work they do to plan it, teach it and be available to students taking it while staying current in their fields. And that shift, in turn — along with public funding cuts — has led to a greater overall workload for tenured and tenure-track professors.)
She makes good points that this is Joe’s idea and that this increases the workload for the remaining faculty. To be specific, there is more work because there are fewer people carrying a bigger service load. Colleen leaves out that there is a mezzanine section of instructors who are full-time with a service expectation but (usually) no research expectation and no tenure.
Colleen has data from AAUP (all disciplines for American schools). Income inequality shows up between private and public and by research intensity. Here is some data:
At public doctoral institutions last year, the average full professor salary was $141,000. Associates made about $97,000. Assistants made $84,000. Full-time instructors made about $63,000, while lecturers made about $57,000.
Colleen leaves out the income inequality by discipline. There are not many, if any, English faculty above the averages and no (well, there could be an exception) accounting faculty that are not above the averages.
Colleen give some examples of faculty working really hard. She is right. All faculty do teaching, scholarship, and service but the emphasis is on different things at different schools. At doctoral schools the emphasis is on scholarship. At comprehensives there is more of a balance among the three. At smaller schools scholarship is less of an emphasis and service is more of an emphasis. Faculty work hard but lots of the work is not obvious to everyone. Faculty committees like assessment of learning, curriculum design, and retention of other faculty are not obvious. The value of scholarship is hard to evaluate.
Coleen mentions one thing we get as faculty and leaves two out. She is right we get flexibility but doesn’t go far enough. We might work seven days a week but we can usually pick up the kids when needed. Faculty members also have flexibility about what to teach, what scholarship to engage in, and service areas. The flip side of flexibility is that each faculty member has to figure out what to do. She leaves out, once we are tenured, we get exceptional security and a good retirement plan.
Sidebar Two: Tenure is a double-edged sword. Tenure must be granted. The percentage of probationary faculty earning tenure those schools with big salaries is pretty low. It is hard to get good data because most folks leave voluntarily before the sword falls. If you don’t get tenure then you are fired. End Sidebar Two.
When we were finishing our MBA program some of the teaching assistants had a discussion. Should we teach or work? We chose to teach and learned that it is more than teaching but it is different than work because you have so many choice. We can’t put a number on it but we were willing to trade off lower current income for flexibility, security, and a good retirement plan. Like any career, it is a racket if you like what you do.