Wednesday, October 20, 2010

23. There is a pecking order.

Just as there is an academic hierarchy among universities (see Reason 3), there is an academic hierarchy within universities. Some departments have a positive effect on university budgets by virtue of the money that they attract in the form of grants (see Reason 22). Professional programs of study such as law and business charge high fees and offer little or no financial support to their students, so they are also an important source of income for universities. Finally, there are the departments—namely those in the arts, humanities, and many social sciences—that are entirely dependent on the university’s general budget. From a purely fiscal perspective, they are drains on institutional resources. Perhaps not surprisingly, universities tend to lavish attention on the departments and programs that attract external funding, while trying to minimize fixed costs, particularly in those departments and programs that do not generate income.

The liberal arts were once—and perhaps still are—perceived as the core of the university. Philosophy, History, and English departments are often housed in stately old buildings at the center of campuses. But shining new science buildings and gleaming law schools just as often look down on the peeling paint of their venerable neighbors. The hierarchy of departments is most clearly apparent in faculty salaries. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average salaries for new assistant professors in 2009-2010 were:

Business                            $95,822   
Law                                    $92,033
Engineering                       $75,450
Computer Science             $72,199
Public Administration         $57,873
Physical Sciences              $56,483
Math                                  $55,186
Psychology                        $54,584
Philosphy                           $53,668
Foreign Language             $52,271
History                               $51,811
English                              $51,204

Keep in mind that these all represent people who have the same job title: “assistant professor.” The relative comfort of graduate students generally reflects the place of their respective departments in the hierarchy.


 

42 comments:

  1. It blew my mind when I first learned that a friend who was a TA in physics was getting a stipend $4,000 more than mine was for being a TA in the humanities. Not fair at all. Why should we put up with it? Because we luuuuuurv our research and our students so very very much?

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    Replies
    1. In a word, yes.

      Different competencies are valued differently.
      Scarcity, intrinsic difficulty, experience, background, and institutional differences all play roles.
      There is no "fair" or "unfair" to that.
      Gender, race, age, geographical origin and religion almost always play roles as well. Frequently, this is unfair. In many cases discrimination is institutionalized. Alternately, in many other cases it is impossible to prove. It will happen anyway.

      Finally, if you don't like your research or your students, you might just be in the wrong game altogether.

      Delete
  2. History teachers get HALF of what business profs get? But all business majors do is teach people how to sell navel lint on late night infomercials!

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    Replies
    1. No, they have to learn to read off Powerpoint slides.

      Also, some of them have to learn "Stupid Excel Tricks" by rote.

      Delete
  3. Religious Studies and Theology: $49,000. Yikes.

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  4. You have to remember that starting salaries don't reflect how the positions are valued by the university, they reflect market forces. There are simply more PhDs in English on the market than there are PhDs in business (who have the option of pursuing even higher salaries in the private sector without a PhD.) To overcome that opportunity cost, universities have to at least approach corporate salary scales. And as far as Mr. Dennis' comment, business faculty actually prepare students for jobs that still exist in today's damaged job market. Nearly 100% of my students graduated with a job offer, even in this down economy. The statistics show that the vast majority of college grads, regardless of major, start in a sales position. The question is whether the student is actually earning a decent wage or selling biggie sized meals at the local fast food place. If my college opened its doors to all comers, we would easily be larger than our College of Arts & Sciences. It is only our selectivity that keeps many A&S departments in operation. We even mandate a more broadly based liberal arts component in our business requirements than do most other units on campus because we value that rounding.

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  5. The business profs salaries are a crock. I understand that it's reflective of the job market and if they were in the private sector they could make that much. But they aren't. They're in academia and should be paid on the same scale as other professors, or else leave and get a "real job."

    Most of the them teach outdated models that are of no help to their students entering the workforce. Its criminal that all of the other departments have to tighten their belts, but not the business department.

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    1. You claim to 'understand' that business professor's salaries are reflective of the economic constraints of the market, but then suddenly disprove any shred of understanding on the topic as you delve into your romanticized socialized 'idealistic' salary proposals.

      You, or the universities for that matter, don't get to decide what a quality business PhD gets paid. The market does the calculations automatically. Deciding the chop the going in rate in half will just void the university's hire pool of quality employees. They will find jobs else where. There goes the business school along with its credibility and quality business students. Those students' will take their tuition monies elsewhere. Any basic understanding of Econ will teach you this.

      Delete
    2. One reason a fair number of people in the Humanities seem to have a problem understanding the job market is that they don't understand week one of Econ 101 (supply and demand, opportunity cost, elasticity, etc).

      Delete
    3. If you really believe that the education sector job market is a "free market," or for that matter that ANY job market in the US is a "free market" then you really don't understand how the US "works."

      Delete
  6. Business prof salaries are not a crock. If Universities did not pay them a comparable salary to what they could get in the open job market, Universities would not have good business professors. A simple matter of Supply and Demand.

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  7. Note that assistant professors in the first several categories are also likely to have some professional experience. It makes sense to pay a law professor who has been in private practice for 15 years more than a history Ph.D. who is fresh out of graduate school.

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  8. Why, exactly, should salaries for professors not follow rules of supply and demand? Those who state or imply that they should not are unwittingly suggesting the obvious: there is little demand, in society, for instruction in the Humanities. Society needs accountants more than it needs literary critics--end of story.

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  9. Those salaries aren't low at all. 51K for first year at a job in NC puts you above the VAST majority of workers. True, it may take years of study, but what's the alternative?

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  10. In response to Joseph Frantz:

    If you think becoming a literary critic is all there is to learning about the humanities, you didn't learn very much in school at all. Society only needs just so many accountants, but we need an unlimited number of thoughtful, conscientious people. We need good citizens and good critical thinkers to make democracy work. We need good critical and creative thinkers to solve social, political, environmental, and economic problems. We need people who are aware of history and the mistakes of the past. We need people who have learned how to understand and respect different perspectives because they've read a few decent books and lived vicariously through them. We need people who've learned how to listen and respond to challenging viewpoints by studying music and art. Undergraduates who major in the humanities and arts gain these skills -- and while some of them may start out in sales positions after they graduate, most will move on. Even if they don't, I'd rather live in a society of all humanities majors than a society of all bean counters. Heck, you can major in the humanities and then go on and get an accounting degree if that's how you want to earn your living.

    My point is that professors in the humanities (and all the underpaid adjuncts and grad students also teaching in the humanities) are performing a valuable service to society, and they should be rewarded for it. After all, if you're in business, you should know that you get what you pay for. Pay humanities professors crap for too long, and eventually, you get crap scholarship and crap teaching -- or people just get fed up and leave the profession. I don't know about you, but society in which the humanities have gone to crap is not a society I want to live in.

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    1. Lots of tenured humanities faculty spend more time on pointless research that no one reads than on teaching. How does that benefit society? Why should tax payers find it? Good research is one thing, but a huge amount of it is of no value yo anyone.

      Delete
    2. If you think it's just the humanities conducting pointless research, you have another think coming.

      Read: "NSF Under the Microscope."

      Delete
    3. Since when does benefit to society determine salary. Professional athletes, top tier actors, and musicians have exorbitant incomes. Ultimately they provide only entertainment.

      Delete
  11. Haha 50,000 dollars a year is more than both of my parents make right now. Perhaps greed is the problem here? I'd love to make this amount of money as a new Professor. Why would I even compare my earning potential to that of a Physics Professor in the first place? I've never had an interest in math, science or business.

    Thank you, a recent Phd. I want to live in a world brimming with intelligence, foresight and ingenuity rather than greed and indifference. Humanities teachers are the backbone of all intellectual society!

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  12. It's interesting that the defenders of the branches of academia far removed from those that teach the economic concepts of value and supply/demand are the ones most indignant about the disparity in earnings here. Your value is largely determined not only by how much the rest of society values you, but how easily you are substituted.

    The irony is not lost on some of us. ;-)

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    Replies
    1. following your logic, then why do math professors only make in the lower 50K? Can you or anyone replace a math professor? So, we are clear, there would be no bean counters without mathematicians nor would there be any physics or engineering...your point is? Is there a reason why a math phd should make 51K but a business professor 95K or an engineer?

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    2. The point is that there are a lot of math PhDs who would take an assistant professorship job for 50K/year. So replacing any existing assistant professor would cost 50K/year. At the same time, there are not a lot of business or engineering PhD that would be willing to work for 50K/year, so the replacement cost of the average business or engineering PhD is a lot more than 50K/year.

      Delete
  13. This one is INCREDIBLY U.S.-centric. There isn't any other country where this enormous salary discrepancy exists between different kinds of academic salaries. Not even Canada.

    If this blog is specifically about post-graduate education and academic careers in the U.S., rather than post-graduate education and academic careers in an increasingly internationalised world, why not say so upfront?

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  14. It's not true that humanities departments are a drain on the general budgets. Because it is so cheap to teach and research in the humanities, universities get far more bang for their buck out of humanities professors. It's the sciences, with their expensive equipment and inadequate grants, that get subsidized by most general funds. The only reason we're told otherwise is because the scientists are the wing of the university who provide cheap labor for tech companies. They are increasingly being ground down under the power of commercial business to dictate their research priorities.

    And all of that's without the irrational salary structure, which really only mirrors the irrational structure outside of academe. The elite determine that their remuneration should be astronomical and because they have more surplus money floating around to convert into political power, as well as the control over those mini-governments called corporations, they dictate rewards. It has nothing to do with supply and demand, just demand, despite the farcical notions of classical economics.

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  15. Thank you, Anonymous. The humanities don't need outside grants -- we actually subsidize the sciences. But "because that evidence runs up against the widespread myth that other units and departments subsidize the humanities, and up against such well-entrenched forces within the university, it is regularly ignored or even suppressed." (See "The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit," by Robert N. Watson, in THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, March 21, 2010.)

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  16. To all you humanities and social science professors and students. Be thankful you get anything in salary and stipends. Your " disciplines " lack rigor and relevance. In actuality you should be paying the University system to be allowed on campus!

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    Replies
    1. I am in engineering, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this.

      Many jobs that social science graduates do are needed by society as well.

      Even in scientific organizations we need good writers, PR persons, HR persons, and others.

      Delete
  17. regarding humanities vs. technical/business prof wages:

    there seems to be some equivocation on "value" here causing commenters to talk past each other.

    proponents of the humanities are claiming that their fields offer value (perhaps in creativity, virtue, thinking, etc), and that this should be reflected economically.

    on the other hand, those who claim there is greater value in learning business, engineering, and science seem to be speaking about utility and economic value. that is, persons from these fields generally produce greater wealth, and therefore their instructors are rightly more deserving of greater financial rewards.

    for what its worth, the problem isnt that humanities types ought to be getting paid more for their services (though its unfortunate that they are not). the problem is that our society tends to measure worth economically. in such a society, its inevitable that those disciplines which typically generate greater economic returns will see greater economic investment. i dont see society ever getting over that either.

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    1. Society is constantly becoming more market oriented. Many of us deplore this, but it is just as real in today's system as gravity. Universities (especially humanities students and teachers) cannot expect to be exempt. It is just a fact. Work to change it if you want, but this is the reality for the foreseeable future.

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    2. This is not the problem.

      Delete
  18. I'm a Physics PhD student on a *gasp* FELLOWSHIP: all tuition covered plus a $30,000/year stipend. Funding for hard sciences is definitely better than funding for humanities.

    Oh, and even if I didn't have my fellowship, I would still get a full tuition waiver and a $24,000/year TA-ship or RA-ship.

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  19. I am surprised they find anyone to teach Computer Science at those salaries. I know a 2011 grad with a B.S. in Computer Science,(3.1 GPA). She has two job offers for $63,500, while waiting for paperwork to go through so she can start working other recruiters are calling. She will go to grad school eventually,part time and on her employer's dime.
    She says she learned more from the adjunct teachers because of their real world experience.

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    Replies
    1. The engineering department in which I was a grad student had no fewer than three tenured and one tenure-track prof. all teaching the same specialty. However, it was a poorly-paid adjunct who was actually competent in teaching it.

      Delete
  20. The comments here suggest to me that just as econ students must take courses in the humanities, humanities students should take at least one course in econ.

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  21. I hire engineers for a Fortune-100 semiconductor company. (I have a BS in Electrical Engineering myself.) We're were picky about who we hire: we target the top 5-10% of students from the top 5-10% of schools (so, roughly the top 1% of students overall.)

    The starting salary we offer to candidates with a BS degree is $90K plus a $10K signing bonus plus a restricted stock grant. Masters and PhD students are even higher.

    The real world pays good money for strong technical people.

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    Replies
    1. What do you expect of these people?

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    2. Not necessarily.

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  22. Why would I teach computer science making $72,199, when I can do, and make four to five times that.

    "humanities students should take at least one course in econ."
    Perhaps, if they did, they would grasp "supply and demand".

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    Replies
    1. People with coursework and degrees in econ are forever either participating in or blowing bubbles. 2007-2008 should have proven that to you beyond any reasonable doubt.

      By the way, CS is not immune. You should have known that after 2000.

      Delete
  23. Last I checked,

    Median personal annual wages in the U.S. were about $27K. Median household income was about $51K. Iirc, that's what the 2010 census reported.

    I always considered my self successful if I beat the median. We need to maintain some perspective.

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  24. I just checked and the health and health sciences new assistant professor's average salary was $64,296 in 2010. This seems pretty in line with what I would expect. I agree with prior posts about supply and demand. I am currently getting a PhD in nursing and most of the top 100 reasons do not apply in my field. Another factor I do not yet see brought up is how many PhDs are currently in the field. We currently have less than 1% of nurses who are doctorally prepared, so this is another reason the universities has to keep nursing salaries higher otherwise the pool would be extremely scarce. Great discussions everyone!

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