Monday, March 8, 2010

Lower salaries for faculty

According to an article in Higher Education today, nationwide we are experiencing a decline in faculty salaries.

This is not good.

We struggle with 'market value' of hiring new faculty. Universities would like to keep faculty salaries in line across the board because getting a Ph.D. in any field is a challenge. Lots of hard work, long hours, and competition, but that is a Pollyanna point of view.

For example, the market value of English professors, a discipline that has an overwhelming number of talented folks with Ph.D.'s, continues to produce many more graduate than can possibly be hired in academics. Hence, over the last ten years, salaries have dropped.

Market value can cause salaries to drastically raise and fall within a short period of time. At the start of the Human Genome Project, salaries were high for graduate students, post-docs, and faculty. At that time, the millions of experiments that had to be done were all done manually. Labs were huge, often with 20 or more grad students. As a result of the successful project, experiments were automated and didn't require an army of students and faculty to run them. Lots of graduates hit the job market to discover there were no jobs. Thus the starting salaries dramatically shrank.

Market value allows salaries of faculty who are in engineering, pre-med, physics, computer science, and economics very high. However market value keeps salaries of faculty with masters degrees and those with Ph.D.'s in humanities low. This article shows around a minimum of $25,000 difference in starting salaries.

Because of the poor economy, colleges are growing. Austin Community College showed a 26% increase in students Fall semester. Does this keep salaries high with more demand?


College administrators are very cautious about this increase. Bean counters know, that the minute the economy begins to recover and extra money for college stops, most of those students-in-waiting will take off, probably degree-less, and return to work; maybe even their old job.

Therefore, the new faculty positions opening up right now, are for adjuncts; not full time faculty. Colleges will not invest in full time faculty until they are positive that they can sustain them by consistent and sustainable enrollment.

This is a time faculty need to focus on keeping salaries high. Otherwise we will come out of this recession, salary wise, deep in the red.

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