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The business of professor salaries

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Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 2:18 pm

It is no secret that in our culture, money matters, and it matters just as much at GU as it does on Wall Street. Of course finances affect the daily lives of students, but there is less attention attributed to other aspects of university economics. Specifically, how well our brilliant professors are being compensated for their tedious efforts to mold our minds.

But there remains one aspect of GU finances that many of us have not yet considered: how well our brilliant professors are being compensated for their tedious efforts to mold our minds.

In America, professors are paid different amounts. Naturally, there are gaps in overall pay between professors based on institution. But what may be less obvious is the wide pay gap based on discipline.

At the majority of universities in America, historians are getting paid less than chemists, who are getting paid less than engineers, who are getting paid less than professors of finance, and so on.

GU is no exception. In fact, salaries at GU are calculated according to a national standard. Dr. Michael McBride, psychology professor and chair of the compensation committee at GU, has been helping determine professor salaries for many years. Though he was not part of the original committee, he knows the most about the process.

“[When] the committee was formed about 20 years ago … they got access to the average salaries and compared that to what professors were being paid here,” McBride said. “In reality, there’s lots of detail … At first there was a considerable discrepancy [between GU and the national average].”

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) organizes the survey that GU uses to determine professor pay. It is an organization that calculates national salary statistics of universities in America.

“[CUPA-HR] is probably one of the largest academic surveys … It’s hundreds of universities … and each that participates sends in salary information … it gives the average incomes by salary and rank,” McBride explained.

Every professor, except those in the School of Business, is paid according to CUPA-HR.

“Most schools use CUPA-HR but the business school uses a survey of the association that accredits them. The calculation rules are the same beyond that,” McBride explained.

Though most schools in America do not use this method to pay their teachers, it is those standards that set the stage for GU faculty salaries.

According to McBride, “It’s pretty unique, hardly anyone does this.”

The majority of other schools determine their salaries in a way that is truly American.

“[By] playing the competitive game,” McBride said.

Despite the semantics, the underlying question remains clear: Why is there such a significant difference when it comes to salaries and departments? The answer, according to McBride, is not all that shocking: These salaries reflect the financial conventions of society.

“It’s a market-based approach,” McBride said.

The reason for such a pronounced pay gap is not based on the amount of work professors do, but rather the amount of money needed to motivate qualified professionals to work at universities. Dr. Shawn Bowers, assistant professor of computer science, described the difficulty in determining fairness in this context.

“While it may seem straightforward to ignore discipline when looking at ‘fairness,’ this is unrealistic. Any reasonable notion of ‘fairness’ must look at discipline and what professionals within a particular discipline earn. For instance, this has a major impact on the ability to hire and retain quality faculty at a university,” Bowers said.

Most schools are forced to offer salaries that compete with the pay professors would be receiving outside of the academic realm. For instance, a business professor would be working in business, whereas a professor of journalism would probably be a journalist. The pay difference in those professions is reflected in the salaries of teachers.

Apparently, GU’s approach to salaries is competitive enough. Not only are the professors at our school generally impressive and intelligent, GU has not had much trouble persuading them to join the blue and white party.

“Most of the people we offer will take the job,” McBride stated.

And whether or not the national pay averages are fair, McBride believes most teachers agree that GU’s system is.

“In general the faculty has been very strongly supportive of [this method of payment],” McBride said.

Dr. Ryan Herzog, professor of economics, was asked if he would work at GU if they offered him a salary of $40,000 less a year, which is equivalent to some of the salaries in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“No way. I had a number of offers from comparable schools that paid similar if not more,” Herzog responded.

Well, what if professors of economics were making, on average, that much less across the board, would Herzog have become a professor?

“No. I had offers out of undergrad that pay more than that,” Herzog said.

His reasoning behind these statements is not greed. It is just logic, and it reinforces the very logic behind CUPA-HR. With so many high paying opportunities for Ph.D.s in economics across the board, it is necessary to pay those professors more.

“I have friends everywhere … the Federal Reserve Board in D.C., the USDA, private consultants, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Fund … everywhere,” said Herzog, “How do you hire someone [whose] opportunity is tremendously higher elsewhere?”

Herzog uses the principles of supply and demand to further explain the reason for the gap.

“One of the things that is a big driver for salaries is the number of Ph.D.s in those disciplines … the economics professor has been one that has been in demand,” Herzog said.

But this economist isn’t oblivious to the social norms that enable him to make so much more money, as an economist, than he would as a social worker.

“There’s something out there … where value doesn’t transfer to higher salaries, and that is certainly something we need to address,” said Herzog.

According to Herzog, Bowers, McBride and the other professors who advocate for this system, the reason for the pay gap is reasonable. But outside of our Jesuit bubble, what does it say about our society that a computer science professor is getting paid, across the nation, tens of thousands more than a communications professor?

“It’s certainly questionable, at least relative to the goals of the institution, why an economist is being paid so much more than an art professor,” McBride said.

There are plenty of potential explanations for this, and one is outlined clearly by a GU professor in the college of arts and sciences, who chose to remain unnamed.

“Many of the fields that are traditionally filled by women are also paid less in our society. Thus, the way we structure pay at GU only reinforces these antiquated judgments about the value of women’s and men’s work,” stated this professor.

So for this professor, the salary discrepancy is not fair, and GU’s employment of social norms is questionable.

“I do not think [the way GU pays professors] is fair. We do the same amount of work so we should be paid the same,” explained the professor.

In fact, in this person’s view, a more productive method of payment would be equity across the board.

“In this way we would be equal no matter the field, no matter our gender, or any other factor,” said the professor.

In this frame of mind, paying people according to the national average is a reflection of social injustices in this society.

Regardless of this view, for most professors, the pay gap is a simple fact of life. But in a progressing society, the future is ever changing. McBride isn’t optimistic about a more equitable pay scale.

“That gap [between disciplines] doesn’t change a lot,” McBride said.

The sociology professor stated that even if society’s values are progressing, GU’s enforcement of the status quo hinders this progression.

“Statistics show that the gap between women’s and men’s earnings should close considerably in the near future. However, systems like our own perpetuate the gap,” this professor said.

For this story, 128 professors were asked to participate in a salary survey or interview. Of those, 19 filled out the survey. Only five professors agreed to interviews.

The reason many professors cited for refusing to discuss salary at GU is their desire to remain anonymous. The salaries of professors are available to the public, with some research. But why is this a topic teachers are unwilling to discuss?

The previously mentioned arts and sciences professor offered perspective on the salary situation.

“There are obviously some professors benefiting from the disparity, and they don’t want to lose their power,” said this professor.

This professor’s opposition to status quo salary payment is very clear, and to McBride’s awareness, just as silenced nationally as it is here at GU.

“To my knowledge, it’s not much of a national dispute,” said McBride.

In the world of university finances, it is an accepted fact that professors are paid by discipline, in addition to rank and years of service. At GU, a national average is used to calculate the salaries of professors. Though the notion of “fair” is ambivalent, the quality professors at GU illustrate the effectiveness of the system.

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1 comment:

  • AdjunctAdvocate posted at 10:59 am on Mon, Dec 10, 2012.

    AdjunctAdvocate Posts: 8

    A great start, but a big missing piece to this story about faculty worth, market factors in determining pay scale differentials at GU, and the value of Gonzaga's faculty of lesser known, we now call them the New Faculty Majority on campus -- non-tenure track faculty -- is the rotting that is taking place in higher education because administrators are not doing their duty as highly paid (overpaid) managers who are supposed to be leaders speaking to communities, to legislators, to business folk to not just sell education, but to finesse the poor critical thinking going on in the US about the true value of an education, of a degree in areas not tied to the STEM zealotry displayed on campuses. Education is greater than the sum of its parts that might be helping industry, corporations and governments succeed.

    This is a huge issue at GU and the other 9 Independent Colleges of Washington state. This issue ties into moral imperatives, ties into the fact that higher education is hollowing out from the middle out. So, I'd say as an adjunct in Washington with roots as an adjunct at GU a decade ago, I am asking you to pursue the bigger story around Adjunct-At-will faculty, the new faculty majority in the state of Washington at all schools, including community colleges, state schools and the for-profit devils known to most as the U of Phoenix model.

    Does GU want to continue to pay a composition teacher $2651 for one class over the entire semesterr? Is that just, justice and a way to grow the profession? Do parents and students see these poverty wages as right, part of a greed-driven market based society that is just and justified because we live in a society where we think you get what you pay for but do not? That life is dog-eat-dog? A world where we encourage music majors and musicians to practice for 10,000 hours only to get paid a sub-poverty wage as symphony musicians? Look to some of your faculty now in the news -- music teachers, most part-time at GU, who just had to settle with bad management in Spokane so the Nut Cracker wouldn't be performed with a CD playing, rather than professional and passionate musicians playing live. Ask them the value of education, of music, of following through with the humanities and arts and history as majors in college.

    Here is a great resource for GU budding journalists to go to for more information about the academic caste system --

    I'd be happy to assist the journalists at GU on this story. Until then, check out Adjunct Project, New Faculty Majority, Adjunct Nation and AAUP's contingent faculty work -- all on the worldwide web. At your fingertips.