Academics fall behind in salary comparisons

April 15, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

It's lucky that most college professors don't choose their careers for the money.

Like crime, academia doesn't pay.

That's the gist of a comprehensive national survey released yesterday by the American Association of University Professors.

The study reveals a marked decline over the past 15 years in faculty salaries relative to the pay of other professions that require advanced degrees. In 1979, the pay for lawyers and judges outpaced faculty salaries by 46 percent; this year, the figure for the legal profession stands 70 percent higher.

The study, which describes its findings as a ray of hope in a dark time, shows a slight increase above inflation -- about 0.7 percent -- for the 1994-1995 pay of faculty members at 2,200 of the nation's colleges and universities. It marked the first time since the late 1980s that real salaries rose in consecutive years. By comparison, the pay of academic administrators grew at 1.7 percent above the rate of inflation this year.

Public universities have offered higher percentage raises than their private counterparts this year in an effort to catch up with the higher average salaries at private schools.

Universities have aggressively hired women to fill vacancies, the report indicates. Forty-five percent of junior faculty are women -- exactly the same percentage of women in the work force for people between the ages of 25 and 34.

"The academic labor market has been very bad for a number of years now," said Cornell University Vice President Ronald G. Ehrenberg, an economist who has written extensively on faculty compensation. "You just wonder, if this goes on, how long we can continue to attract talented people to become professors."

Critics of academia point to the flexible lifestyle of college professors and the seemingly light hours per week in claiming that pay is toohigh.

At the University of Maryland College Park, for example, a state report revealed that professors taught only 3.2 courses last year, for an average spent in the classroom of about 10 hours per week.

But professors and administrators defend the need for high compensation, noting the generally unseen work involved in courses and scholarship.

Most professorships require a doctorate, which consumes roughly six years with little or no pay as a Ph.D. student. The pay of health care professionals, engineers and lawyers reflects their years of expensive training, professors note. But professors are paid less than any of the three -- and their salaries have lost ground to them since 1979.

States largely have emerged from the sluggish finances of the early 1990s, some analysts say. But state officials face pressure to cut taxes, while the level of spending on entitlement programs climbs. And federal officials have challenged the way in which billions of dollars are spent on research at American universities, while many leading Republicans have gone further, calling for slashes in federal spending on research.

"State budgets are flush. If this is the best that can happen in the best of times, I wonder what will happen when things go down," said University of Texas economist Daniel S. Hamermesh, author of the study.

Dr. Hamermesh's report found that heavily endowed private campuses paid more than their public counterparts, and research universities paid more than liberal arts schools.

Tight budgets have forced the Towson State University English department to "cut corners in some very bizarre, Dickensian ways," said Clarinda Harriss, the department's acting chairwoman. "College Park will always be paid much more than we are. Stanford [University] will always [pay] a lot higher than a state university in Maryland. People have given up complaining."

A CAMPUS SAMPLER: FACULTY PAY

A sampling of 1994-1995 college and university faculty pay (in thousands of dollars).

SCHOOL ............... FULL PROF. .... ASSOC. .... ASST. .... AVG.

Dundalk Com. Col. .... 52.7........... 43.4....... 36.0...... 42.9

Georgia State U. ..... 70.7........... 49.8....... 41.9...... 53.1

Harvard U. ........... 104.2.......... 60.0....... 52.7...... 83.1

Johns Hopkins U. ..... 81.9........... 55.0....... 45.1...... 60.7

Lewis & Clark Col.

(Ore.) ............... 63.3........... 45.0....... 37.6...... 49.0

Loyola Col. (Md.) .... 64.9........... 49.7....... 40.0...... 49.1

Towson State U. ...... 55.7........... 45.5....... 40.2...... 46.1

University of Iowa ... 72.4........... 51.8....... 44.2...... 59.2

UM College Park ...... 73.0........... 49.9....... 43.1...... 56.4

Average salary includes that of full-time instructors, where applicable.

Source: American Association of University Professors.

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