It has been at least several days since I have talked about MONEY, even though my university has recently proposed some truly bizarre money-saving schemes that fall in the heading of 'let's look like we're doing something even though it won't save any money and will make it harder for faculty to do research'.
But let's ignore for the moment the issues of recessions and salary freezes and pay cuts, and consider the evolution of faculty salary over a typical career. In the course of a career at a single institution, most of us get a higher salary as time goes on, with a few moderate to large-ish jumps here and there after a promotion or as a result of retention negotiations.
There are only 2 promotion steps in an academic career (excluding moves to administrative positions), and at some institutions the 'promotion raise' is not impressive. That leaves retention packages as one of the primary ways to get a major increase in salary. In at least some cases (e.g. mine), the retention-related raise is not a way to augment an already high salary. It is a way to raise a salary to the level of one's peers.
So, in my career so far, I got one big raise a couple of years ago as a result of being recruited by another university, and I got another when a new department chair realized that my salary was surprisingly low given my research-teaching-service accomplishments, especially when compared to other faculty at a similar level of seniority.
That last statement leads to all sorts of complex considerations (and emotions): What is your salary relative to other faculty in the same department?
And not just faculty: Some grad students on fellowships make considerably more than grad students with teaching assistantships or even some research assistantships even though they are all doing similar work (and in fact, TAs may be working more).
Salary compression is a common phenomenon, not just in academia. A new employee is hired and negotiates a salary, and in some cases this salary may be similar to or higher than that of more senior employees. In academia, this causes disgruntlement in faculty who started at lower salaries, and who, in a typical system of small annual raises, may always be 'underpaid' relative to more recently hired faculty.
Universities typically do not have sufficient funds to uncompress (decompress?) salaries every time new hires are made. As a result, if you graph salary vs. seniority for faculty in some departments, you get a scatter-plot.
Example: Some of our newest faculty did very well in their negotiations with the chair/dean about salary, and have salaries that are equivalent to those of some associate professors (and even some less active full professors). Aside from the morale of lower paid faculty taking a hit, what are the implications of these (relatively) high salaries? Do they come with higher expectations for productivity?
In fact, a trend in some departments is to give assistant professors less teaching and less service than was the norm in days of yore (see yesterday's post). So now we have a situation in which 1st year assistant professors teaching 0-1.5 classes/year and just getting started with research have a higher salary than more senior faculty who teach a full course load, do lots of service, and maintain a reasonable research program.
My opinion regarding my well-paid younger colleagues: (1) Good for them for getting the salary they wanted, (2) Expectations for productivity of new faculty should be high but reasonable no matter what the starting salary, and (3) If that's the going rate for productive faculty, then the salary structure of the department will need some serious decompressing.
If I have to realign my own salary by getting another outside offer, so be it, but a better system would be one of proactive merit raises for productive faculty on a routine basis.
That requires $$, but once this recession is over, everyone has been bailed out, the crumbling infrastructure has been repaired, hiring freezes are defrosted, and universities have built awesome new student centers and sporting venues, I hope that there will be some money left to raise the salaries of hard-working faculty whose current salaries are mired in compression.
5 months ago