When a parent asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. this year why college costs keep rising, he cited faculty pay as one culprit.
“Salaries for college professors have escalated significantly,” Mr. Biden said in January during a town-hall meeting in Pennsylvania. “They should be good, but they have escalated significantly.”
The vice president’s rhetoric is part of a broader story about faculty pay and productivity that the American Association of University Professors wants to rewrite. The group is seeking to use the results of its latest annual report on faculty salaries as a myth buster for the politicians, activists, and others who have argued that professors are earning too much while working too little.
The report, titled “A Very Slow Recovery,” sends a firm message: Professors’ pay is not the problem. It paints a picture of stagnation for full-time faculty salaries that, on average, rose 1.8 percent in the 2011-12 academic year, an increase that was swallowed up by a 3-percent inflation rate. When adjusted for inflation, faculty salaries fell by an average of 1.2 percent.
Over the past three decades, according to the report, tuition has increased at a much faster rate than full-time faculty salaries. The contrast is starkest at public institutions, where tuition and fees have increased over the past decade by 72 percent when accounting for inflation, largely in response to declines in state support. During that same time, the salaries of public-college professors, when adjusted for inflation, rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by more than 5 percent at master’s universities.
The price of college also has gone up, the report says, at the same time that institutions have increasingly relied on part-time faculty, whose wages are significantly lower than full-time professors’ and often do not come with benefits.
Meanwhile, the association also notes, college presidents’ average salaries were relatively sheltered from the effects of furloughs and pay cuts in the years following the recession. The gap between the pay of presidents and professors continues to grow. Between 2006-7 and 2010-11, median presidential salaries jumped by 9.8 percent, when adjusted for inflation, while median full-time faculty salaries rose by less than 2 percent.
Still, as the scuffle over collective-bargaining rights continues in several states, professors nearly everywhere are left to counter a popular opinion that they’re overpaid for the amount of work they do. <Read more.>