Thursday, October 28, 2010

Department Of Economics III: The Latest On Salaries And Benefits

We at Tenured Radical are starting to collate some interesting information from this week's posts on faculty salaries.  Crunch the data yourself, but a few facts are revealing themselves:

The phrase "academic job market" does not describe an actual market.  Rather, it describes a frozen employment sector where a fair number of people who are fully employed are hanging on for dear life.  Only one commenter, Squadratomagico (who in addition to being a college professor also performs in a small circus, which I have always thought was interesting), is unperturbed by this situation.  You can read about her reasons, many of which I respect, particularly since she really doesn't seem to care about money. The only point in this post that I disagree with completely is that paying faculty a low wage is alright because "Higher education is a not-for-profit enterprise."  Such logic suggests that no wage is too low (the U.S. Army, for example, pays infantrymen less than $1500 a month; I'm not sure what nuns and priests earn.)  Does non-profit status give private institutions and legislatures the right to drive our salaries down, and require more work from us as they do?  Because honestly, no one said that in my job interview, and no Zenith administrator has used that as a reason for squeezin' us the last couple years.  The other reason I would disagree with the non-profit rationale is that, while this is not the case for colleges the size of Zenith, large universities are increasingly for profit enterprises that copyright the work of their scientists, profit from media contracts for the big business of sports, sell vast amounts of booster gear, and employ lobbyists. Furthermore, explicitly for profit institutions pay their faculty even less than the annual salaries many of my readers reported.

Vast numbers of us are very, very, ill-paid.  The magic number that pops us most frequently is $57K, which I think is interesting:  it is as if some Karl Rove employed in higher ed figured out that $57K is the absolute minimum wage at which you can flat line salaries and still expect your faculty to come to work at all.

Being in a union doesn't always help.  As several commenters have pointed out, it doesn't hurt either, but many of the campuses from which we are getting reports of flat salaries and escalating benefits costs are union campuses.

Consciously or unconsciously, a great many people idealize teaching in ways that do not correspond to the actual pleasures and discomforts of our labor, causing them at times to confuse college teachers with missionaries.  I was variously told that I should feel "lucky;" be "grateful" for my job; and that it is "such a privilege" to teach the young I should not ever imply that injustice touches my life or that there is any wage too low to sell my labor for.  Ever.  Good fortune is mine, and when I am not openly articulating my guilt for the privilege that is mine, I should just shut up. Well, that's not going to happen, but it's peculiar that teachers draw this "oh how sharper than a serpent's tooth" attitude (from other teachers, no less) when they try to adjust their working conditions and salary.  Anyone who has an analysis of this phenomenon is invited to contribute it in the comments section.

And finally:  As if it had been sent from the Goddess, yesterday featured a dramatic turn of events in the economics department.  Many of us at Zenith were stunned when our administrative staff received an e-mail from Human Resources telling them that the cost of their health insurance is going up dramatically:  our Admin expects to pay twice what she paid last fiscal year.  As their Union Steward wrote, less than a week before the election,  "I was informed today by (Big HR Dude) about the Health Insurance Premiums for 2011. As you know, in our contract, our insurance is scheduled to go up 18.5% to be at a level playing field with Administration which pays 33% of the premium. BHRD informed me that the increase for the Health Insurance Premium (that goes up every year around 3-5%) will be going up 14% mostly due to the Obama Health Care Reform Act. Therefore, we will not just have an increase of 18.5% but an additional 14% increase which will be rounded off to a total of 33% increase starting January 1, 2011."

As we know, the actual name of the bill is the Affordable Care Act, and the "Obama Health Care Reform Act" is a phrase disseminated by right-wingers who spread untruths about the bill to try to make vulnerable people afraid of liberal reform agendas.  Having been called on this by a storm of angry emails by staff and faculty, a message arrived today saying that this was a mistake made by the Union Steward (who, as of this morning, was not responding to emails.)  Big HR Dude is shocked, shocked! by this misunderstanding, and writes, "The Healthcare Reform Act"  (still not the right name!) "is a factor in the cost, but a very small one. Our open enrollment information references some minor adjustments to our plan to conform to the legislation’s requirements. The increase in this year’s rates is overwhelmingly due to a very high experience rating in our university-wide claims....And of course the last thing I ever intended was a political statement of any kind."  No data as to these excessive claims has been provided.

Perhaps it is so that this is all one big miscommunication, despite the Tea Party-ish stink.  And yet the lack of awareness of the timing, the language used, and the failure of HR to communicate directly with employees is worrisome, to say the least. And imagine how distressing to it must be to HR that those of us who pay for health insurance actually use it to pay for our health care.  No wonder they are frazzled.

On a lighter note, here's a cheerful cartoon sent to me by a grad student who has the heart, intelligence and wit of one twice her age:  it is a student requesting a recommendation for graduate school in English.  Enjoy.


Dan Ernst said...

TR, an analogous animated colloquy for the law is circulating among the law professors.

frequent commentator said...

I generally comment under my blog pseudonym but right now I'm going to post anonymously so I can be a little more clear.

I'm a graduate student (ABD) at one of the top Ivies. The attitude that being a college professor is a calling akin to being a monk, rather than a career path (emphasis on path, as in path to something), starts early. I was inundated with it at the outset of graduate school and I never understood it. People were going on about how they were getting sweet money to read, whereas I saw grad school as training to join the academic profession. For what it's worth, I think some of that blasé attitude could be in correlation with one's experience in graduate school. They had supportive advisors who took the time to train them; I didn't and spent all of graduate school floundering and then being punished for it. So for me grad school hasn't been a fun idyll; it's been the way to advance in the profession I've chosen. Nothing more. Nothing less.

But I do not think it's a coincidence that nobody I know in my program who views things as I do, i.e. believes that our salaries should reflect our professional training and that we should be paid what we're worth, comes from a well-off/wealthy background. Certainly there are people from working-class/disadvantaged backgrounds who are fine with being underpaid and who have bought into the "we're so lucky" narrative but I've never heard someone who was well off stand up against that line. It's a lot easier to romanticize poverty when you haven't experienced it.

Laraine Herring said...

I am full-time tenured faculty at a community college in a rural part of AZ. Our salaries have been frozen for three years. I have two master's degrees (one is an MFA, a terminal degree) and earn 48K. Since we're a community college, we are required to teach a 5/5 load as well as the usual college service (committee work, etc).

I love love love reading your blog, and I really appreciate your raising the issue of faculty's seeming grateful-ness for any employment at all. I don't have any answer for why this is, except that perhaps it feels like we're being given a huge bonus when (if) we get hired full time. I was an adjunct for 12 years prior to getting hired full time. I frequently taught 9 - 10 classes per semester at various community colleges around the county trying to earn enough money to survive at all. I averaged between 14 and 15K those years. I gave up a very well paying job in marketing to return to school and to teach, and there are many many things I love about it, and I don't regret leaving the corporate world at all.

We are trying to organize at our school. We do have an AAUP chapter, but a lot of the faculty seem to be anti-union (I'm in a right to work state, so that's kind of irrelevant) and many faculty don't have the time or the inclination to try and protest too much. The very real question: What else are you going to do? raises its head a great deal. There really are no jobs in this part of my state outside of the hospital and our college that pay much above minimum wage at all. My husband, who is also tenured faculty here, and I frequently discuss the golden handcuffs. 47K feels golden after $14K. Even though I know my colleagues at other institutions, many with less education and fewer publications, make many thousands of dollars more than I do, I do feel grateful for some salary. I also feel like most faculty are not paid adequately for the work they do and the countless hours they spend grading and responding to papers and projects and personal crises (just today there was a student meltdown in one of my classes from a young woman who'd just discovered that her boyfriend was an ecstasy dealer). Who deals with these things but those of us in the classroom? And what part of the contract specified that? Teaching at the community college level seems to be about 60 - 70 hours per week on a good week. When you divide 47K by that, well, it just ain't that much. :-) And did I mention I, like many of my colleagues, still owe tens of thousands in student loans.

I don't have any answers, but I felt like I should weigh in. There aren't often comments from those of us in the community college trenches. Thanks for your blog!

Anonymous said...

ABD from Big Nerdy Eastern City here. I'm particularly curious about the structural effects of low pay on people's non-work relationships, since adjunct/contingent pay rates in most places basically require support from a partner/spouse/foodstamps.

Here in BNEC, adjuncting 2-2 brings in about $14-18k, no benefits; 3-3, which usually requires working at multiple institutions and a fortuitous alignment of the stars, can pull you up to the mid-20s, and then there's summer school. (Your students who get hired by management-consulting firms will get paid more than that for 80%-travel entry-level gigs.) At those incomes, a single person can get state-subsidized health insurance, but you won't be able to afford a 1BR apartment on your own without giving up many other things, since the 1BR market tends to be priced for young dual-income couples.

A gradschool classmate and I have wondered aloud whether the faculty members of the future all have spouses whose well-paid work subsidizes our basic expenses, or who live in co-ops/roommate situations/etc. That seems like a possible outcome-- not to mention situations where faculty stay in abusive (domestic) relationships because their exploitative work conditions don't pay them enough to get out. [There but for the grace of gods go I.]

It's a sad, sad thing when smart people with 6+ years of professional training end up working for wages low enough that first-last-and-security on a 1BR apartment is a substantial financial strain.

shaz said...

Unbelievable email. Please update us on the outcome! Quick Q: my Big State U has "banded" healthcare premiums: the more you earn (with broad categories), the more you pay. I think this is great, and even my Dr. (the real kind) friends in the highest band think it is fair that they pay more in premiums than the adjunct/sanitation worker earning 40K. Anything like that in your neck of the woods?

Anonymous said...

33% increase in healthcare premiums? Looks like being in a union doesn't help much at Zenith! And how much are faculty premiums going up? No raises is one thing, but when accompanied by what are in effect huge cost of living increases, that is a real killer!

PhD student said...

To what degree does the overabundance of PhDs on the market play a role in all of this? (particularly in the Humanities--since they often don't have obvious non-academic options.)

As long as there are people lined up hoping for one of the few permanent (or even 3-year contract) jobs, from an institution's view, why pay better? Particularly when many of these people are publishing and have teaching experience.

It seems some of the fields known for producing far more students than will ever get jobs never want to consider what harm they might be doing to the profession itself. I suppose part of it is that faculty who teach grad students don't want to give that up (the prestige, the ability to teach advanced courses), and then those students can then teach all of the introductory or comp courses.

LouMac said...

PhDStudent - you might find this article interesting:

Despite a lot of hand-wringing that's been happening over the "PhD surfeit" problem, nothing has changed. I'm on record at my Large State U as wanting to cancel our Ph.D. programme in a non-English literature (the one I teach in myself). I find our programme to be unethical: we don't have anything like the core faculty to support it, and students end up sinking or swimming by themselves. And then there's the job market issue. But I may as well have suggested that we all poison ourselves. Some colleagues, and (mostly) the administration, are very invested in prestige. And this attachment blinds even very smart people to economic realities. For unis that see themselves as tier 1 research across the board (even if their actual focus is almost all on the sciences), having a Ph.D. programme in almost every subject becomes its own goal. It's a vicious circle of performativity: we are prestigious because we have a Ph.D., and we have a Ph.D. because we are prestigious. And yes, the cheap labour in the form of TAs doesn't hurt their calculations.

squadratomagico said...

I think there are two markets in academia, actually, which are largely separate and responsible for two different kinds of effects.

-At the top end of the scale, there is a competitive market for "stars:" highly productive scholars who publish frequently, are cited often, who are networked with the right people, and who like to play the game of going on the market frequently. Those folks can elevate their salaries because they are willing to expend the energy it takes to be on the market, and because there is a perception (which may be right, actually) that publishing "stars" are rare.

-At the bottom end of the market, there is a glut of recent PhDs available for adjunct positions, who have little power and even less choice. These people are paid scandalously low wages and often accumulate significant debt in order to meet the costs of living. These are the people I think need the most help.

In the middle, where people like I am, there is no market: you're right. As a result, our institutions can, indeed, squeeze us somewhat.

My response has been to disengage my professional identity from my sense of self-worth and personal satisfaction. In fact, I have very little satisfaction with my on-campus life: but for my occasional encounter with a student here or there with some genuine intellectual curiosity, it's pretty dreary. But I don't feel particularly ill used, in part because I don't think about work 24/7, as so many academics do. (Why do you think I joined a circus?) I am a very well regarded teacher; I've published some award-winning works of scholarship at the pace I want; I do what I am asked in terms of service but don't volunteer for more. Perhaps because I come from a working-class background, I find the pay liveable, especially compared with the truly exploited folks out there adjuncting. Certainly I live better now than I did growing up.

But I also take my pay scale as an excuse, if you will, to redirect some of my passions and energies outside the university. Developing this way of operating has been one of the best and sanest things I've ever done -- and I thought you were gesturing in a similar direction towards the end of your first post on this subject. I see no reason to drive myself crazy for the salary I get, and I feel little loyalty or gratitude to my institution. I suppose you could say I lack institutional ambition.

Anonymous said...

Just as a point of information, I belong to a Catholic parish in NYC where the resident pastor is paid $16,000, plus free housing. I don't know if health benefits come out of the salary or not. He's somewhere in his late 40s, has a master's degree, works six days a week, and has been the pastor here for more than ten years, several of which have been without any other priests or professionals that can deal with any of the religious end of things, like religious education (though the parish does pay a secretary, a housekeeper, and a handyman.)

It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, this is scandalous pay. On the other hand, he lives pretty well, I think--the free housing is a huge deal in NY.

But the pay for priests and nuns is quite variable; it depends on what job they're doing (if they're, say, tenured university professors, they make tenured university professor money; if they work for an inner city parish like mine, they make not very much; if they work for a social services agency, they make that kind of money, etc). There's also a distinction between priests who have taken a vow of poverty--in which case their salary is paid to their religious order, which in turn provides them with housing, food, and usually a personal allowance of some kind--and those who have not (most parish priests, for example, but also others), who are basically expected to manage their own lives on whatever salary they have. Confusingly, this latter type of priest is called "secular" (as opposed to "religious"--that is, belonging to a religious order like the Jesuits or the Dominicans.)

Anonymous said...

I am a full time, non-tenure faculty member at a public 4-year University. That means I am not on tenure track and (in my present job) never will be, no matter what I do. This - even more than adjuncting - is the wave of the future, I'm told. I teach a 5/5 load. I have been teaching at this University for 10 years. My base salary is $32,000. This is "good" though, because when I started, my base salary in my first year was under $20,000.

I actually have decent health insurance and a retirement plan where my employer contributes a generous percentage no matter how much/little I put in (equal to 10% of my salary). But of course, they only contribute such a high percentage because salaries are so low that it hardly amounts to much. And on a salary of $32k, let me tell you there's not much left over for me to put in, myself.

There's no doubt I love my job and I'm egotistical enough to think I'm good at it, too. At times, I've also justified what I do with that bit about it being a "calling." But you know what, I'm getting pretty damn tired of being "called" to be poor. I don't remember taking a life-long vow of poverty anywhere along the way in grad school.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I think there are two markets in academia, actually, which are largely separate and responsible for two different kinds of effects.

This is correct in the biosciences as well, where people who manage to publish in high-profile journals as post-docs are competed for by elite institutions and obtain lavish millionaire start-up budgets to get their own labs going, and the rest scrap around from non-independent position to non-independent position.

What I don't understand is why people think this is some unqiue feature of academia. Very few lawyers are law-firm partners, very few baseball players are major leaguers, very few musicians are rock stars or in metropolitan orchestras, very few writers sell enough books to make a profit, very few artists' works are for sale at David Findlay.

This is how this shitte works. In winner-take-all professions, you have huge numbers of people willing to take the chance at the very unlikely prospect of winning the big prize. The fact that the vast majority do not win is not a bug in the system; it's a feature.

Why academics think they should be immune to this--and that every incoming grad student should have a great shot at ultimately obtaining a tenured position at an elite university--is beyond my ken. The whole fucken reason academia is a winner-take-all pyramid structure is because the prize of a tenured position at an elite institution is considered so valuable.

But yeah, this "calling" shitte is repugnant. It's a fucken job. A really awesome one, but a job.

j said...

I am completely sympathetic to you, TR and everyone who has posted. I am not in the academy but a union tradesperson (who has been laid for 2 yrs). the "market", "economy" sucks everywhere right now but i know the situation in the academy is something separate and predates the "recession"--so, it is absolutely true that, in general, there seems to be a different set of expectations and guidelines for the labor of those doing nonprofit work, though this is totally bogus! so with that said, i get what you are saying and there is some truth to it, BUT something is missing.

i guess, this brings me to my larger critique that i was getting at when i commented on the first posts re: unionization. that being: why do you all assume that the division of labor is somehow, accurately representative or reflective of a person's wage? when that division of labor is a subtext of the system (janitors vs. PhDs, economists vs. lit. people)-- my critique is demonstrated in the video, when the professor is upset that janitors make more than PhDs. what i am trying to say is that this is a predominant ideology that remains unquestioned even within the context of well-educated, left leaning folks and is evident here. my point is, you affirm and reproduce the very structure that keeps your wages low in buying into the system in the first place. In other words, you don't make as much as economists or corp. lawyers b/c the strictures of capitalism and neoliberalism would have it this way. so the very argument you make participates in your own subjugation--the point is, the whole system is bogus and rigged. a PhD (the person holding it) is produced. so is the janitor. the same system that sets up arbitrary wages for labor is also responsible for who does what in the division of labor (who gets to go to grad school vs. who gets to clean your toilet). you participate in this charade when you make arguments that suggest there is some legitimacy or "truth" to this facile and banal reasoning. the whole system must be razed before we can begin to be invested in what real equality would like. and isn't this really a question of equality?

Anonymous said...

I am a MA student finishing a thesis on death and health in a social science department. That video made me very sad, but I did laugh the whole way through. Thanks.