April 15, 2010

Study: Professor Salaries See Record Low Growth

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In the face of the current recession, institutions across the country — including Cornell — are decreasing the growth rate of faculty salaries, which is beginning to take its toll on the University and the profession in general.

According to a new study released by the American Association of University Professors, the salaries of professors rose only 1.2 percent last year, the lowest in the survey’s 50-year history. This falls below the 2.7 percent inflation rate, meaning professors’ buying power is actually decreasing in the long run.

Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, labor economics, said he thinks these salary increase numbers are generous, and professors may have taken only an average of a 0 to 1 percent real pay increase because of forced leaves of absence and cuts to pension and retirement plans. He says this number may fall dramatically in the near future as contracts expire for faculty in public education. Many of these contracts have an annual growth rate stipulated in the employees’ contracts.

“I think public education is in a terrible place,” Ehrenberg said. “Things are going to be a lot more tentative in higher education now than they have in a while.”

Cornell is one of the institutions pulling down the national average salary increase. This year, salaries for Cornell professors, as well as staff members, have been frozen. However, Ehrenberg says that Cornell is in a much better place than many other institutions.

Cornell, for one, has not eliminated tenured positions and still offers its professors the same opportunities for advancement. Other institutions nationally have been reducing such opportunities.

“This sort of thing makes going onto a Ph.D. in academia a much less attractive career option,” Ehrenberg said. Cornell, because it is a private institution, also has the ability to raise tuition to weather economic difficulties. Ehrenberg, however, still worries about the impression that the wage freeze sends to younger, assistant professors who are just starting at Cornell.

Prof. Dan Benjamin, economics, has been teaching at Cornell for three years. Benjamin said he understands that the salary freeze is necessary, but said he still is not happy about the freeze.

Additionally, Benjamin said he is satisfied with the way the University has handled its economic situation so far. He is happy that the standards for tenure have not changed and said that the University has communicated well with the faculty. However, he said he looks forward to the day where the freeze is lifted.

Benjamin said that the freeze will continue to affect him as inflation continues to grow.

“Has it affected me? Probably not yet,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will continue, but at some point it will have a noticeable effect.”

According to Susan Robertson, director of communications for the College of Arts and Sciences, members of the administration have been meeting in the last few weeks to discuss the future state of faculty salary increases. Many of those interviewed suspect the University will lift the freeze on salaries, she said. The final decision is expected in the first week of May.

Prof. Walter Cohen, a senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, is confident that the freeze will be lifted in the near future.

“I think professors would become uneasy if the freeze continued for long,” Cohen said. “However, I don’t believe that would happen. We are hoping that the cuts for next year will be the last ones the College has to incur.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer