As tuition at many colleges and universities continued to balloon for the 2009-10 academic year, a new survey suggests faculty salaries remained largely unchanged.
Of course, adjusted for negative inflation, no change in a salary is equivalent to a modest raise. But many professors weren’t that lucky. Nearly a third of faculty members surveyed said their salaries had been reduced, with a median decrease of 3%, according to a survey of more than 215,000 professors released Monday by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), an industry group. Roughly 21% of faculty incumbents reported their salaries were unchanged from the previous year.
For the average student, the upshot is that less of each dollar they spend to attend classes goes toward the salaries of their professors. It’s a trend that some higher-education workers say could have a negative impact on the quality of students’ education.
“To see the magnitude of how far-reaching the cuts have been for faculty salaries was a surprise to us,” says Andy Brantley, president of CUPA-HR. “There are tremendous budget challenges, but there’s a point where the academic mission is potentially compromised.”
Many schools trimmed faculty salaries as the recession worsened. Pay cuts at public universities stem largely from state budget gaps, which have resulted in smaller appropriations for higher education, says Paul Rowson, managing director at World at Work, a human resources association focused on compensation. (Rowson is also on the advisory board to the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics.) Private universities have withstood widespread salary cuts in part because of alumni contributions and their endowments picked up as the stock market recovered.
“This is probably going to be the lowest rate of increase in the overall average salary [of a professor] that we have found in 50 years,” says John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors.
Last week, students and faculty took to the streets in more than 30 states to protest college budget cuts and rising tuition costs. Some of the largest protests occurred in California, where professors in the California State University (CSU) system have been given mandatory furloughs – days off without pay – that amount to a 10% salary cut for the 2009-10 academic year. Gina Jacobs, a spokeswoman for San Diego State University, which is part of the CSU system, says that school’s protest on March 4 was part of a statewide movement protesting the state budget cuts to education.
“As far as taking pay cuts and furloughs, we’re not just fighting for affordable education, we’re fighting for quality education that means having quality faculty members who are paid decent wages ,” says Jake Stillwell, a spokesman for the United States Student Association, which represents students. The changes they’ve seen are larger class sizes resulting from fewer professors and classes being taught by graduate students, he says. “Students are paying all this money and [incurring] upwards of 20% tuition hikes, and then they’re getting a teaching assistant in a class with 400 students.”
CSU says the cutbacks affected most of their staff. “Almost all of CSU’s 44,000 employees are subject to furloughs, which represent an approximate 10% reduction in compensation,” CSU spokesman Erik Fallis says. “There were no salary cuts otherwise, though the number of classes taught by an individual lecturer may change from term to term.” He added that the school had taken additional measures to cut costs over the last two years, including enrollment reductions, student fee increases, layoffs and smaller class sizes.
Still, academics say the cutbacks could ultimately shortchange students. “The furloughs mean students are getting fewer classroom days,” says Alice Sunshine, a spokeswoman for the California Faculty Association, a union of CSU professors. “It affects the quality of their education. Teachers have a curriculum that they’re supposed to be presenting, papers to grade, writing assignments to give instead of blue book multiple choice tests. Students are also getting less time outside of the classroom with their professors for advising and easier assignments that don’t take much time to grade.”
Lillian Taiz, a history professor at CSU Los Angeles who is currently the president of the CFA, says that layoffs and furloughs are affecting students now. Fewer professors have resulted in larger class sizes and ballooning wait lists, she says. “Students are sitting on the floor and window sills,” she says.
The cutbacks could also delay graduations, Taiz says. Students who need a couple classes to complete their degree programs are stuck if the professors who taught that coursework have been laid off, she says, adding that students “take whatever class they can get into just to remain a full-time student and hold onto their financial aid,” but that their coursework doesn’t bring them closer to their degrees.
Lower pay also means that some universities are increasingly turning to part-time professors. In 2007, part-time professors made up 40.5% of college faculty, up from 22.3% in 1995, according to the AAUP. Meanwhile, full-time tenured professors made up 17.2% of the faculty, down from 24.8% over the same period. Also, graduate students filling in for professors are seeing a slight uptick. In 2007, they made up 19.5% of the faculty, up from 18.7% in 2005.