Thinking about faculty salaries

The ASA released its 2012-2013 Faculty Salary Brief for Sociology and other Social Science Disciplines. It reports that the average salary for sociology faculty is $75,580. Full professors make, on average, $95,052, associates earn $70,431, and assistants $58,779. The analysis reports recent trends, small differences between public and private schools, and some inequality across Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, and Sociology.

I never know what to make of reports like this. What jumps out to me the most is how much more, on average, Economics professors make than the other disciplines studied. I don’t care so much that ‘it’s more,’ but rather that it points to what I think is an important issue in faculty pay that we don’t talk about very much (at least not in my faculty circles) which is the inequality in faculty pay within institutions. I understand the argument that some folks make about some disciplines having opportunities to make more money in other types of work, so the school has to play in that market (i.e. I’m not going to be opening a corner sociology store any time soon). I guess that’s fine as far as it goes, but once someone has chosen (yes, ‘chosen’ is a tricky word) to work in higher ed, and at a particular institution, shouldn’t that matter? We are compensated in other ways (time, autonomy, status, etc.), and we all pretty much get those regardless of our discipline. So, aren’t we all pretty much doing the same job at the same place? To what extent can differences that are so stable by discipline be justified?

I also can’t help but notice that those are pretty good salaries, relative to many salaries. These kinds of reports should be delivered, I’ve always thought, along with some data on U.S. median household income and income distribution. Are sociologists paid less than faculty in other disciplines? Yes, many are. Are sociologists and other faculty paid less than similarly educated professionals? Yes, many are. What do faculty salaries look like relative to administrator salaries? Are faculty, on average, paid well relative to the U.S. income distribution? Yes, many are. It seems to me that reports of salaries must always be interpreted relative to inequality within the profession, and in the economy as a whole. This approach, I’d argue, allows us to take seriously other work related issues like inequality in faculty job access (adjuncts, tenure track lines, professors of practice), job stability (who gets tenure?), and pay by gender, race, age, etc. Further, it allows us to think about how our economy as a whole values the work we do, as well as how it values other kinds of work. I think those are more interesting and important questions.

What do you think?