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?

Baseball Salaries and Inequality

Are professional athletes paid too much? It’s pretty common to claim that’s the case, and here is a fairly standard example of the claim from Edward McClelland in today’s Slate. However, maybe the athletes aren’t overpaid, but are rather paid fairly relative to the wealth their labor helps produce for others. Here’s a good example of this argument from baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, which was a direct response to the ‘overpaid’ Slate essay. This is a fun debate to explore in discussions of social inequality. When I teach social inequality, I use this debate to focus in on how we, as a society, determine the value of work. Do we let the free market sort it out and trust that those getting paid the most are most deserving according to its logic? The classic functionalist explanation of economic inequality is that those who get paid the most must be doing the most important things. So, high pay indicates high social value. This explanation has been rightly debunked because it’s easy to point out many inefficiencies and counter examples that demonstrate that our meritocracy doesn’t really work very well. Calcaterra rightly points out these critiques when he writes: