"No Refuge," the title of the American Association of University Professors' latest annual report on faculty salaries, gives a nod to the economic realities from which higher education has been unable to escape. Among them: A paycheck that barely grew from the year before.
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In 2009-10, the average salary of a full-time faculty member rose only 1.2 percent. That's the lowest year-to-year increase recorded by the association in the 50-year history of its salary survey.
To make matters worse, an inflation rate of 2.7 percent meant that many professors actually had less buying power than the year before. In fact, two-thirds of the 1,141 institutions surveyed over two years gave their faculty members either a pay cut, no raise, or an increase of less than 2 percent, on average.
In the report, which covers the economic status of the profession, the association urges professors to help institutions chart their course "for a return to normalcy," even as they face continuing program cuts, furloughs, and layoffs of tenured professors that mark an economy struggling to rebound.
According to the association, the average pay for a full-time faculty member in 2009-10 is $80,368. At research institutions, that figure is $91,060; at master's institutions, $70,807; at baccalaureate colleges, $67,232; and at two-year colleges, $59,400.
"No one becomes a professor because they expect to get rich," says Saranna R. Thornton, a professor of economics at Hampden-Sydney College and chair of the AAUP's Committee on the Economic Status of the Profession. "But I don't think professors are any different than anybody else in that they don't want to see their purchasing power go down. There's nothing immoral about wanting to make a little more money than you did last year."
Faculty salaries that have barely squeaked past the inflation rate or failed to keep pace have been the norm for much of the last 10 years, according to the association's annual surveys.
However, faculty pay in 2009-10 was further battered by unpaid furloughs, the effects of which are not reflected in the report. Ms. Thornton says institutions report standard base salaries to the association as opposed to what employees are actually paid.
Still, evidence abounds that professors are seeing pay cuts packaged as furloughs. In January the University of Illinois system announced that faculty and staff members must take four furlough days by May 16. Administrators are required take 10 days off to help the institution make up a $400-million shortfall.
The Campus Faculty Association, a watchdog group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has organized four "common" furlough days (the third one was held just last week) during which teach-ins will take place to bring attention to the effect furloughs have on teaching and research, says M. Megan McLaughlin, president of the organization and an associate professor of history.
The AAUP report also highlighted another austerity measure that is likely to make a difference to faculty members ready to scale back. About 14 percent of institutions reported that they had reduced contributions to employees' retirement funds, which could make it more difficult for professors to retire when they had planned. Among the institutions that have cut back on retirement contributions this academic year are Brandeis University and Meredith, Dana, and Belmont Abbey Colleges.
But as some faculty members weigh the financial practicality of retirement, newly minted Ph.D.'s and others are looking to crack a dismal academic job market. The association notes that 2009 brought about a sharp drop in job openings for professors, particularly for scholars in English and foreign languages. For many job seekers, the quest to become a member of the shrinking pool of tenure-track professors meant applying for an opening, only to discover later that the search had been canceled in the face of budget cuts.
The report says circumstances are ripe for faculty members to become involved in "developing recovery plans"—a scenario that it says is a silver lining of the economic downturn. The association also calls for professors to join budget-planning committees so they can weigh in on how their institutions should set future spending priorities.
Joseph A. Konstan, a professor of computer science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, is eager for such discussions to begin on his campus. Last month the Faculty Senate voted to approve a temporary 1.2-percent pay cut for professors, to help the university save about $28-million. But Mr. Konstan says the pay cut is merely a stopgap solution.
"The budget crisis will only get worse in fiscal 2012," Mr. Konstan says. "A one-time pay cut doesn't solve anything when it comes to our problems going forward. The ideal thing would be if this year bought us a little bit of time to start implementing a more thoughtful program."
Ms. Thornton, who wrote the AAUP report with John W. Curtis, the association's director of research and public policy, says professors need to "make time" to get involved in campus budget issues. "Faculty need to be consulted on what kinds of cuts need to be made and how those cuts should differ across different disciplines," she says.
Professors at Urbana-Champaign, however, say efforts by the administration to get the faculty's opinion about the institution's budget crisis have been weak. "When money is not there that was there in the past, the issue becomes how do you spend the money that you do have," says Harriet Murav, a professor of Slavic languages and literature and an organizer for the faculty association. "I feel like there's a public front—yes, we'll talk to you—but behind the scenes, policy has already been made."
As for the "return to normalcy" that the association wants professors to be poised to shape, it won't be happening anytime soon. The economy has battered nearly all of higher education's revenue streams—including tuition, fees, state appropriations, charitable giving, and endowment investments. Ms. Thornton says it will very likely be another fiscal year, if not two, before college and university finances improve. Slow job growth nationally for the next year and a half means unemployed people will still be struggling to pay tuition, and annual giving will continue to suffer as well, she says. On the brighter side, a stock market that has begun to bounce back means institutions that rely on their endowment for operating expenses "will start doing better."
A turnaround for public colleges will probably be the farthest off, Ms. Thornton says, because state tax revenues, which usually lag behind economic recovery, are "going to take a while to come back."