The Accidental Pay Cut

“Bob” was a professor in a thriving department and carried a full teaching load; his breadth of academic preparation included credentials in several areas outside of his specialization. One day an administrator came to him and indicated that a new academic program was to start and that they would like for him to teach in it by separate contract. Just a course or two per year, as overloads.

Bob liked the idea, and, since he had two young children, he liked the idea of the extra pay; he learned that he could teach in the summer, too, whereas his home department offered no summer courses. Adding together the overloads and the summer courses, within two years he was making almost 40 percent of his base pay again, through the new program.

As the new program grew, Bob’s additional teaching load rolled forward for several years. He continued to enjoy the classes and now was invested in the program’s success. Finally the program had matured enough to require a full-time faculty member in the specialty where Bob had been holding down the fort. As the position was posted, Bob suddenly realized that he had just taught himself into a significant pay cut: The new hire would eliminate the need for his overloads. He was invited to apply for the new position, but that would have no effect on his pay because his home department would have to hire someone to replace his basic load.

Over the years I have seen this scenario play out with regularity. It happens most commonly when a highly credentialed staff member teaches evening classes apart from her daytime position and then gets hired into a full-time faculty role and can no longer teach for additional pay at the same level as had been possible. I have also seen it happen with faculty members who take on administrative duties for an acting position; when it stretches on for longer than anticipated, the extra pay becomes the “new normal” in the family budget rather than being viewed as something extra.

What advice might you offer to someone who has been offered the opportunity to pick up extra pay that may not be sustained beyond a year or two?

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