December
11th 2008
Money, class, and the values of academe

Posted under: class, jobs

At the top of this post, I’d just like to stipulate that I am extremely phobic about money.  I never open my TIAA-CREF statements, and for years I avoided consulting the “little black book” in the library that reveals the salaries of everyone at my public institution, for fear of learning how vastly underpaid I was.  (When I did consult it, I learned that I was underpaid by a little, but above all I found that I and all of my colleagues were “compressed” tightly together with our below-average salaries.)  Because of my crippling money anxieties, I’m probably losing out on tens of thousands of dollars I might be able to save or invest more wisely, but then, that’s the price of my happy obliviousness.  (At least I don’t carry credit card debt, and I never have had to–thank goodness.)

I found these two interesting, somewhat oppositional posts at Reassigned Time and Tenured Radical this week about universities and money in these hard times.  On the one hand, TR reminds us that for those of us “regular” faculty who have tenure, it’s rather unseemly to complain when our colleagues on the staff may face layoffs because of budgetary downturns.  In discussing the likelihood of a faculty salary freeze at her college next  year, she says “Agreeing to a salary freeze, when it is explained as part of a well-reasoned plan is sticking out your hand and playing your role as a partner in the enterprise,” and then continues:

The strangest thing I have heard — and I have heard it from more than one person — is the narrative of sacrifice, in which a faculty member claims to have chosen university teaching when other, far more lucrative work was possible, but in an act of self-abnegation chose to teach the unwashed masses who seem to cluster regularly at private colleges and universities. Having made this sacrifice, the story goes, no others should be required: nay, this person should receive raises while others near and far, working class and middle class people working in soulless occupations, lose their jobs.

While it is not required of us to be grateful for having jobs as unemployment gallops to new highs, it is worth remembering that life isn’t fair. When we are not being rewarded with cash prizes for our accomplishments, it might be a good time to figure out if there are personal rewards other than money that cause you to stay committed to teaching and the production of knowledge. If there are not, I strongly suggest you use the safety of your tenured position to explore another line of work that would make you happy.

Fair enough.  But, I would suggest that very few of even us tenured folk teach at wealthy “private colleges and universities” or tony SLACs like TR.  (Having taught at a few different private universities, I can attest to the fact that they’re not all wealthy–in fact, some sectarian universities are perpetually struggling.)  Dr. Crazy at Reassigned Time reports that at her university, the faculty are being charged more for parking and health insurance, course releases are gone, travel money is vanishing despite the fact that the research requirements are rising, and yet, “[i]t’s being strongly hinted that faculty should give money to keep certain things afloat.”  She continues:

I get really angry when it comes to all of the above. The bottom line is that I work at this place, and every such request that faculty “do their part” makes me feel like my work isn’t valued – like I’m not already doing my part by teaching in [fracked] up classrooms without the equipment that I need, quietly accepting that I have an office with no heat and that’s 400 miles away from the printer, teaching four freaking maxed out classes a semester, etc. I feel like people have their hands in my pockets and like they’re taking money that is mine and that I earned. And while I get the fact that a university is a special kind of place, blah blah blah, I kind of want to tell everybody that they can [frack] off and that I don’t make enough on a humanities salary, no matter how giving a heart I possess (and really, I don’t possess one of those, but for the sake of argument), to keep a university in the black. $hit, I’m not in the black just in terms of my personal finances. And yet, because of all of the PR surrounding this $hit, I feel guilty when I don’t give. You know what? Screw it. No more guilt. I’ll feel guilty when my student loans are paid off. Until that time, they’ll just have to be happy that I do my freaking job.

Mind you, Dr. Crazy’s book has just come out, so we know the girl works hard for the money.  I bow to her achievements, producing a book while teaching a 4-4 load.  I think most people would agree that faculty salary freezes are not the worst thing in the world, and that if everyone at an institution is suffering, then faculty shouldn’t be exempt, but I also think that most people would recognize that working at an already-beleaguered institution with high teaching loads and similarly high research requirements is materially different than working at an institution with a 2-2 load and/or at SLACs where the classes are small.  Tenured Radical and Dr. Crazy work at very different institutions.

In the comments to the aforementioned post, Dr. C. goes on to raise an interesting related issue, namely, that “[w]hat I really see underlying all of this is that the notion that professors are gentlemen intellectuals still rules the day when it comes to the way money works at universities, even at a university like mine where that is far from the role that any professor I know inhabits.”  Right on.  With respect to my discipline, up to the mid-nineteenth century, historians were rich amateurs and hobbyists.  Even after earning Ph.D.s at German universities (or at the few American universities that offered them) became de rigeur, historians were overwhelmingly WASP men of the ruling class, which is why the professional study of history had (and arguably still has) WASP ruling-class prejudices.  Although I know a few genuine WASPs (one of whom will inherit family money, the other of whom won’t and is bitterly disappointed about that), I’m not one, and in fact I know a lot more historians who grew up very working class.  One of my friends has a community college degree on his transcript, and another has told me that in her last year of college, she was living in her car.   

While some of us may be independently wealthy or have married well so that our jobs just provide us with walkin’ around money, the vast majority of academics I know need a middle-class salary and benefits.  And yet, the modal values of academia are upper middle-class.  The profession still assumes at some level that we’re all sons and daughters of the ruling class, and that we’re too refined or rich enough already to haggle about money.  At some level, isn’t this evidence that the profession doesn’t take itself seriously?  Doesn’t it imply that at some level, we’re merely hobbyists who would be happy to fund our own travel, or pay for our own sabbaticals, because what we do isn’t really work?

Is the meaning of what we do all day long–teaching, research, and service–dependent on how badly we need the paycheck?  Is it not work, regardless of the worker?

38 Comments »

38 Responses to “Money, class, and the values of academe”

  1. thefrogprincess on 11 Dec 2008 at 10:22 am #

    Yeah, this mindset that we’re somehow blessed to be paid for work that we’d maybe do for free seems to start at the graduate level. At my institution (where, in fairness, we do receive quite generous stipends), there’s a strange logic that shows up every time disputes over money happen. A few years back, many graduate students in my department didn’t receive a promised raise because of a clerical error that the graduate school didn’t want to fix. While most students were totally on board with efforts to get to the bottom of this, a few people sent emails telling us to stop fussing over money, reminding us how lucky we were to be getting paid to read, etc., etc. I’ve always found these statements to be utterly ridiculous, particularly since it was a few thousand dollars that we weren’t getting because of a typo. Yes, academics have made certain choices. We’ve chosen to pursue this life and we’ve done so knowing that we won’t make as much as investment bankers, lawyers, and the like. But the intellectual life is still work and it needs to be treated as such. We still have bills and responsibilities and expensive research to carry out, particularly for those of us whose research is out of the country. So while in these times, maybe we shouldn’t expect raises if nobody else is getting them, particularly if support staff is getting fired, I don’t think we have to tolerate funny business like Dr. Crazy’s situation either.

  2. Historiann on 11 Dec 2008 at 10:51 am #

    That’s a classic story, thefrogprincess, and that false debate about whether graduate students are students or workers is what works against unionization, efforts to get health insurance benefits, etc. Somehow it’s unseemly to actually be paid what you were promised? Hey, if that’s how someone feels, then they can make that “sacrifice” unilaterally if they don’t need the money. But I see no reason for grad students–GRAD STUDENTS!!–to eat an error that wasn’t theirs.

  3. Tom on 11 Dec 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Historiann–

    While I’ll begin by noting that I haven’t followed up on the links you attached, I wanted to weigh in on the issue of money and class in universities. I have long felt that the issue of class is one that univeristies are institutionally incapable of thinking clearly on. On the one hand, universities (because of their supposed universality of interests) must express a respect for, and acceptance of, diversity, including class diversity (not valuing diversity makes it hard to be universal, and hence hard to be a university). But on the other hand, educational institutions are generally in the business of selling (upward) class mobility (except maybe for a couple of places that prefer only to accept and educate the already-wealthy). Since the practice of selling upward class mobility more or less explicitly devalues working class or even middle class diversity, there’s a conflict.

    Likewise, to sell upward class mobility, it’s useful for academic institutions to imagine the professoriate as being in the “target” class–the one towards which upward mobility points. Many faculty, of course, find themselves adopting such attitudes at times. We do white collar work, but I make a lot less than an autoworker at Ford (which may explain why so few universities are asking for bailouts?).

    Anyway, I wonder, in fact, if there isn’t a clash here between universities’ missions of scholarship (where we value all sorts of diversity) and teaching (implicitly valuing only the highest socio-economic classes).

    Maybe we should all work at think tanks, where this kind of double-think isn’t structural.

    Please send me the address of a well-paying medieval studies think tank that allows telecommuting.

  4. Poe on 11 Dec 2008 at 11:58 am #

    Yes, universities are not really capable of thinking about class, even as they have put into place an increasingly mandarin class system of their own. We all know that there are class differences between universities (from the Ivies to the community colleges), and class differences within universities (not only that between faculty and staff, for example, but also increasingly between full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, various forms of full-time lecturers (my personal favorite – the distinction between the research professor and the teaching professor), and adjuncts. In terms of Dr. C vs. TR, I am pragmatic. I have always resisted those requests to give back (monetarily) to my university – why should I lessen my already below-market salary to make up for the fact the my state’s voters are (or were!) largely Republican, anti-tax, and not particularly supportive of higher education? But though I see my job as a job (and not as a hobby or vocation), I am fairly privileged – I make more than the median income in America and in general my working conditions are terrific. As a result, I would accept a cut in salary, given certain circumstances. For example, during the last budget crisis (in 2002-2003), I suggested to an administrative group that full-time, tenured and tenure-track professors (and administrators, of course) take a small salary cut so that the university could retain the services of our lecturers and part-timers. Seemed to me that this would benefit both us and them – we wouldn’t face increased class sizes, and they could remain employed. Of course, this went nowhere – and I think greed was the primary cause.

  5. Buzz on 11 Dec 2008 at 12:09 pm #

    Yesterday, I was at a faculty meeting where the chair went over with us a couple of memos from the dean that were dripping with red ink. There was a lot of outrage from the faculty, but none of it was about the money that was being taken away from us. Nobody seemed to care that we wouldn’t be getting raises, but people were up in arms about what was happening to the support staff. Personally, I think this focus is pretty healthy. As science professors at an R1 institution, we are fairly well paid, and I know many of the younger professors were not shy about asking for more money when we got our first job offers. It would seem petty to gripe about our financial situation at a time when the university is seeing large cuts in its total budgets. On the other hand, the (mostly male) faculty’s attitude of wanting to protect the classified employees (who are mostly female) seems a bit paternalistic, although it’s clearly well intentioned.

    The other major source of dissatisfaction was changes that we’re supposed to make that would take time away from research. Many of the faculty feel that their positions entitle them to teach no more than three courses per year, and they are not shy about saying so. Research is the largest component of what we were hired to do, and most of the faculty feels unashamedly entitled to be paid for it.

  6. Susan on 11 Dec 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    I attended an Ivy which still suggested that faculty all came with independent incomes, even though they obviously didn’t. When I got my first job at an SLAC, a sociologist noted that while there was one Jew in the history dept, the rest of us were WASPs (not with private incomes or expected inheritances, necessarily), coming from families with some expectations of status and no identified “ethnicity”. The soc. department, on the other hand, had one Jew, one Black, an Italian-American and a French-Canadian. So class and ethnicity, at least 20 years ago, still made a huge difference.

    I think the way you still see this is in assumptions about when junior faculty will be able to buy houses. Clearly for that you need some kind of family money!

    I agree with both Dr. C — I really resent being asked for contributions by my employer — but I also agree with TR that we shouldn’t be complaining all the time about our income. I sometimes say that I traded whatever I might have made in business or law or any of the other opportunities I might have pursued for security. Those of us with full time jobs have also traded income for a certain amount of flexibility in our working conditions.

    I’ve just started teaching at a public university, so when the link to the salary database was posted, I did do some research. And of course what I found was not only the hierarchy within the campus, but also between fields — assistant profs in economics and management make significantly more than I do as a full prof in history, but there was one hist professor making almost 50% more than a lit professor at a similar level. It was, in other words, quite chaotic. And I also got a clue about some of the tensions and resentments in the faculty. Our salaries may be transparent, but it doesn’t make people think they are fair.

  7. Historiann on 11 Dec 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    Tom, I lost the URL for that think tank you’re looking for. (Susan–do you have it?) You make good points about the tensions inherent in the modern university, but this expectation of the “gentleman scholar” was there in the late nineteenth century, when very few universities were educating people for upward mobility. (Except for the new land grant universities, college was about the ruling class staying on top, IMHO.) Besides, I don’t get the impression that students look up to faculty–most faculty blogs feature complaints of being treated like a service worker rather than like an internationally-known scholar.

    Poe and Buzz–I think it’s generous to (as Tenured Radical suggests) think of the less privileged among us first (staff and lecturers/adjuncts) and volunteer to redistribute income. But, I hardly think it’s “greed” (as Poe suggests) to want to maintain one’s salary! You don’t probably know everything about your colleagues’ finances. A major local story at my university is the shocking increase in 6-figure salaries paid to the new Vice Presidents of this or that, jobs that our former President invented in the past 5 years. I’m sure that these Vice Presidents of whateverthehell were doing something of value, but I think universities asking faculty to sacrifice should start visibly at the top and pare down administrative positions and salaries. Besides, most of those people make at least 3x what I make–doesn’t it make sense to ask one or two people making $200,000+ a year to return to their faculty positions (for a mere $80 or $90K), rather than asking dozens of assistant profs and compressed associate profs to cough up?

    Buzz, it sounds to me like that memo from your Dean was a stickup note: hand over the money, or your secretaries get plugged. That’s pretty manipulative. Administrators make the big bucks to make the tough calls, don’t they?

    Susan, that’s interesting that they put your salary book on line. At Baa Ram U., we have to hike to the library to consult it in hard copy form. I think this is clearly to make it less convenient to complain.

  8. Rad Readr on 11 Dec 2008 at 3:29 pm #

    We’re being hit at my R1 university, and there is talk of staff layoffs. At a recent meeting, other scenarios also came up — faculty would have to teach 5 instead of 4 classes, sabbaticals would be temporarily halted, and prestigious visiting professorships would be cut. Given that our biggest expenditure (in the humanities) is faculty salaries, I asked a few faculty whether they would be willing to take a 2 percent paycut to make up for some of the cuts. Surprisingly, they were willing to do this. We are a well-paid group compared to others in academia, but it was nice to see at least some colleagues willing to “contribute” to the cuts. I really think if it came down to staff layoffs versus pay cut, a majority of our faculty would take a small cut.

    Re: class. It functions in the way it does because of the general slippage in the term between an economic definition and other senses of “class.” Regardless of economic background or even current condition, a lot of profs would be considered upper class in terms of conversation, tastes, knowledge, etc. Class as a term — whether in research or in conversation — is very malleable. People considered working class in the United States are probably rich compared to many in other parts of the world. That is not to excuse anything, but rather to say we need a more rigorous and global sense of differences in economic power and privilege.

  9. Indyanna on 11 Dec 2008 at 3:30 pm #

    Speaking of service workers, earlier this afternoon as I tried to think of how to post into this thread, a fairly recent graduate of our department who now works for the Service Employees International Union organizing health care workers in central Pennsylvania nursing homes, etc., walked into our offices. He sighed and said he wanted to report that, contrary to the academic notions he had taken forth from this department (which has a tradition in modern U.S. labor history) there “WAS no working class” at this point. His members and organizing targets, he said, howevermuch they are trying to fend off downward mobility and managerial abuse, mentally cognize the world in terms of upward mobility. This rude awakening, he said, was only a speed bump on the road to retaining his optimism and energy and idealism, but he did want to report back to his teachers on it. I said we should probably disband our amateurish intra-commonwealth faculty union and go with the SEIU, which is trying to establish a renewed militancy.

    But we DO retain at least vestiges of the gentlemanly noblesse ethos in the rhetorical dualism of “my work” as opposed to the various “loads” (teaching/service) of “what they make us do,” don’t we? I’m sometimes here well after dark doing “my own work,” which I hope to escort into print, and which is portable with me if I go elsewhere. What other kind of union would allow its membership to stay in or go to the shop on their own discretion to do work that is technically at least also contractually required, even if that obligation is often honored in the breach by tacit agreement of a frazzled workforce and an indifferent managerial class? It may not be fair that these internal distinctions exist among our several portfolios of activity, or that compensation structures are skewed across these categories. But we do in fact help to perpetuate them in ways that old line Marxists might describe as false consciousness.

    That said, I’m having fun here, googling up a storm on various projects, even though I’m supposed to drive off early tomorrow into the teeth of a final grading storm!

  10. Notorious Ph.D. on 11 Dec 2008 at 3:52 pm #

    I dunno. I’m the child of one of those families who was on the wrong side of the widening gap during the Reagan years, and I came to think of my Ph.D. and professional job as a way to jump the gap — not to get rich; just to jump the gap.

    Instead, I find myself sinking further into debt every year, with no material assets to show for it. And while I do realize that the staff workers have it worse, it does make me bitter.

    I think Historiann is right about something crucial: we’ve mentally paired our jobs with a certain lifestyle, and it’s one we can’t have. Sometimes, however, I amuse myself by calling up the image of the archetypal professor garb, the tweed jacket with suede patches on the elbows, and reminding myself of just why those patches were there.

    Still, most days I find it hard to work up much enthusiasm for genteel… what? Not really “poverty,” but something like it.

  11. Janice on 11 Dec 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Soon after I started teaching here, our province went into a financial tailspin and all public sector salaries were cut. (In honour of our then premier, these were called “Rae Days”.) I’d just been hired (ABD to boot), so I was at the very bottom of the salary barrel. Taking a chunk out of that small salary wasn’t a lot in dollars, but it was an enormous impact on my ability to manage my personal finances. Junior faculty are often playing catch-up in terms of student debt, starting a family or trying to get some furniture after years of dorm living. If an institution is going to cut, they ought to do it from the upper levels.

    With this current financial crisis, I’m not interested in volunteering to give up some of my salary, but it’d make more sense for me to take a cut than the new faculty and poorly-paid staff who have no money to spare. I think that a SLAC down in Virginia did something like this (as I read in IHE last month).

    Oh, and in our public sector system, once you break the six figure barrier, they post your salaries online. I’m now on the list for any and everyone to see, without having to trek to the library.

  12. Susan on 11 Dec 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    Historiann, the University doesn’t post the salaries, but one of the local newspapers in the state does; you can search by discipline (see what historians make!); you can search by campus, name, salary level, etc. So it makes it pretty easy to find stuff out.
    It’s very interesting for someone who has, in spite of herself, managed to continue to think that it’s not really polite to talk about money. I’m still wrapping my head around it.

  13. Ann Bartow on 11 Dec 2008 at 5:35 pm #

    One thing that drives me crazy is all the strident demands that the faculty contribute to various causes. So far this year:

    1. The “Family Fund” – a gift to the University. If you do not cough up, senior colleagues will call you out on it in very obnoxious ways. So I coughed up.

    2. Memorial Scholarship fund for recent graduate and daughter of one colleague who died tragically. I gave to this one too.

    3. The Student Public Interest Summer Grant Program. I’ve given time to this cause but not money so far, and as a result been lectured and hectored by students who accuse me of “not setting a good example by giving generously.”

    4. The Public Interest Loan Forgiveness Program. See above; same story, second verse, little bit louder, little bit worse.

    5. The United Way. Forget it! I loaned or gifted thousands of dollars to members of my extended family this year who have health problems but do not have health insurance, or had other serious person issues. I respect many of the charities the United Way supports but do not feel like it’s my responsibility to give through payroll deduction to burnish the reputation of the University.

    6. Gifts and parties for retiring colleagues. I coughed up and will again.

    7. The fund to provide students with snacks during finals. This semester I bought 10 boxes of granola bars and four large bottles of soda.

    8. The Faculty Auction. I offer a dinner or the like that I pay for, which is auctioned off, and the proceeds go to the law school’s Annual Fund. This happens at least once a year, and sometimes once a semester.

    9. Various student groups sell me tickets to banquets and other functions as fundraisers.

    10. The Moot Court fundraisers – bake sales, tee shirt sales, candy sales etc. and harangues from the Moot Court coaches to fund travel for the moot court teams.

    11. Various Pro Bono Program fundraisers, food drives, benefit concerts, benefit wine tastings, etc.

    12. Pizza party for my student advisees.

    You get the drift. The requests are relentless and sometimes obnoxious and no one seems to care how many different times we get asked for money.

  14. Historiann on 11 Dec 2008 at 5:54 pm #

    Wow, Ann–it’s a good thing your co-workers don’t try to sell you wrapping paper or coffee cakes for their children’s school fundraisers! (Or did you just not include those, since they’re not for your law students or law school?) You ought to tally these up for your annual review to document all of the ways you’re subsidizing the students and your university.

    And being hectored by students for not giving money to help them? Gee, I hope they keep that in mind when they leave law school for lucrative jobs and then learn how little law profs are paid by comparison. I’d stop giving them a minute of my time after that kind of rudeness. I wonder if you should start up a fundraiser called the “Law Faculty Opportunity Fund,” designed to supplement your salaries, and see how many alumni give to it.

    Notorious and Rad make similar points about the cultural cache of a Ph.D. (at least in the humanities) versus its actual earning power, which is why it seems like we should be doing better. And I love Indyanna’s point here: “[W]e do in fact help to perpetuate [distinctions] in ways that old line Marxists might describe as false consciousness.” Yes indeed. OK, everyone: clap louder or Tinkerbell will die! Show her that you do believe in fairies! Clap louder! Clap louder!

    And congratulations to Janice, who is making 6 figures! I doubt I’ll ever get there.

  15. Notorious Ph.D. on 11 Dec 2008 at 6:29 pm #

    I can look up Susan’s salary, and she can look up mine!

    I can also look up the salaries of our department’s administrative personnel. Two of them are topped out on the scale, at well under 40K.

    So this year (to follow up on Ann’s post) I volunteered to be in charge of hectoring my fellow faculty for donations to the staff gift, which is a cause worth hectoring for.

  16. Buzz on 11 Dec 2008 at 7:00 pm #

    @Ann Bartow — Wow! They sound like real bloodsuckers over at the law school. I work right across the street, and while I get to hear about many of those opportunities to give, I’ve never felt unduly pressured to contribute to any of them.

  17. Professor Zero on 11 Dec 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    I never fall for those pleas. Most years we do not have raises, anyway. I am not in a state that offers all those things, which is why we are not in budget cuts now (although there is apparently a moratorium on hiring and on starting new programs).

    This year we are the poorest state of the union, I am told (sometimes we are #47). I give by funding my own research and teaching, by paying for meals for people we bring to give talks and for job candidates (they are expected to fund their own food), by buying for the library the books I want to be able to send my students to see, and in a few other ways like that, but I don’t respond to those requests. They have cried ‘wolf’ too often. For all I know the university will take the money to build another building.

    “At some level, isn’t this evidence that the profession doesn’t take itself seriously? Doesn’t it imply that at some level, we’re merely hobbyists who would be happy to fund our own travel, or pay for our own sabbaticals, because what we do isn’t really work?”

    YES.

    “Is the meaning of what we do all day long–teaching, research, and service–dependent on how badly we need the paycheck? Is it not work, regardless of the worker?”

    APPARENTLY NOT. If you reveal that it seems like work to you, you reveal working class origins, and this is not a good thing, it seems.

  18. Professor Zero on 11 Dec 2008 at 7:47 pm #

    P.S. Notorious PhD:

    “Sometimes, however, I amuse myself by calling up the image of the archetypal professor garb, the tweed jacket with suede patches on the elbows, and reminding myself of just why those patches were there.”

    I may be wrong on this but those jackets are expensive. I think the patches are part of the design. Yes, it is to keep the elbows from going, but it is not because the wearer is supposed to be too poor to buy a new jacket. I don’t know if I am explaining myself. But cheaper would be and has been for a long time a cheaper jacket, I am quite sure.

    “Still, most days I find it hard to work up much enthusiasm for genteel… what? Not really ‘poverty,’ but something like it.”

    Me neither. The rich might romanticize this but nobody who works for a living wants to stay poor. I detect a lot of Marie Antoinette Syndrome (living as a faux shepherdess in the Petit Trianon, remember, while also not knowing that bread was the food of the masses) in these people who say we should embrace the lower middle class incomes (and therefore possibilities) we really have.

  19. Geoff on 11 Dec 2008 at 8:04 pm #

    “And yet, the modal values of academia are upper middle-class. The profession still assumes at some level that we’re all sons and daughters of the ruling class, and that we’re too refined or rich enough already to haggle about money.”

    Historiann, you articulated very well some feelings I had in my short time in graduate school, feelings that factored into a decision to leave. I might add, in my experience ‘too refined to admit we are part of a labor market. too refined to organize into unions, and too refined to participate in the political process to secure privileges in the ways that unions do. too refined to acknowledge that we have more in common with teachers in the rest of the public education system than we’d like to admit. too refined to acknowledge that some graduate students are exploited.” I don’t mean to characterize the discipline or even my school as a whole that way, or ascribe those notions to any individual…they just seemed to be there in the ether.

    I have a career that takes me to many different professional workplaces, and in my experience there are few that seem like easy money, although it appears that computer and IT professionals are able to market their skills well. There are reasons those Ford workers had a pretty good total package (which is what the $70 figure is, they didn’t see that ‘on the check’ as we say) has a lot to do with union organization, naturlich, but also is related to the redundancy, tediousness, noise level, and discomfort of their jobs. (Tom, coming from an industrial area, may be better able to testify to that than me.)

    In some education fields there is a benefit of discretionary time in the summer months (for those who don’t need to supplement their salaries with extra courses). My father was a high school teacher, and we usually spent about three weeks on family vacations. Thanks also to the summers my brother and I learned to do a lot of repairs on the house and develop other interests in ways we couldn’t have had our father not been there. It is difficult to assign a dollar amount to this ability to spend extended time with your family. Very few of us in the private sector have that kind of flexibility. (Yes, I acknowledge that the burden of grading often occupies night and weekend hours when school is in session, but I’m sure you see the point.)

    One recurrent theme in career decisions among my professors and other grad students was the implicit idea (mentioned above) that other occupations were “soulless.” Some are…but many more are not. Ultimately, this conception works against those in academia by implicitly justifying the salary concessions.

    My wife’s former department & school had an odd longevity curve on the salary schedule, where there was not a significant bump from assistant to associate, but an apparent bigger jump from associate to full. Example: a newly minted associate may make in the high 40s/low 50s, but a full prof with many years in could make in the 80s. So just when you need the money most (buying a house, starting a family) you’re strapped, but long after the kids have left and the house is paid for you’re in clover (relatively). Is this typical? I’m assuming that most other professions have the big jump at the moment of full professional qualification, with more gradual raises beyond that.

  20. Historiann on 11 Dec 2008 at 9:27 pm #

    Geoff, right on. I especially like this part: “Ultimately, this [belief in the superiority of the academic life] works against those in academia by implicitly justifying the salary concessions.” Back in the 1990s, when Harvard staff were trying to organize and bargain for better pay, they had a great phrase: “you can’t eat prestige.” To what extent do we fetishize our supposed differences between us and K-12 teachers to our own disadvantage?

    Prof. Z, I love that image of Marie Antoinette as the poor shepherdess! Only, pace Geoff’s point, we’re all really poor shepherdesses dressing up like Marie Antoinette!

    And, yes: I endorse Notorious’s idea. If you can, give generously to the staff this year (and all years).

  21. Susan on 11 Dec 2008 at 10:34 pm #

    A colleague of mine and I have been agitating for a staff gift this year — it hasn’t previously been a local tradition and we were both appalled.

  22. Susan on 11 Dec 2008 at 10:35 pm #

    Oh, and Notorious can’t look me up yet because I haven’t been in the system long enough :)

  23. historymaven on 11 Dec 2008 at 10:47 pm #

    I cannot help but link this discussion about faculty salary and class to discussions on several blogs about advising students about–or rather, against–graduate school because the job market is so abysmal.

    I never gave much thought to class until I headed from my Midwestern small town to the East Coast to attend college. When I asked my undergraduate adviser for a letter of recommendation for graduate school, he told me the best job I could get was as a secretary at the Massachusetts Historical Society. When I got to grad school, on loans, I was told by my independently wealthy roommate (and still great friend) that if her department did not fund her in her second year, she was leaving. I REALLY wanted further study, and I couldn’t understand how someone with means could just walk away.

    Loans and jobs got me through graduate school. I even worked for my first adviser, a man of considerable family wealth and prestige, who told me one time that “for a Polack I was very genteel.” He never supported me for fellowships or teaching assistantships and when I had a chance to switch advisers, I did. By that point, however, I had a full-time job that paid tuition.

    Coming from what I learned was a working-class family, I didn’t expect anything to be handed to me. Now that I’ve been in the business for 20 years (and, yes, still repaying my loans), I am still amazed at discussions of limiting graduate admissions to those applicants a department or a program can fund. If departments had adopted this strategy I would have never had a shot at graduate school. It makes me wonder what sort of class biases are at play in graduate admissions–i.e., we see you as potential equals in more ways than intellect, so we will offer you financial security so that you may dedicate all your time (Veblenesque time, by the way) to the pursuit of knowledge. (Certainly my grad school colleagues with funding saw me as less qualified–and only 3 of the original 15 in my year earned their doctorates.)

    Now, I certainly understand why others would choose not to attend grad school if they weren’t funded. But that’s a personal choice made by an adult who is offered admission. (What, then are we really bringing to the discussion when we talk about calibrating admissions to funding, especially when both are supposed to be needs-blind? Moreso than the meaning of faculty salaries, the meaning of the monies with which we are entrusted to endow the future professoriat, run our departments, etc. (like little trust funds) may reveal more about class assumptions and positions.

    All that said, I agree with Notorious. The seedy-tweedy ideal is appealing; its reality is appalling.

    Now I need to go to the bank to get holiday bonus money for our support staff. The dean’s secretary has been at her post for 21 years and is only making $30,000.

  24. Susan on 12 Dec 2008 at 9:34 am #

    Can I make a final comment here. It occurs to me that one of the things that perpetuates the “genteel not-quite-poverty” of professors in the humanities (this would not be happening on an economics blog, I suspect) is that our critical thinking on issues of class hamstrings us. I think it’s noticeable that many of your commenters have noted staff salaries. I totally respect our staff, and know that they are not paid as well as they should be. But why are we comparing our incomes to those of staff who — however amazing and marvelous at what they do– have somewhat lower levels of training and preparation for their work. We should be thinking about the incomes of other professionals with equivalent years of training, like doctors and lawyers. I’m not sure this is about refinement as much as civic conscience or some such.

  25. Historiann on 12 Dec 2008 at 9:39 am #

    Good point, Susan–perhaps related to the notion that we don’t really take ourselves seriously as professionals that I raised in my post originally?

    historymaven–I see your point about not limiting admissions to funding. However, I have never encouraged and will never encourage a student to go into debt for a humanities M.A. or Ph.D. If they don’t take my advice, then so be it–but I couldn’t recommend debt in History grad school.

  26. Matt L on 12 Dec 2008 at 10:38 am #

    I like the post Historiann, but I think there is a larger problem here. I worked as a theater technician before going back to grad school. There was the same kind of attitude that the workers were lucky to have the job and that they should be willing to put up with low pay and long hours because it was in the name of “art” and culture. The fact that we were providing a service and skilled labor was secondary to our position as producers of cultural capital. Its the same thing in academia. As cultural producers, were are supposed to feel lucky that we have a job.

    One of my colleagues, who had spent a decade in K-12 education said that all teachers were held to an unspoken ideal: the Roman Catholic Nuns who taught in parochial schools. They were sexless, had few or no material needs, required no pay for their work, and disappeared into the convent out of sight at the end of the school day. The trope of the WASP amateur historian or the celibate scholar in the frayed tweed jacket is similar. People with no visible means of support carrying out a higher cultural mission in the name of virtue, not material gain.

    Ultimately, these myths mean one thing. People, that is to say parents, students and legislators, do not value education enough to pay for it. Instead they would like it to be a commodity that costs as little as possible. If you want to know what society really values in a university go look at the salaries of Big 10 football and basketball coaches.

  27. bob coley jr on 13 Dec 2008 at 9:30 am #

    I don’t have first hand knowledge of teaching salaries but what I see, IMHO, is an ass-backwards value system in most areas of civilization. I love sports but a $12 million contract for the Syracuse head football coach while the chief of police or fire dept. won’t make that much in a lifetime! The emphasis of this post gives me hope (not a lot, though) that we will focus civilization on civilization, instead of just market-share, branding, and bottom line profit margin on a purely monetary balance sheet. Great post, BTW.

  28. Historiann on 13 Dec 2008 at 9:35 am #

    Matt L.–sorry not to have replied sooner, but I wanted to say that your comment is right on, completely. I think it may be worthy of highlighting in a separate post–so stay tuned…

    I absolutely agree with your friend’s perspective on K-12 teaching. It resonates with my theory that globally and transhistorically, women are always expected to volunteer their work, and it’s only “bad girls” who make trouble and demand to be paid, let along better pay (or equal pay). This should concern anyone–male as well as female–who works in education or “cultural production” (in your terms) more generally, for exactly the reasons you say: “People. . . . would like [education] to be a commodity that costs as little as possible.” This is both a cause and a result of education being a feminized sector.

    Thanks so much for your insights.

  29. Historiann on 13 Dec 2008 at 9:37 am #

    Oh, and hi to Bob, who was writing at the same time that I was. I don’t know if there’s much cause for optimism here–after all, the highest paid public employees in my state (and I would assume most others) are the football coaches of CU and CSU. They beat out the governor and the university presidents every year. (At least, last time I checked–CSU fired its coach last year, so maybe the new guy isn’t making what the old celeb coach was.)

  30. prof bw on 13 Dec 2008 at 9:38 am #

    I’m late to this conversation but I just wanted to say thanks for writing this piece. At pov u, where almost no one comes from the middle class, we are still instilling the sense that if you are faculty you are above monetary concerns to our students, to the point where some grads look down their noses at faculty who won’t do extra service or teaching b/c the pay is so low. I often hear snark like “well I’m not here for the money”from both grads and the handful of moneyed colleagues at these budget meetings. I don’t think any of us are, but we do like to come home to doors without little yellow shut off slips on them . . .

    thanks again!

  31. Historiann on 13 Dec 2008 at 9:39 am #

    prof bw–good to hear from you–we miss you! I hope you start posting again soon.

    Here’s to a winter with no shut-off slips on our front doors.

  32. prof bw on 15 Dec 2008 at 8:04 am #

    thanks. blog will be back online in January.

  33. Excellence Without Money! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 15 Dec 2008 at 11:53 am #

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