College Teacher Wages

David C. Levy was formerly the chancellor of the New School University.  He recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post where he asks Do college professors work hard enough?  In his article he argues that college professors earn too much for the amount of work they do.

I have to admit to being biased against Levy’s position, having been teaching college either as an adjunct or full-time since 1998.  My first issue is with his seemingly mistaken view of how much work a college professor actually does.

Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

Now in Levy’s defense, he does admit that a college faculty’s load is more than just the 9-15 actual contact hours per week.  There is also grading, advising, serving on committees, research and other professional development and more.  However, he does seem to be less than honest when making many of his points.  For example, he cites that the average professor’s salary at Montgomery College is $88,000, but does not back up whether this college’s salaries are typical.  Blogger Kate Geiselman also takes Levy to task for this.

Since he fails to cite his sources (other than naming one “excellent” community college in Maryland), I have no idea how he came up with these numbers, but I can guarantee that they in no way represent the vast majority of higher education faculty in the vast majority of the country. (Spend twenty minutes on the Chronicle of Higher Education website looking up salaries if you don’t believe me.) His choice to focus only on full professors is telling and deliberately misleading.

Part of what makes Levy’s point here dishonest is that he neglects to mention how many courses are taught by part-time adjunct teachers today.  The New York Times reported back in 2007:

Three decades ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private.

If we average in the wages adjuncts get paid along with full-time, tenured professors I think we would find the salaries Levy cites to be grossly over-estimated for U.S. universities and colleges on average.

Susan Herbst’s What Do Professors Do, Anyway? and Kate Geiselman’s The War on Teaching Wages On in Higher Ed have more detailed point by point rebuttals to Levy’s article and I recommend checking out those if you’re curious about what college teachers actually do and how much they actually earn and compare that to a similarly educated work force out in the private sector.

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