Sunday, March 25, 2012

Deflecting Blame

David C. Levy attempts to blame faculty salaries at universities for rising tuition costs and suggests that most university faculty are not working hard enough:
But I disagree with the next assumption, that the answer to rising college costs is to throw more public money into the system. In fact, increased public support has probably facilitated rising tuitions. Overlooked in the debate are reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules.
Through the first half of the 20th century, faculties in academic institutions were generally underpaid relative to other comparably educated members of the workforce. Teaching was viewed as a “calling” in the tradition of tweed jackets, pipe tobacco and avuncular campus life. Trade-offs for modest salaries were found in the relaxed atmospheres of academic communities, often retreats from the pressures of the real world, and reflected in such benefits as tenure, light teaching loads, long vacations and sabbaticals.
With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result has been more equitable circumstances for college faculty, who deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.
 James Joyner and Robert Farley take issue with Levy's estimates of how much college faculty actually work.

But I'd like instead to look at Levy's implicit claim that faculty salaries are disproportionately contributing to tuition inflation.  Nowhere does Levy really address the fact that colleges and universities are increasingly using part-time faculty members (with much lower rates of pay and usually without benefits) to teach classes.  Tenured and tenure-track faculty now only constitute 25% of faculty members in the US (compared to over 45% in 1975), according to the American Association of University Professors.

Moreover, full-time faculty salaries are not exactly skyrocketing.  Adjusted for inflation, the average rate of tuition growth was about 6% a year between 1989 and 2005.  During that same period, the average full-time faculty salary never increased above 2.2% a year adjusted for inflation (according to the AAUP).  During most of those years, the salary growth was either negative when adjusted for inflation or under 1%.  So it's hard to blame faculty salaries for skyrocketing tuition costs.  Nor can the growth in faculty numbers be blamed (since faculty hiring is well behind administrative hiring).

Administration, however, has seen considerable growth in salaries and college expenditures.  As an email from an AAUP official explains:
  1. You can't blame faculty salaries for increases in tuition and costs. Faculty salary increases have been well below increases in tuition and well below increases in senior administrators' salaries, which have increased disproportionately....Between 1995-96 and 2005-06, presidential salaries increased by 35 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared to 5 percent for average faculty salaries (figure 3, 2006-07 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession ); from 2005-06 to 2007-08, the two-year increase in senior administrators' salaries outpaced both inflation and the increase in average salary for full professors (figures 1 and 2, 2007-08 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession).
  2. You can't blame increases in faculty numbers for increased tuition and costs. Full-time tenure-track faculty numbers have increased at a far slower rate than have numbers of other professionals and administrators. Between 1976 and 2005, full-time tenure-track positions in the United States increased by only 17 percent, compared to a 281 percent increase in nonfaculty professionals and a 101 percent increase in administrators (see figure 3 in the 2007-08 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession).
  3. Spending on instruction has declined in all sectors of higher education, while spending on administrative costs has increased. Between 1995 and 2006, overall spending increased, but the share of instruction was down in all sectors (for example, in public master's institutions it was down from 53.9 to 50.8 percent; in private master's institutions it was down from 45.0 to 43.0 percent). The share of student services increased (from 9.9 to 10.9 percent in public master's institutions and from 13.9 to 15.6 percent in private master's institutions), as did that of administration and other support (from 36.2 to 38.2 percent and from 41.1 to 41.4 percent, respectively...)
It's true that increasing teach loads might cause the amount a university spends on instruction to go down.  But it is not clear that those savings would be passed on to students (rather than being captured by another group within the university).  Nor is it clear that this action would not harm the quality of instruction and research done at American universities.

1 comment:

  1. This whole narrative presumes that teaching is the only, or most important, activity that university faculty do.

    In scientific & engineering fields, research is frankly more important. When an individual faculty member's research brings in more than a million dollars per year in grant money, that person's teaching is completely irrelevant.