Arnold Kling  

Academic Salaries

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Stephen Karlson points to this story about resentment among humanities faculty of higher salaries in professional schools.


While many academics have accepted the inevitability of the differences, others believe that salaries in professional schools are out of control. Critics worry that not only money, but attention and a sense of importance, is being diverted from core academic disciplines to the professional programs.
...But fighting the markets is just what Mr. Johnson thinks universities should be doing, not encouraging such disproportionate pay scales.

In my view, many more people believe that they are unfairly underpaid than that they are unfairly overpaid. I think we tend to be very selective about the comparisons that we make. In a corporation, when you compare your pay to that of people higher on the ladder, you tend to pick out the laziest, least competent executives and say, "I am worth as much as they are."

In reading the article, what surprised me was not how low the salaries were for professors in humanities, but how high they were, given that the opportunity cost for someone with a degree in literature has to be pretty low. Maybe that explains the excess supply of Ph.D's in those fields: for someone whose skills are not quantitative, it may make sense to try for a high-paying job, even though you have only a 50 percent probability of getting it. As an economist, I am tempted to blame the Ph.D glut on excessive salaries.

For Discussion. Are academic salaries too responsive to the market, or not responsive enough?


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Eric Krieg writes:

"There's a tendency to value very obvious practical gain over human enrichment," says Charles W. Nuckolls, a professor of anthropology at Alabama. "That's why it's easy to see why professional schools, which emphasize their practical focus, get more money," he adds. "The long-term consequence will be the erosion and eventually the demise of the liberal arts, particularly at state-supported schools."

If only we should be so lucky!

You academic economists aren't doing your jobs! Haven't these music and anthropology professors heard of the law of supply and demand?

You know, for people who are so obsessed with "human enrichment", they're awfully money obsessed. Aren't they all liberals, too? Since when do they want to be highly paid?

dsquared writes:

What gain to the world would there be if professors of literature were less well paid?

Mark writes:

"the opportunity cost for someone with a degree in literature has to be pretty low."

Do you have any idea how long it takes to get a PhD in the humanities? The opportunity cost is about 20-25% of one's prime working years.

David Thomson writes:

Let us for a moment direct our attentions to the real scandal on many universities: the outrageous salaries of football and basketball coaches! This foolishness is the result of conservative leaning alumni who have more money than brains. It tacitly informs the student body that academics is of secondary importance to winning an athletic contest.

Eric Krieg writes:

Come now, David. While it may be a scandal, at least the salaries paid to coaches are based on market forces. These guys are bringing in the bucks and prestige through TV and whatever. They should be compensated accordingly.

That's quite a different situation than the rent seeking liberal arts academics.

Not that I'm big on college sports or anything. My alma matta excells at drinking and casual sex, not sports, so much so that MTV has made a "reality" series about our fraternities.

Eric Krieg writes:

How does opportunity cost relate to rent seeking by academics? Is it that these academics have no job prospects other than the academy, and thus should accept a lower salary to ensure that more profs can be hired?

David Thomson writes:

“Come now, David. While it may be a scandal, at least the salaries paid to coaches are based on market forces”

But what does this have to do with education? The universities have no logical reason justifying their exaggerated emphasis on these pampered sports programs. I am a strong believer in student athletes. However, the individual playing on a big time college football or basketball team is first, last, and foremost an athlete. So much so, that these young men rarely have any time for serious school work. And yes, I am compelled to reiterate the harsh fact that this silliness tacitly devalues the schools’ central reason for existence.

John Thacker writes:

David, naturally their justification is that people watch the games, and dearly want to watch the games and have their team win. The television ratings is part of the proof of that.

It's certainly a logical reason. It's just not a reason you like.

I don't understand the repeated tendency of people (especially non-economists) to label preferences they don't like as "not logical." How does logic even enter in to it?

You may as well lambaste the universities for spending money on Art (or even Literature) Departments. There are plenty of people who find high art or critical theory to be as wasteful and pointless as presumably you find sports. From a logical perspective, your objection is no different. It's a matter of preference, not logic.

David Thomson writes:

“It's a matter of preference, not logic.”

I simply cannot accept your relativist stance. A school is suppose to be about education and the sharing of knowledge. That is its only reason for existence. Sports entertainment shouldn’t even be on the list. Lastly, it is an outrage when young adults are recruited to be be primarily athletes and only secondarily students!

I can also prefer chess over checkers, but I can’t have it both ways. A choice has to be made. The same holds true for institutions of education. What is their central purpose? If I take a quick peek at the dictionary, will it say?

school: a place where one is entertained by sports contests

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