In a new emphasis, the AAUP is drawing attention to the growing gaps between professors in different disciplines. While the trend of paying business and law professors more than those who teach literature and philosophy is nothing new, data released by the association indicate a significant growth in the gaps over the last 20 years. And association leaders want to focus more attention.Those are the same 20 years over which the rest of the world has noticed literature and philosophy losing sight of intellectual coherence.
The disciplinary gaps are most evident comparing average salaries for assistant professors. The following table uses English language and literature professors as the base and expresses other disciplines’ salaries in comparison. Only other arts and humanities professors earn less, and a few disciplines saw smaller gains — while business professors are now earning twice as much.Put another way, not all disciplines have industrial reserve armies of underemployed Ph.D.s.
Haven't the people on the high end of any salary spectrum, whether it be within a discipline, among disciplines, or among lines of business, always been those with the best outside offers? Is a difference of perspective necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps others who have applied themselves to the task of making their work marketable to others are doing a more effective job of challenging the lowering of standards in higher education by their exit than I have by my voice, and let me assure you, difference of perspective in a curriculum committee is not the road to great popularity.
[Research director John W.]Curtis of the AAUP said that the aim in providing this data was not to set some kind of acceptable or unacceptable salary gap among disciplines, but to promote a more open and full discussion of the topic. “The nature of higher education is changing, and has changed — and it’s not the product of any one decision, but the outcome of trends that have been ongoing for decades and that are beginning to show some stark inequalities,” he said.
The large gaps between some fields “raise questions of whether you can speak of faculty members who have a common perspective and a common situation,” he said. Curtis said he worried that those on the high end may be “more concerned about their own careers than the profession.” And while AAUP doesn’t rule out salary differentials by discipline, Curtis said that the association believes that these policies should be set by the faculty — something he does not think is always happening.
The reaction of a prominent member of an organization that has contributed much to higher education's poor image amuses.
Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said she wasn’t surprised by the pay gap, but was worried by it. “I’m someone who thinks the value of a society — and the well-being of its citizenry — is reflected in the value we collectively place on arts and letters. Language and literature study offers students skills that they need to imagine and build a better world, and I think that’s something we should all care about and want to reward and support.” She noted that plenty of English majors end up in medicine or law or business, so those who think they can spend less on such departments may be having an impact on the professions they worry about.The impact, dear reader, is often in the frustration of a professor in a senior-level course dealing with the poor writing of students, whether converted English majors or otherwise. Perhaps it's time for the Modern Language Association to rethink its oppositional stance.
“We ought to be rewarding those who help us learn the lessons of Shakespeare’s plays just as we reward those who can teach us the lessons of Enron,” [Feal] said.That is, if there are people teaching Shakespeare. Si quaeris Ward Churchill, circumspice!
And salaries do send messages, Feal said. “The gap in pay worries me because it might discourage those who want to teach language and literature,” she said. “I see some evidence that those who love language and literature and aspire to be college professors are questioning the viability of their vocation. Narrowing the pay gap is a way for colleges and universities to say ‘we value the humanities.’ Market forces are one factor in determining pay, but the value we place on humanistic learning in institutions of higher education should never be subordinated to that factor.”Restore the trivium and the Canon and then let's talk. But bear in mind that whatever the academy subsidizes, it gets more of. Is an expansion of the reserve army of culture-studies grievance-mongers efficient or fair?