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AAUP Report Paints Bleak Picture on Faculty Salaries

The title of a report released today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) provides grim commentary on the economic conditions many faculty members currently face. No Refuge: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2009-10 discusses faculty salaries in the context of the current turbulent financial times and suggests that faculty salaries are concrete indicators of institutional priorities.

The report’s primary author, Dr. Saranna Thornton, economics professor and department chair at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, notes that faculty members at public colleges and universities are facing some of the most serious issues because of enormous cuts in state appropriations. Those issues directly impact minority and lower income students, who rely heavily on public institutions for higher education.

“At some public institutions, faculty have been put on mandatory furloughs. Some of those furlough days are teaching days, so that reduces the number of class meetings in a semester, which hurts students and hurts faculty because you have a way you want to teach the material. If all of a sudden your semester has been cut short, then you have to make decisions about what you’re going to teach and what you’re not going to teach,” Thornton says.

Enrollment at community colleges has not gone down and in some situations has increased significantly. Decreased state appropriations have caused some classes to be cancelled or offered only once a year, so some students cannot complete a degree in the time they’d planned because classes they need to take are not currently available.

In other cases, class sizes are increased.

“If your courses go from 80 students to 120 students, that’s going to affect the way you teach a course and how much interaction you can provide students,” says Thornton, who is also chair of the AAUP’s committee on the economic status of the profession.

To compile this report, the AAUP reached out to more than 3,000 regionally accredited colleges and universities and received data from 1,219 institutions. Some significant points in the report are that approximately one-third of the responding institutions reported a decrease in overall average salary levels. Two-thirds of continuing faculty members are employed at institutions where the average change in salary was below the rate of inflation. The overall average salary for a full-time faculty member increased an average of 1.2 percent over last year, the lowest year-to-year change recorded in the survey’s 50-year history. In addition, approximately 14 percent reported reduced contributions to faculty retirement programs.

“We have always argued that our colleges and universities are a societal good and provide a benefit for society as a whole,” says Dr. John Curtis, AAUP director of research and public policy. “If we are not investing in the faculty members, who are at the core of those institutions, then it’s a loss to society.”

Clearly, students pay substantial tuitions. In addition, some larger institutions have significant endowments, some of which have been hit by the downturn in the stock market. Still, schools invest in things such as technology and invest in amenities such as rock-climbing walls in an effort to attract students. An emphatic point that both Curtis and Thornton raise is that faculty members must become more actively involved in the financial decisions of their institutions.

“It’s important for faculty members to learn more about what the financial situation of their institution is,” Curtis says.

“A lot of administrators are looking for across-the-board solutions, which are not going to help them achieve their mission-critical goals,” Thornton says. “Faculty needs to get in on these discussions. We also need to do our homework so we’re prepared to contribute in meaningful ways.”

Those interested can find the report at

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