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Report Reveals Biggest Decrease in Real Wages for Full-Time Faculty


Pexels Pixabay 207691The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released its 2021-22 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, which details findings from the AAUP’s annual Faculty Compensation Survey. One of the report's biggest takeaways is that real wages for full-time faculty in 2021 fell below Great Recession levels of the late 2000s, after adjusting for inflation.

“That is really serious,” said Glenn Colby, a senior researcher at AAUP and the report's author. “And that is just about wages. Then there is employment. Contingent faculty were hammered by the pandemic, especially part-time faculty. In the first year of COVID-19, over 40,000 part-time contingent faculty were no longer employed. That is a drop of about 9%. So, those people don’t even have jobs anymore, regardless of what those jobs now pay.”

The AAUP is a nonprofit research and membership organization of professors and academic professionals. This latest report’s primary data source is AAUP’s 2021-22 Faculty Compensation Survey, a national survey that collected employment data from more than 900 U.S. colleges and universities for over 370,000 full-time and 90,000 part-time faculty. The survey also included data on senior administrators at more than 500 institutions. Data collection for the survey ended in March 2022.

Dr. Adrianna Kezar, the Dean’s Professor of Leadership, Wilber-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, and director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California (USC), echoed Colby’s point about how the pandemic in the past two years has been impacting faculty across the board.

“One key issue is that faculty really bore the brunt of cutbacks during the pandemic,” wrote Kezar in an email to Diverse. “Adjuncts were laid off en masse—one of the main professions where there were massive layoffs. And, in addition, full-time faculty with contractual protections had no pay increases, often pay decreases, and often their benefits, such as retirement savings, were suspended. This happened as administrators at many campuses took pay raises and bonuses.”

The report noted that the average pay for adjunct faculty to teach a course section in 2020-21 ranged from $2,979 in public associate’s institutions without ranks to $5,557 in public doctoral institutions. Yet the median salaries for college and university presidents in 2021-22 ranged from slightly over $242,000 at public associate’s institutions to $775,000 at private-independent doctoral universities.

“We should not lose track of the way faculty had historical salary losses during the pandemic when many other groups on campus did not,” added Kezar.

In addition, the report pointed out that in fall 2020, about three in five, or 61.5%, of faculty were on contingent appointments, so they had fewer job protections. Contingent faculty refer to faculty who are not tenured or tenure-track. This faculty cohort includes part-time, or adjunct, and full-time faculty. Contingent faculty are also more likely to be women and people of color. 

“I think the report highlights that we continue to face twin challenges that are very interrelated: the lack of overall investment in higher education and the increased dependence on a precarious contingent labor force,” said Dr. Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. “I also really noticed how poor the data is on adjunct faculty. It suggests that the universities are kind of getting away with relying on precarious faculty appointments while obfuscating and barely acknowledging them.”

In this year’s annual AAUP report, only 39.1% of responding higher education institutions were able to provide data on part-time adjunct faculty members paid on a per-course-section basis. The report called for more comprehensive and reliable data on faculty employment, salary, fringe benefits, and working conditions for all faculty members—not only full-time faculty.

"We need more data on contingent faculty," said Colby of AAUP. "We need to know how much part-time faculty are being paid. And we need to know salary and employment figures by race and ethnicity, not just gender. That is why we do this survey: we want this information to be readily available to all involved so that people can make appropriate adjustments."

Increased pushes for faculty unionization could bolster pay transparency as well, noted William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professionals, which is housed at the City University of New York’s Hunter College.

“When faculty unionize, the process of collective bargaining results in understanding differences in salaries and benefits between faculty so that researchers don’t have to hunt for all that info,” he said. “And one of the trends the report identifies suggests that there will be a continued demand for unionization from faculty, both tenure-track and not. Because then they could have a contract to set salaries and benefits, improving their situations.”

Givan stressed that strengthening the working conditions of all faculty, particularly often-overlooked contingent faculty, would benefit higher education overall—and not doing so does the opposite. 

“We need to be really clear-eyed that the dependence on contingent labor is bad for everybody in and around higher education," she said. "It’s bad for students when their faculty are struggling. And it’s bad for the advancement of knowledge when people are not also employed to do research. So, it’s not only about the really horrendous exploitation of labor, although it is definitely also about that. It’s to the detriment of all of higher education.”

Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected].

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