Hey Washington Post! May we get a correction, please? Or even a source?

25 03 2012

I’ve been away for a few days, so although I skimmed this incredibly dishonest Washington Post op-ed by David C. Levy when it came out, I didn’t quite take in the enormous magnitude of its dishonesty until I got a chance to read it on a computer screen rather than my phone. Luckily, Robert Farley lays a well-deserved smackdown here, which is well worth your reading time.

Yet he is only refuting the premise of the piece, that faculty don’t work hard enough. I want to take on the assumption which that premise is built upon:

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.

If ever there was a figure in a newspaper article crying out for a footnote, this is it.

I happen to be senior faculty at a state university and I don’t make anywhere near the bottom of that spread. I also happen to know that most professors at my university in other fields (with the exception of business) make nowhere near the bottom of that spread because I had to survey those salaries in order to get an equity adjustment that brought me a little closer. As a matter of fact, I had to study salary data at all of our so-called “peer institutions” and nobody in history at any of those institutions make anywhere near that spread either. Indeed, our institution pays history professors right in the middle of the range of our peer institutions. The only reason I actually got an equity adjustment was that I was being out-earned by colleagues in my own department at a lower rank.*

So yes, I think the conclusion that we don’t work hard enough is absurd. [In fact, I think I’m going address that as part of a three-part series that’s currently bubbling around my brain for publication at this blog next week.] However, Levy’s argument isn’t just that we’re underworked. It’s that we’re underworked and overpaid, which is actually two lies in one.

Unlike hours tabulation, which is very hard to compute [If I’m reading a history book I happen to enjoy is it leisure or professional development?], there are collective salary figures out there arranged by discipline generated by the AAUP and other sources. Rather than cite any of those numbers, Levy gives us a single example Maryland’s Montgomery College, where the average full professor apparently makes $88,000/year. So where did the $150,000 come from? Yale? And what does the average instructor (faculty and adjuncts together) make at Montgomery College? Are the adjuncts there not working hard enough too?

If you read his piece closely, you’ll notice that like so many other people writing about higher education, Levy doesn’t acknowledge that adjunct faculty even exist because such an admission undercuts his so-called “argument.” Since they’ve been around as a class for four decades now, there actually are such people as “senior adjuncts.” Are they not faculty? Don’t they deserve to be paid as well as other trained professionals too?

In the end, this is all just another reason why we’re all in this together, since in an age of permanent austerity everyone’s salary and working conditions will ultimately converge.

* You’ve heard of salary compression? This is what they call salary inversion.



3 responses

25 03 2012

The glib generalization makes the print because it SEEMS so “true,” and because it fits our historical anti-intellectualism so well. Seems true, fits in with what we already “know” is true: ergo, MUST be true. I wonder if the Washington Post still employs fact-checkers, or if they, like all other unnecessary luxuries, have gone by the boards.
Good post!

26 03 2012
What can tenure-track faculty do about the adjunct problem?, Part 1: Don’t work so hard. « More or Less Bunk

[…] computer. I realize that this might seem to be a dangerous suggestion, particularly when there are lying liars in the Washington Post telling the public that professors don’t work hard enough. But […]

28 03 2012
What can tenure-track faculty do about the adjunct problem?, Part 2: Speak up, speak out. « More or Less Bunk

[…] feel like a schmuck bringing up David C. Levy again because he’s obviously stirring the pot on purpose. Nevertheless, this counterargument is […]

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