Faculty salaries differ across disciplines

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

An analysis of the salaries of over 2,000 professors, lecturers and staff at the College of William and Mary revealed a pattern that continues pay tendencies of years past. Professional experience is a factor, but it is not the only one. Among arts and sciences employees, professors of certain academic disciplines earn more than others, and, as a whole, the College has lower average pay than other public research universities.

In October 2017, the Richmond Times-Dispatch released its report on public employee salaries for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which includes data for 2,240 employees of the College. In addition to academic faculty, the report also contains employment data for part-time assistant positions as well as custodial and secretarial staff. The report divides salaries at the College into seven distinct brackets. Only four professors earn salaries in the lowest two brackets, which correspond to yearly earnings of less than $50,000. Meanwhile, almost a third of the College’s total employment falls into this category, with 899 out of 2,240 staff members receiving compensation below $50,000.

Departmental differences

College President Taylor Reveley receives the College’s highest salary. He earned $550,000 in gross pay for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Other administrative officials, including Provost Michael Halleran and Marshall-Wythe School of Law Dean Davison Douglas, earn salaries of $428,000 and $332,000, respectively. A significant portion of professors, especially ones designated as eminent scholars, earn yearly salaries upwards of $100,000. Since eminent scholars tend to have contributed greatly to their field of study, the report suggests that seniority plays an important role in salary determination.

The College’s average pay is approximately $72,000. According to the report, faculty members earning salaries within $100 of this average pay level are professional lecturers, assistant professors and information technology specialists. The median pay for all of the College’s employees is several thousand dollars lower at $58,000, which corresponds to the wage earned by an employee in the university’s technology services department; the difference between average and median pay is above $10,000, indicating that the salaries earned by employees in the College’s highest income bracket may have inflated the average pay and caused it to drift from the median.

The report shows that differences in compensation persist across departments. Professors in the College’s graduate programs, receive higher salaries than their counterparts in other subjects. Over two-thirds of the 32 non-administrative professors with salaries at or exceeding $200,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year worked in either the Marshall-Wythe School of Law or for the Raymond A. Mason School of Business; only a handful of professors from undergraduate disciplines met this threshold. Undergraduate professors earning salaries above $200,000 include Charles Johnson in mathematics, Tracy Cross in the School of Education, Melvin Ely in history and Don Campbell in economics.

Elizabeth Radcliffe, who chairs the College’s undergraduate philosophy department, said she views the existence of differentiated pay levels as essential for the College’s success. While she said she recognized the importance of all disciplines to an immersive liberal arts education, she did not dispute the need for higher salary-based incentivization for professors in more competitive fields.

“The reality is that, in some disciplines — for instance, the natural sciences, computer science, and business — there are alternative careers outside of academia that can pay more,” Radcliffe said in an email. “So, the competition keeps salaries higher in these areas than in arts and humanities. It’s like this at all universities. So, differential pay is justified by demand, but it does not necessarily reflect the value of a discipline to the William & Mary students.”

“The reality is that, in some disciplines — for instance, the natural sciences, computer science, and business — there are alternative careers outside of academia that can pay more,” Radcliffe said in an email. “So, the competition keeps salaries higher in these areas than in arts and humanities. It’s like this at all universities. So, differential pay is justified by demand, but it does not necessarily reflect the value of a discipline to the William & Mary students.”

This is a common sentiment, and professors from multiple departments acknowledge the College’s justification for offering various pay levels to its faculty.

But while members of the College’s faculty see the administration’s economic prioritization of certain disciplines as logical, some departments have struggled to hire new faculty because of relatively low salary offerings. Economics professors, for example, are among the College’s best-paid faculty members in the arts and sciences. All 11 individuals listed as professors of economics on the department’s faculty directory earned salaries in the 90th percentile compared to staff members of the College as a whole. Despite the fact that the lowest salary for an accredited economics professor at the College is approximately $132,000, Berhanu Abegaz, chair of the economics department, stated that even his department has trouble attracting prospective professors due to the College’s relatively low compensation standards.

“Economics is probably the highest paid in Arts & Sciences but we still have a hard time hiring in some fields — we just had four of our offers declined in part due to salaries (but also for personal reasons or the small size of the ‘burg),” Abegaz said in an email.

Across the Commonwealth

Outside of Williamsburg, the report also contains employment data for other public universities in Virginia, including nearby Christopher Newport University in Newport News and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In spite of the College’s close academic and athletic relationship with UVA, the report shows that on average, faculty members at UVA earned higher salaries than those at the College for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The median salary at UVA is approximately $63,000 and the university’s average salary is slightly above $81,000 per year.

However, the disparity in salaries between faculty at UVA and at the College is not a cause for concern, Halleran said. Higher salaries at UVA are the result of higher research activity and do not necessarily indicate a higher quality of undergraduate education.

“UVA’s salaries are on average higher than W&M’s,” Halleran said in an email. “[This is because] it is categorized as a ‘doctoral university — highest research activity,’ while W&M is a ‘doctoral university — higher research activity,’ the difference obviously reflecting the amount of research conducted at the institutions,” Halleran said in an email.

Furthermore, College officials maintain their commitment toward increasing salaries for faculty and staff over time. College spokesperson Suzanne Seurattan said that the university has made great strides in meeting statewide benchmarks for salary raises, and that the gap between the College and other collegiate salaries across the nation is dwindling.

“[The College is] working toward its and SCHEV’s (State Council of Higher Education) stated goal of having faculty salaries at the 60th percentile (to national peers),” Seurattan said in an email.

“[The College is] working toward its and SCHEV’s (State Council of Higher Education) stated goal of having faculty salaries at the 60th percentile (to national peers),” Seurattan said in an email.

In an effort to promote transparency, the Richmond Times-Dispatch publishes the salaries of employees at public universities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia on a yearly basis. The newspaper’s report, which also publishes information about various other state-run institutions, contains the names, salaries, and official occupational titles of thousands of Virginia employees. Counted among these public employees are those at the College, whose salaries are publicly accessible. The Richmond Times-Dispatch report can be accessed at data.richmond.com/salaries/2016/state/college-of-william-mary.