Cost-of-living expenses play into faculty salaries

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Competing surveys from two organizations disagree about whether CSUN professors are paid at least the national average, and some faculty members continue to contend that they are getting the short end of the stick.

Assistant professors at CSUN average slightly higher salaries in comparison to the national average, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors. These averages, however, may not be an accurate reflection of the entire faculty when other factors affecting CSUN faculty are taken into account.

The AAUP’s annual survey, released each spring, compares faculty salaries between public and private universities.

According to the national survey, conducted in March and April of this year, the average salary for an assistant professor, at both private and public universities, was $54,571.

According to Aimee Shreck, research specialist for the California Faculty Association, the salary averages do not factor in the cost of living or discipline gaps.

“Many of these professors can’t pay off their student loans, or buy a house,” said James David Ballard, president of the CSUN chapter of the CFA and sociology professor. “The cost of living between here and Omaha doesn’t mean the same thing.”

In addition, these averages compare universities like CSUN with other universities that may not be considered a similar institution, such as UCLA.

The California Postsecondary Education Commission conducts a study each year comparing salary levels with comparable institutions throughout the nation.

“CSUN is about 20 percent behind the CPEC for senior faculty and 12 percent behind for the junior faculty in terms of salary levels with institutions comparable to CSUN,” Ballard said. “The CFA is trying to bargain in an effort to close the CPEC gap to have our faculty paid similarly to that of a like institution.”

According to a 2004 survey by CSUN Faculty Affairs, the average salary for an assistant professor was $57,010. Individually, however, each breakdown by discipline produced different numbers.

For example, according to the CSUN survey the highest average salary for newly hired assistant professors by discipline was business/management, averaging $75,995, while professors in the arts averaged just $52,671.

“Really, it is market demand, competing offers, and other professional possibilities, which together drive up costs in some disciplines,” wrote Harold Hellenbrand, CSUN provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, in an e-mail.

Hellenbrand explained that some fields at CSUN, such as those in business, have spiked in the past few years, while salaries for professors in the computer science and engineering fields have come down.

In an effort to address one of the most important faculty salary issues facing the university, school officials recently approved an allocation of $200,000 to address situations where an assistant professor hired after an associate professor makes more than the associate because of the hiring date and market conditions. The funds will be used to balance out some of that pay discrepancy.

According to assistant political science professor Alexandra Cole, the average salary for assistant professors was $55,788 in 2004.

Furthermore, the salary average for newly hired assistant professors was $56,566. Cole pointed out that in comparison to those averages, she made less than an assistant professor in the Sociology Department.

“A number of faculties on campus, including myself, are significantly underpaid given market conditions,” she wrote. “This is an issue that the university, administration, the trustees of the CSU, the governor, and the faculty union are all well aware of. One can only hope that those (people) will do the right thing and fairly compensate those who are charged with educating students.”

As a result of these discrepancies, the university has re-focused its attention on closing these gaps due to the cost of living, particularly in the San Fernando Valley’s ever-increasing housing market.

According to the CPEC study, many faculty members in the CSU have failed to receive any cost-of-living salary increases in the past two years.

“CSUN ranks, roughly, in the middle compared to other universities in the system,” said Scott Appelrouth, professor in the Sociology Department. “However, the cost of living is significantly higher for those teaching at CSUN compared to those teaching in most other regions of the state.”

The university has made steps in addressing both the faculty and staff affordable housing and faculty recruitment issues. New faculty and staff housing will be constructed in several phases on North Campus near Lassen Street. Additionally, CSUN President Jolene Koester announced in her August convocation speech that the university would allocate $1 million to faculty recruitment in 2006-07.

Renee Hassija can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.