Entry-level salaries for tenure-track professors in different disciplines at CSUN vary by as much as $30,000, the 2005-2006 salary report suggests, a trend that reflects market forces largely outside of the university’s control. Accounting, business, economics and mechanical engineering are among the highest paying disciplines, whereas faculty in the humanities and ethnic studies programs are among the lowest paid.
“What are rewarded are scarce skills,” said Shirley Svorny, professor and chair of the economics department. “(Being a professor) is not something you do because you are seriously materialistic.”
In accordance with job market forces of supply and demand, the wage-value of a Ph.D. is determined by its scarcity. At CSUN, tenure-track accounting professors, a scarce group, are paid between $83,500 and $126,000 per year, whereas English tenure-track professors, who are plentiful in numbers, get paid between $52,500 and $91,400 yearly. Tenure-track faculty are assistant, associate and tenure professors, which are hired in full-time positions.
“I never took this job for the money in the first place. There are other reasons to work here,” said Cheryl Spector, an English professor who has been working at CSUN for 20 years. “Worth and value are problematic terms because there is not an exact correlation between the work that you do and how you are rewarded.”
For reasons that are obvious in a capitalist market economy, educated number crunchers or sophisticated business managers are more valued than French literature professors or ethnic studies scholars.
Differences in salaries between and within departments are both legal and legitimate as long as they are objectively determined, said Carol Docan, a CSUN business law professor. In addition to market forces, factors that determine entry-level salaries are educational background, including where the degree was obtained, published scholarship and work experience. Factors that are illegal to consider when determining wages are gender, race, religious beliefs, nation of origin, sexual preferences, marital or family status, medical conditions and age. Most experts would agree, however, that these factors often continue to be the basis for discrimination in hiring.
The California Faculty Association has taken issue with the California State University system in regards to the salary system, which they perceive as unfair because it does not reward faculty with wage increases. Another issue brought up by the CFA in recent and ongoing negotiations with the CSU administration is salary compression and inversion. Salary compression is when junior faculty is bumped up to the same wage bracket as more senior faculty, discounting the latter’s entitlement to a higher wage based on more years at the job. Salary inversion is when newly hired professors start at entry-level salaries higher than that of senior faculty of the same rank.
Salary compression and inversion are terms used to describe different effects of a salary system that is designed to give tenure-track faculty a raise periodically, with each transition from assistant to associate to tenured professors.
“The (CSU) salary system is broken and the evidence is the extensive compression and inversion problems that we see across the systems,” said James Ballard, associate professor of sociology and president of CSUN’s CFA chapter. “CSU is not interested in dealing with inversion.”
The CFA is working toward collective salary increases for faculty, which they argue are needed to meet rising cost of living and to adjust for a rising level of inflation. The effects of salary inversion and stagnated faculty salaries are twofold. It affects the university’s ability to keep good employees and it demoralizes faculty, Ballard said.
“The bottom line is that there are faculty that can’t pay their bills so they leave,” said Ballard, who pointed out that CSUN have lost faculty due to insufficient wages.
“Having people leave is not a sign of a broken system,” Svorny said. “(CSUN) should be hiring people who are great and have the option to leave.”
“I agree with the CFA that (salary compression and inversion) is a problem,” said Harry Hellenbrand, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs. “But then we all must agree that capitalism and not CSUN is the root cause.”
Staying competitive with private educational institutions, which usually offer faculty higher salaries, remains a challenge for universities in the CSU system. However, the CSU system, the nation’s largest public university system with more than 450,000 students on 23 campuses, is a fairly stable institution that offers faculty better job security than in the private sector. Other perks offered by the CSU are beneficial pension savings and health benefits, which are both valuable aspects of employment that professors take into account when choosing between the private and the public sector.
“CSU is cannibalizing itself by failing to have a rational salary system,” Ballard said. “We believe they should offer decent wages that support a middle-class lifestyle.”
“We try to advance the salaries of people, especially junior faculty who have been significantly leapfrogged over by more recent hires,” Hellenbrand said. “Over the past year, we have upped the salaries of nearly 90 faculty, for a total of $370,000. This means we will hire six fewer people (because) this money has to come from somewhere.”
The CFA argues that compression, inversion and the absence of raises or prospects thereof demoralizes faculty because there is a lack of incentives to work harder and further the quality of the education programs.
“Everybody is unhappy and (wants) change, except those who are paid top dollars,” Spector said. “(There are) systematic inequalities because there is not enough money to move everybody up.”
“A lot of faculty are demoralized,” said Svorny, who according to the salary report makes almost $40,000 more per year than Spector. “They feel entitled to things and if that is how you look at the world, you will be demoralized.”