Inflation forces record drop in real-terms pay on US academics

In bleak assessment, AAUP finds full-time wages up 2 per cent, but down 5 per cent after inflation, falling below recession levels

June 22, 2022
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Average salaries for full-time US faculty members increased 2 per cent in the just-concluded academic year, amounting to a 5 per cent drop after inflation, the nation’s major annual survey has found.

The loss in the face of spiking inflation rates represents the largest single-year decrease ever recorded by the American Association of University Professors since the AAUP began tracking salaries in 1972.

The AAUP offered the salary data in its Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, which the faculty association – with chapters on more than 500 campuses – paints in overwhelmingly dark terms.

Along with the data on falling wages, the AAUP describes “continued gender pay inequality, appallingly low pay for adjunct faculty members, erosion of the financial structures that support higher education, rising threats to academic freedom and shared governance, and continued uncertainty about the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Collectively,” the AAUP says, “these data sources paint a bleak economic picture of the profession.”

The AAUP raises particular alarm over the expanding “proliferation of contingent faculty appointments in US colleges and universities” with low pay and tenuous employment conditions.

More than three-fifths of US faculty had contingent appointments in autumn 2020, after a three-fold increase since 2004 in the practice of four-year institutions replacing tenured instructors with fixed-term positions, it says.

Among institutions providing data, the AAUP says, adjunct faculty members received an average of $3,843 (£3,131) per three-credit course section in 2020-21, up 8 per cent from 2019-20. The association cautions, however, that the data is very limited, reflecting an overall problem in assessing the conditions facing college instructors.

“Full transparency by all institutions – both public and private – is critical,” it says. “Faculty employment data must be made publicly available on an annual basis, not just collected from time to time by individual researchers or limited to variables readily accessible in campus payroll systems.”

The AAUP says that some institutions “reported substantially higher average salaries this year”, but more often due to job losses among lower-paid staff than actual pay increases.

Female full-time faculty were paid an average of $92,787 in the 2021-22 academic year, nearly 82 per cent of the $113,331 paid to men, in a wage gap similar to that of the wider US society, the AAUP says.

Overall, those inflation-adjusted wages for full-time faculty are more than 2 per cent below the average of 2008, during the Great Recession, it says.

The percentage of full-time faculty members with tenure did increase 1 percentage point last year among institutions with a tenure system, from 52 per cent in autumn 2019 to 53 per cent in autumn 2020, ending years of decline, the AAUP says.

But that percentage increase came despite no net growth in tenured faculty, as thousands of other instructors – faculty in contingent positions or those awaiting tenure – lost their jobs or quit, it says.

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Reader's comments (1)

Better not mention UK academics who are paid much less.