Wed 10 Dec 2008
The topic of faculty compensation at Williams comes up often enough that I wanted to summarize the facts. The gold standard for this data is the annual survey by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Here is the latest survey, for the 2007-2008 academic year. Here is a news report. Look at this large pdf for the underlying data for Williams (page 52) and hundreds of other schools. For Williams we have:
Number Salary Benefits Total Compensation Full Professors 134 $126,400 $37,100 $163,500 Associate 37 $90,300 $28,000 $118,300 Assistant 80 $73,100 $23,500 $96,600 All Ranks 251 $104,100 $31,400 $135,500
1) See here for details on the definitions. I calculate the benefit column by subtracting salary from total compensation. Professors who are perplexed about what is included in the $31,400 in average benefits should note that:
Benefit amounts tabulated here represent the institution (or state) contribution on behalf of the individual faculty member; the amount does not include the employee contribution. The major benefits include (a) retirement contribution, regardless of the plan’s vesting provision; (b) medical insurance; (c) disability income protection; (d) tuition for faculty dependents (both waivers and remissions are included); (e) dental insurance; (f) social security (FICA); (g) unemployment insurance; (h) group life insurance; (i) workers’ compensation premiums; and (j) other benefits in kind with cash alternatives (for the most part, these include benefits such as moving expenses, housing, cafeteria plans or cash options to certain benefits, bonuses, and the like).
The report notes that total compensation “represents salary plus institutional contribution to benefits. It is best viewed as an approximate “cost” figure for the institution, rather than an amount received by the faculty member.”
2) These numbers are averages. Not every assistant professor at Williams makes exactly $73,100 in salary. First, seniority matters. Fifth-year assistant professors make more than fourth-year assistant professors. Second, some modifications are made for specific fields. From 2000:
While Williams has a more tightly compressed salary structure, there is some variance. Professors’ salaries are mainly based upon experience and judgments of merit.
Particular fields, such as economics and computer science, also get a premium over other departments to compensate for the more favorable market conditions.
Jon Bakija, assistant professor of economics, believes part of the reason so many people are leaving the economics department is because the salary is lower than what economists could get elsewhere. In order to come to Williams, he turned down several offers, each paying much more. “I’m kind of an exception being willing to take a much lower salary to come here,” he said.
The fact that Williams did offer a higher salary than most liberal arts schools eased the choice somewhat. He said, “I think the choice would have been harder if it was between a big state university and a liberal arts college that paid a lot less.” He said the higher salaries were necessary, “or else they’re not going to have an economics department or a computer science department.”
Although that article is from 2000, I believe that economists and computer scientists continue to command a premium. Anyway, the average starting salary for assistant professors at Williams is probably around $65,000.
3) It would be interesting to know more about the time series of faculty compensation. The Record reported the following salaries for the 1999-2000 school year: professor ($93,700), associate ($65,100) and assistant ($53,000). Could average salaries for full professors really have increased by $32,700 (35%) in the last decade? Sure. Never forget that senior professors run Williams. They disagree on many things, but not about the fact that they are underpaid. Amherst shows a similar increase. When the College discovered that female coaches were paid less than male coaches or female professors less than male professors, it did not lower male salaries. Williams raised female salaries. During the great bull market, the salary ratchet only went up. Those looking for a long time series should note that Williams paid $700 per year in 1835.
4) Useful back ground reading here. Much of the details of compensation are intertwined with institutional history. Without knowledge of that history, you can never understand the full picture. Consider:
There are four rules now  governing faculty salaries, according to Cappy Hill, provost. First, the average salary of a full professor at the College must be equal to or exceed the mean of the average full professor salaries at a group of six comparison schools. In addition, the professors’ salaries must rise from year to year at least as fast as inflation. The base starting salary for an assistant professor must also be at least as great in real dollars as it was in 1979. The last rule is that assistant professors must earn at least 57 percent of what a new full professor earns.
These guidelines were approved by the Faculty Compensation Committee in 1979. “These proposals came at the end of the 1970s, when real professor salaries took a real hit at Williams and elsewhere,” Hill said. “The objective of the guidelines was to help insure that real faculty salaries didn’t decline further and that we paid our faculty at rates that were competitive with “comparable institutions.”
Nice! If every elite school tries to ensure that its professors are paid the same or more than the overall average, then each year the bottom half of schools will raise their salaries (and by more than inflation). Then, the next year, a different set of schools will be at the bottom, they will raise salaries, and on and on we go. Setting a minimum price rise at the rate of inflation is wonderful as well. How many of our readers in the private sector have that deal?
5) The Faculty Handbook on salaries.
In April the President recommends salaries for individual faculty members to the Board of Trustees. Salary recommendations are based on the College’s goals of 1) recruiting and retaining an excellent faculty, 2) recognizing exceptional merit, and 3) maintaining equity in salaries both within and between different faculty cohorts. The criteria on which merit recommendations are based are the same as those used in determining reappointment and promotion: teaching effectiveness, scholarly activity, and contribution to the operation of the College in such areas as committee work, advising, and departmental duties.
Because the College attempts to make clear to Assistant Professors its evaluation of their work through annual feedback based on Department reports to the CAP, Assistant Professors may receive equity salary adjustments, but do not ordinarily receive merit adjustments.
Salaries for the following academic year are communicated by letter each May to continuing members of the faculty. Non-tenured members of the faculty should feel free to discuss their salary situation with either their department chair or the Dean of the Faculty; tenured faculty should see the Dean of the Faculty.
I don’t know if the proposed changes from 2004 were ever implemented.
Summary: The AAUP provides fairly comprehensive data on faculty compensation at Williams. Unsurprisingly, Williams pays its professors well, above the 95th percentile for all Baccalaureate institutions and similar to its peer group of elite liberal arts colleges. Harvard et al pay much more, but very, very few Williams professors could get a similar job at an elite research university.
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