McQuade: Professor payment a priority

Temple must eschew national trends and avoid overpaying its president.

Four public and many private university presidents individually earned more than $1 million in the last year. This news brings an obvious corollary into perspective: the declining salary of professors.

According to a 2013 report by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones, presidents at public universities are now making triple the average amount of professors, at private universities the rate is quadruple.

How could the administrator of an institution whose main objective is to educate the leaders of tomorrow take in hundreds of thousands of dollars while the ones doing the actual teaching, the professors, are making, on average, three to four times less than these presidents? This national trend seems to be taking off with no signs of stopping.

In 2011-2012 fiscal year, former Penn State President Graham Spanier was the highest paid university president at nearly $3 million. On the other hand, the average salary of a professor there was a miniscule $132,100, nearly 22 times less than the president of the college.

“That’s the way the system goes,” a Temple professor who wished to remain anonymous said in response to these numbers.

“What’s worrisome is that you have so many hardworking people on the ground, putting hours into papers and seeing students,” the professor said. “They should be compensated and encouraged to stick to a high level of performance. And that doesn’t require a lot of money.”

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Temple paid its professors, on average, a salary of $134,000 per year, the 29th highest salary among American public universities. This results in a salary that is in the Top 6 percent out of all publically funded schools.

Similarly, Temple’s soon-to-be-inaugurated president, Neil Theobald, is paid a base salary of $450,000 per year, considerably less than former president Ann Weaver Hart, who earned a base salary of $570,000.

Yet even this $134,000 professor salary is skewed.

Upon further speculation, one must note that the salaries included all faculty salaries, including all professors employed by the faculty except from a college’s medical school. This turns a simple question into a search for Noah’s Ark.

It’s quite evident that many of the statistics pertaining to  professor salaries rely on the entire faculty employed by the university, with tenured professors and professional school professors highly inflating these numbers.

And it’s these sorts of statistics that contribute to another debate: Are professors paid enough?

With an increasing number of professors now holding doctorate degrees, the amount of debt that some professors possess is staggering. On top of earning an undergraduate degree, there’s the master’s and finally the coveted doctorate, with associated levels of debt often totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. On top of this, many professors don’t begin teaching until they are at least 30 years old.

Combine the late job entry, the amount of debt and the pressure to write publications and you have entered into the mindset of a new professor.

The current college salary paradigm is one that is undoubtedly flawed. Some adjunct professors and graduate assistants do not even receive benefits such as basic health insurance.

Not only do Temple’s professors often wait for students during office hours until they come and ask for help, but they also have a major influence over students’ thinking. They can be the ones who spark a change, cause kids to take pride in their work or point out the not-so-obvious.

“If I tell a first-generation college kid, ‘You’re really good at this, you should really think about an Ivy League program,’ and they say, ‘I’m not really Ivy League material,’ I say, ‘Of course you are. I’ve seen people like you,’” the professor said. “That does more for their life than all the edifice of the administration. The administration, by bringing good teachers in to teach, helps that out, but not if those teachers are stressed out about job security.”

A slight increase in professor salaries could provide a sense of security in a precarious economy and ultimately, a sense of permanency in the face of their temporary stay at the school, resulting in a focus on the present and on the students. This could go a long way in increasing a school’s integrity and providing the school with more professors that are engaged, involved and see themselves as part of the school community.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at

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