In the Jan. 6 editorial entitled “The Real Cost of Pay Raises,” The Michigan Daily articulated two goals: 1) Undergraduate education should be given greater weight in the University administration’s priorities, and 2) a University education should be affordable to working and middle class students. The Daily argued that faculty salary hikes are driving tuition fee increases that undercut affordability and concluded that faculty salaries should be frozen — for an unstated period of time — to help hold down University costs and tuition.

We endorse both these goals, as does the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) — the union of non-tenure faculty (i.e., lecturers) at the University. However, we strongly disagree with the recommended pay freeze that the Daily believes follows from these goals. We think a faculty pay freeze would undercut the editorial’s first goal, while doing little to achieve the second. We only have space to address the implications of a wage freeze for the first goal; however, on the second goal, our research shows that increased wages are not a significant driver in increased undergraduate tuition. (On our website, leounion.org, we provide support for this assertion).

A faculty salary freeze is incompatible with raising the priority of undergrad education in two ways. First, its negative impacts would fall disproportionately on lecturers, whose primary focus is undergraduate education. Second, it would strongly incentivize professors, who are already more focused on reseach, to put less time and effort into teaching.

On the first point, we must begin with an embarrassing fact: lecturers are paid much less than professors of all kinds. According to University figures, the median lecturer salary on the Ann Arbor campus in 2008-2009 was $44,505; it was $74,845 for new, untenured assistant professors and $131,625 for tenured, veteran full professors. A pay freeze applied to lecturers would lock in this inequality.

It’s important to understand why the pay gap is so large. It is often assumed that lecturers have lower qualifications, or less experience or are (somehow) worse teachers. None of these explanations are consistent with the facts. Most lecturers have the highest degree in their field. Their average age and years of teaching experience easily exceeds that of the assistant professors, whose median pay is $30,000 a year higher. And undergrad student evaluations — as examined by former LSA Dean Edie Goldenberg and former Associate Dean John Cross in their new book, “Off-Track Profs” — show higher evaluation scores and higher average examination scores (over 12 years) for lecturers than for professors in every department equivalent to the University’s LSA department they examined, for both upper and lower level classes.

No, the real “trouble” with lecturers is that, while many of us do research, the only thing we are paid to do is teach.

Even worse, from the standpoint of the prevailing norms, most of our teaching focuses on undergraduates. In LSA, lecturers account for about 36 percent of all faculty classroom contact time (aka student credit hours) with undergraduates (GSIs supply another 24 percent; professors the remaining 40 percent). For the “sin” of focusing our careers on teaching undergrads, we are paid much less per class, and are seen and treated as second-class by the University leadership which believes that research ought to be the University’s paramount value. Not all professors and administrators take this view, but it is currently the dominant tendency.

By freezing the salary inequalities that result from this distorted conception, the editorial’s pay freeze undermines their goal of raising the status of undergraduate education. But what would happen if a freeze were confined to professors, reducing the pay gap between lecturers and professors in that way? The result would be the opposite of the desired outcome: if denied reasonable raises, professors would devote more time to securing the research grants that supplement their University pay and increase their chances of getting a job offer elsewhere. Such an attention shift would then further exacerbate the disproportionate rewards professors get for doing research versus engaging in undergraduate teaching.

As long as undergraduate education is a second-order concern in the dominant culture of the University, lecturers will be second-class faculty. In this sense, the status and treatment of lecturers and undergraduates are inextricably intertwined. It is therefore in both groups’ interest to change this culture. This is no easy thing to do, but both groups hold vital resources. Undergrad tuition is now the single largest source of University revenues, and lecturers do almost as much undergraduate teaching as professors. LEO will soon begin bargaining with the administration over our next contract. We intend to use this process to promote a serious discussion of the place of undergraduate education in the priorities of the University. We look forward to debating with those who defend the current priorities and to working with our students to change them.

This viewpoint was written by Kirsten Herold and Ian Robinson on behalf of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization.

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