Publication Date

November 1, 1988

Perspectives Section


Post Type

Employment & Tenure

According to a study conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the rate of growth in 1987–88 for faculty salaries was the slowest in six years. When adjusted for inflation, the growth rate was only .9 percent, in contrast to the previous year’s 3.9 percent, which constituted the largest real salary increase since the 1970–71 base year. The slower growth reflects both a lower average unadjusted rate of 4.9 percent (down 1 percent from 1986–87) and a substantial rise in the rate of inflation (cost of living index) from 2 percent to 4 percent. This marks the third consecutive year that the increase in average salary before inflation has been less than the previous year. If this trend continues while the cost of living index rises, faculty may face in the 1990s the prospect of real salary increases falling below the rate of inflation.

Another study, by the College and University Personnel Association (CUPA), looks less gloomy. Indeed, CUPA’s 1987–88 National Faculty Survey, which is based on a smaller and less inclusive sample of institutions, reports a somewhat higher level of growth—higher than AAUP has reported and an improvement over the modest levels CUPA found in 1986–87. According to CUPA, the salaries of history faculty increased an average of 6.2 percent in 1987–88, and faculty overall fared even better, earning an average increase of 7.1 percent. Despite the slightly slower rate of growth in history salaries and the fact that the discipline is not a “hot field,” the average salary of history faculty remains above the average for all disciplines. In private institutions, the difference is a modest 1.1 percent, but historians in public institutions earn on the average 6.5 percent more than the faculty as a whole. The favorable position of historians contrasts with lower-than-average salaries in, for example, communications, fine arts, foreign languages, library and archival sciences, mathematics, and social sciences at public and private institutions and education, philosophy and religion, psychology, and sociology at private institutions only.

When this data is studied by rank, what is striking is the percentage increase for new assistant professors and instructors in history. Salaries for these new faculty appointments rose at a higher rate than the salaries for those in all fields at comparable rank. The only other rank at which this occurred was for full professors at public institutions. This increase is most striking in private institutions, where history instructors’ salaries rose by 13.2 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for all fields. To some extent this is a matter of catching up—in 1986–87 the increase for history was only .1 percent (compared to 2.7 percent overall)—but it may also reflect the changing academic market. As “Washington Notes” reported last month, the number of ads in the EIB in September was up 42.8 percent, and that increased demand may help explain the rise in salaries for new faculty appointments.

The data in the CUPA study comes from 747 colleges and universities. In addition to providing salary statistics by discipline and rank, CUPA will upon request also compile more detailed salary information for a smaller batch of institutions. The AAUP survey is based on responses from 1,967 institutions, covering almost 350,000 full-time faculty. The survey does not address differences between disciplines but provides data by institution and rank. For more information, consult 1987-88 National Faculty Survey (Washington, DC: CUPA, 1988), v. 1 Private Colleges and Universities v. 2 Public Colleges and Universities: and “The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession 1987–88,” Academe (AAUP), March–April, 1988.