Publication Date

October 1, 1990

Perspectives Section


Post Type

Employment & Tenure

In studies published in late spring, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the College and University Personnel Association (CUPA) sharply disagree about the current status of faculty salaries. The former reports an increase in salaries overall for the second year in a row, while the latter finds a smaller increase in the growth rate for the second year. The AAUP data may be somewhat more reliable, since it is based on a more inclusive survey, encompassing 1,800 colleges and universities compared to the 738 that participated in the CUPA study. Moreover, AAUP also provides data adjusted for inflation, thus making it possible to assess more realistically the extent of salary gains. The AAUP survey, however, does not provide discipline-specific data, which the CUPA survey does and thus makes possible comparison of faculty salaries in history with those in related disciplines and in higher education overall. In short, while comparability between the two surveys is problematic, each provides useful insights into the economic status of academic employment.

According to the AAUP study, faculty salaries rose 6.1 percent in 1989–90 compared to a 5.8 percent increase the previous year. When the figures are adjusted for inflation (which rose faster in 1989–90), however, salaries increased by the same rate (1.1 percent) in each year. This constitutes the ninth straight year in which faculty salaries have increased in real dollars, following an eight-year period (1972–73 to 1980–81) during which average salary increases were less than the rate of inflation. Despite the gains of the 1980s, faculty salaries in real dollars remain below the levels of 1970–71, and AAUP predicts that it will be 1995–96 before that earlier level is again reached. The impact of these gains depends in part on your point of view: younger faculty who began their careers in the late 1970s and early 1980s have experienced consistent real improvement in salaries, but for their colleagues who have been teaching for the past twenty years, the gains of the 1980s have not yet made up for the losses of the 1970s. AAUP concludes that “it may take nearly a generation for some faculty, who began their careers in 1970, to obtain rewards in real dollars for their long service in academe.”

According to CUPA’s surveys of private and state colleges and universities, faculty salaries overall increased by an average of 4.1 percent, down from the 5 percent reported in 1988-89 and the 7.1 percent in 1987–88. Thus while CUPA, like AAUP, reports evidence of continued salary growth, its findings are less favorable, indicating diminishing, not increasing, gains. That pattern holds true for history faculty as well, for CUPA finds that average salaries in the discipline increased by only 4.1 percent in 1989–90, compared to 5.2 percent the previous year and 6.2 percent in 1987–88. Nevertheless, as Table 1 indicates, the average salary for history faculty remains above that for faculty overall. In private institutions, the difference is 3.1 percent; in public institutions, 4.9 percent. This means that historians on the average earn more than faculty in, for example, education, foreign languages, mathematics, philosophy and religion, psychology, and sociology. Note that, while history faculty on the average earn more than their colleagues overall, at virtually every rank salaries for historians average less than that for all fields. This apparent discrepancy is explained by the larger portion of history faculty holding higher rank, thus pulling the average up. See Table 2 for a breakdown of faculty by rank. According to CUPA, at private institutions, only area and ethnic studies and the physical sciences have a larger proportion of tenured faculty; at public institutions, only geology and higher education administration have more tenured faculty.

Note also, however, that the largest salary increases for history faculty at both private and public colleges and universities were at the new assistant professor level, where a somewhat more competitive job market appears to be pushing salary levels up at a faster rate. This does not hold true for all fields. At public institutions, the average salary for new assistant professors actually dropped by 10 percent in 1989–90, the only decrease reported by CUPA since it began collecting data in 1982–83. On the other hand, starting salaries in history lag behind that of sociology, for example, despite the fact that average salaries in history otherwise are higher.

The CUPA survey also provides evidence of the impact of collective bargaining on faculty salaries. Of the public institutions surveyed, 34 percent have collective bargaining agreements. According to the CUPA data, faculty at those institutions earn significantly more than their colleagues elsewhere. Overall, faculty at collective bargaining institutions earn 16 percent more; history faculty at those institutions average 20 percent more than their counterparts elsewhere, earning $45,226 compared to $38,010. Indeed the gains at institutions with collective bargaining contracts account for most of the increase at public institutions overall.

The CUPA survey does not, however, address gender differences. The AAUP study does, but not by discipline. Looking at salaries overall, AAUP finds that men earn on the average 7 to 13 percent more than women, depending upon rank, a difference that cannot be fully explained by age differences. The only discipline-specific data currently available that contains a breakdown by gender is that published in Humanities Doctorates in the United States (Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1989), which unfortunately only includes up through 1987. As reported in the May/June 1989 Perspectives, that study revealed that the largest gender gap in income in the humanities is in United States history, where the mean annual salary (12 months) for males is $45,400 compared to $34,600 for females, a difference of $8,800. The gap for other historians is $4,500, smaller but still troubling. Tenure status probably plays a significant role, since 73.2 percent of male historians hold tenured positions compared to only 50.6 percent of female historians. But the salary differential remains even when we compare individuals with comparable seniority: the average annual income for male historians 21 to 30 years after receipt of the Ph.D. is $54,000, but female historians with the same years of experience have an average annual income of only $45,900, or 84.4 percent of that of their male colleagues. Although gender differences may no longer be a factor in entry-level salaries, disturbing inequities persist elsewhere in the salary structure.

For more information, consult “The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 1989–1990,” Academe (AAUP), March–April 1990; and 1989–90 National Faculty Salary Survey by Discipline and Rank (Washington, DC: CUPA 1990), v. 1, Private Colleges and Universities, and v. 2, State Colleges and Universities. Special studies and tabulations can be purchased through both sponsoring organizations. Contact the AAUP, 1012 14th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20005, (202) 737-5900; and CUPA, 1233 20th Street, NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 429-0311.