Publication Date

November 1, 1992

Contrary to what might be expected given the continuing recession and reports of paralyzing budget cuts in higher education, faculty salaries actually grew in 1991–92 at a higher level than in 1990–91, according to studies released earlier this year by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the College and University Personnel Association (CUPA). While campuses are feeling the impact of the nation's current economic problems, the damage is less than might have been expected. AAUP reports that the average salary of faculty, even when adjusted for inflation, rose in 1991–92, albeit by only 0.4 percent. Although CUPA reports a slower rate of growth for faculty salaries overall than it found in 1990–91, its discipline-specific data indicates an increase in the rate of growth for history faculty salaries, the first such increase since 1987–88.

Based on a survey of 2,074 institutions, the AAUP study reports that the average salary level for all faculty increased by 3.5 percent in 1991–92, compared to 5.4 percent in 1990–91. Although that appears to indicate a decline in the rate of growth, faculty salaries, when adjusted for inflation, actually increased more in 1991–92 than in the previous year. Rising inflation in 1990–91 exceeded the nominal unadjusted gain reported, leaving the average faculty salary at 0.7 percent lower in real dollars. That constituted the first decline in real salary levels since 1980–81, when the downward spiral of the 1970s ended. In 1991–92, however, inflation slowed to such a point that even the lower nominal growth rate—the lowest in twenty years—translated into real growth of 0.4 percent. While the latter is meager, it does mean that faculty overall did not lose real income and indeed managed to keep a little bit ahead of inflation.

Those modest overall figures hide the real impact of the recession. AAUP also provides salary data by types of colleges and universities surveyed—public, private-independent, and church-related—and there the disparity of growth rates is striking. Salaries overall at public institutions rose by only 2.9 percent in 1991–92, less than the 3.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index. In contrast, salaries increased by 4.7 percent at private-independent institutions and by 5.5 percent at church-related institutions. The impact of the many state budget crises is obvious.

Salary increasesAlthough CUPA does not include as many institutions in its surveys as does AAUP (only 807), it collects more detailed data that makes it possible to compare salaries for all faculty with those in specific disciplines. According to CUPA’s 1991–92 surveys of private and public colleges and universities, faculty salaries in all disciplines increased by an average of 4.2 percent in 1991–92 (not adjusted for inflation), down from that reported in 1990–91 (6.0 percent). Salary figures broken down by rank and type of institution (public or private) reveal the same slower rate of growth (see the table on p. 6). The only category in which the overall rate of growth increased was that of full professors at public colleges and universities—salaries for all others grew more slowly in 1991–92 than in 1990–91. Yet at the same time, history faculty salaries increased by a larger percentage than in the two previous years—4.85 percent in 1991–92 compared to 3.4 percent in 1990–91 and 4.1 percent in 1989–90. As can be seen in the accompanying table, history salaries grew by a greater percentage in 1991–92 in every category except associate professor and instructor at public institutions, and the percentage growth in history salaries was greater than that for all fields combined in every case except associate and full professors at public colleges and universities.

Moreover, the average salary for history faculty across ranks at private institutions exceeded that for all faculty in 1991–92, rebounding after having dropped below the average in 1990–91 for the first time since CUPA began its survey in 1982. While the difference between history salaries and salaries overall was generally less than in previous years for private as well as public institutions, the fact that history salaries remained above average is significant. According to CUPA, historians on average were paid better in 1991–92 than colleagues in, for example, geography, sociology, philosophy and religion, foreign languages, literature, mathematics, and education.

But even though history salaries grew at a greater rate than that of other faculty and the average for all ranks is greater than that for all faculty, the average history faculty salary by rank remained below that of faculty in general in every category but instructor at public institutions. History faculty salaries look better in aggregate than by rank because the high percentage of historians at senior ranks skews the average—few other disciplines have a larger proportion of tenured faculty.

The larger average salary for history instructors at public colleges and universities is particularly surprising, especially when coupled with the high percentage increases in salaries for new assistant professors at public institutions and for new assistant professors and instructors at private colleges and universities. Given the recession and the apparent contraction of the job market (see Washington Notes), one would not expect such large salary increases for entry level positions—higher starting salaries usually reflect greater demand, which is clearly not the present case.

The CUPA survey also provides evidence of the impact of collective bargaining on faculty salaries. Of the public institutions surveyed, 31 percent have collective bargaining agreements. According to CUPA data, faculty at those institutions earned significantly more than their colleagues elsewhere. Overall, faculty at collective bargaining institutions earned 14.4 percent more; history faculty at those institutions averaged 18.9 percent more than their counterparts elsewhere, earning $48,596 compared to $40,857. The latter reflected a significant widening of the gap, from 16.9 percent in 1990–91 to 18.9 percent in 1991–92.

For more information, consult "The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 1991–1992," Academe (AAUP), March-April 1992; 1991–92 National Faculty Salary Survey by Discipline and Rank in Private Colleges and Universities (Washington, DC: CUPA, 1992); 1991–92 National Faculty Salary Survey by Discipline and Rank in Public Colleges and Universities (Washington, DC: CUPA, 1992). Special studies and tabulations can be sponsored through the 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.

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