Maybe Next Summer


Amanda Ann Klein, an associate professor of film studies at East Carolina University, writes:

A few months ago, after a failed attempt to get a job at a university that might actually pay me a salary commensurate with my rank and experience, I came to the realization that the stress and late nights, the self doubt and loathing, were now unnecessary. I am not going to get a better-paying job and my current employers, no matter how many books I publish, how many students I mentor, or how many committees I serve on, are not going to give me any more money. Or at least not much money. Initially this realization made me despondent. If no one is paying me more money to produce more work, and very few people read the peer-reviewed articles or monographs I’m trying to crank out, then what happens? What happens when a professor no longer has any incentive to work at the breakneck pace at which she has been encouraged to work since she first embarked upon that great and arduous journey towards a career in academia?

Nothing happens. And, dear reader, it is glorious.

The post from which this is excerpted, about how academia makes some feel that “If we’re not always working (and I mean always working) then we don’t exist,” will, I’m sure, resonate with many readers. It is at Klein’s blog, Judgmental Observer. Thoughts about work-life balance in the philosophy profession are welcome.

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Steven Hales
6 years ago

I’m tenured and full. My salary is 100% determined by the union scale– I’ll never make a nickel more because of my publications, teaching awards, competing offers or anything else. I’ll never be promoted again. Since I don’t especially care about climbing the prestigious school ladder, I could totally phone it in if I wanted. But I *like* trying to solve philosophical puzzles. I *like* being a part of the broader conversation on certain topics that interest me. That’s why I write articles and monographs. I know perfectly well that pressures are different on the jobless and untenured. But, like me, Klein is tenured. For us, we need to retain the joy of scholarship, and dial it back when it becomes drudgery.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Steven Hales
6 years ago

Steven,
Can you clarify the sense in which your salary is “100% determined by union scale” at your institution? Is there no such thing as being paid “off-scale” under various circumstances?Report

Steven Hales
Reply to  Crimlaw
6 years ago

No one is paid off-scale. The collective bargaining agreement forbids it. Salaries, by rank and step, and published in our contract.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Steven,

Thanks to your union, you’re already paid a salary commensurate with your rank and experience. I think that’s wonderful, and I don’t begrudge you that salary. But not everybody *is* paid that well–some of us are paid quite poorly. (I was able to determine, from publicly available databases, that you make about twice as much as Professor Klein. Twice as much as me, too, for that matter.)Report

Steven Hales
Reply to  Anonymous
6 years ago

You are quite right that lots of people, even tenured ones, are paid poorly. I never meant to suggest otherwise. Rather, once a connection between productivity and fiscal reward is severed (as it is both for Klein and me), then one has to think about what the intrinsic rewards of scholarship really are.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  Steven Hales
6 years ago

Steven,

Here’s one reason I took umbrage: it’s a common rhetorical ploy for administrators and non-academics to suggest that professors shouldn’t complain about how much they’re paid–and perhaps that they don’t even deserve to be paid more–because they should be motivated by their love of knowledge, or the good of their students, or loyalty to their institution, or something else non-monetary. (Unfortunately, this suggestion sometimes *also* comes from other professors–usually from ones who are highly paid relative to their peers, or are in positions of institutional prestige or power.) Professors who then choose to “dial it back” are castigated as lazy, dead-weight, free-riders. And since, of course, most of us *are* at least partly motivated by knowledge/students/institution, we also feel guilty about dialing it back. The result of these internal and external sanctions is a whole bunch of uncompensated labor that universities manage to extract from the professoriate. (Notice that nobody ever suggests that college presidents/provosts/deans should take less money for the love of the job!)Report

Steven Hales
6 years ago

We are not in disagreement. I’m all in favor of a wealth transfer from the admin to the professoriate. And I agree with your point about rhetorical ploys that disenfranchise us. However, I think no one is paid what they deserve. We are paid what we can negotiate for. Failing the power to negotate effectively, we have to think about our own motivations as scholars. That is not equivalent to succumbing to externally imposed guilt.Report

Amanda Ann Klein
Reply to  Steven Hales
6 years ago

Thanks for engaging with my piece. However I have to strongly disagree with the statement “We are paid what we can negotiate for.” I work for a state university that has stopped giving annual raises, even for cost of living. There is no “negotiating.” Our only choices–literally–are to try to get into administration (which I don’t want to do) or get a competing job offer (I tried to do that this year, had 3 campus interviews, then got no offers). I’m not sure where you work, but where I work, there is no “negotiation.” We have tried talking to chairs, to deans, and have even held a massive protest on campus demanding better pay for public educators. This yielded nothing. I will get a raise if and when a new administration is elected into office in North Carolina that values education (we are currently #48 in the nation for education quality and teacher salary).Report

Amanda Ann Klein
Reply to  Amanda Ann Klein
6 years ago

Oh I do have a 3rd option–quit academia all together and try to find a better paying job outside of the Ivory Tower. But as I state in my piece–I do love teaching and writing–so I plan to stay on. I’m just not going to give myself ulcers over publishing my next book. I just don’t see the rush.Report

Alan White
Reply to  Amanda Ann Klein
6 years ago

Amanda (if I may), I read your blog post and must say that, for those of us employed in public institutions in states controlled by conservatives (or, as with our own previous Dem administration, those who want to be perceived as aptly conservative enough), there is a palpable sense that not only is public higher education unvalued, it is strategically disvalued. I know that is the case in NC, as it is the case here in Wisconsin (I teach at a lower-echelon UW System campus). I’m a bit better off than you in some respects only because I’m older and had benefit of decent raises in the late 80s and 90s (but I will be lucky if I retire at 70k). But in recent years our governor enacted “reforms” that required employee contributions for half our pensions, thus effectively cutting our take-home pay and the value of our benefits by thousands a year. I have tenured colleagues who not only don’t make 50k–they take home less than when they were hired. Oh, and we’re still evaluated for merit, except we haven’t had a merit raise for years.

I agree with you about loving teaching and writing. Since tenure (87) I have published about 5 times as many peer-reviewed pieces as before. But especially since the turn of the century–the career time-frame you know–there has been no real incentive to do anything but what interests me. And I’ll keep doing that until I retire. Unless and until the value of public education receives renewed proper due–it is a real public good–things will continue to go downhill toward the de facto privatization and winnowing of public universities, reliant increasingly on tuition and less and less on taxpayers.

Thanks for a very timely and truthful post.Report

Steven Hales
Reply to  Amanda Ann Klein
6 years ago

Amanda, you don’t actually disagree with my claim that we’re paid what can negotiate for. You are angry that you have no power to negotiate. I think this is reasonable, justified anger. Believe me, PA does not value public higher ed any more than NC. Our budget is cut year after year and the permanent slogan is always “do more with less.” A strong faculty union and collective bargaining across 14 universities is the only thing that keeps our salaries decent. The Governor would make all of us at-will adjuncts if he could.Report

Neil
Neil
6 years ago

Off topic, but are academic papers really unread and uncited? I took two at random mentioned in the article as representative of the world of unread papers and checked. Each had around 30 citations.
Perhaps the question isn’t entirely off topic. If our work is uncited, tax payers and private donors may feel it is less worth supporting. We should avoid spreading the myth that our work goes unread (if it is a myth).Report

Amanda Ann Klein
Reply to  Neil
6 years ago

The articles I cited in my piece were not “academic” articles. They were pieces published on major online platforms like Slate. I would not even call my blog post an academic paper. I linked to this article in my piece, which found that “half of all academic papers are read by no more than three people.”
http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/killing-pigs-weed-maps-mostly-unread-world-academic-papers-76733/Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Neil
6 years ago

if you think that merely being cited 30 times will win over taxpayers (and or other people wondering about the impact of such investments/efforts on our common-lives) you might want to casually poll some non-academics…Report

Neil
Neil
Reply to  dmf
6 years ago

Amanda, the articles I mentioned were those given as examples of unread papers in the online piece you linked to. They are not unread. The mistake is not yours but that of the author you linked to.

dmf, there is a world of difference between going unread and being cited 30 times. Even an academic might wonder about the value of her research if literally no one outside the referees is reading it. I agree that 30 citations probably won’t make anyone get excited. Still evidence that many papers go unread *will* get taxpayers excited.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

What salary would be “commensurate with [the author’s] rank and experience”? And is $55k salary (plus decent benefits, I assume) insufficient for her lifestyle? Or is it just the fact that others make more that’s the problem?Report

Amanda Ann Klein
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Great question. I am well aware that 55K is a lot of money. But when I was hired 7 years ago, at 53K, I was hired with the promise of annual raises. These raises would, at the very least, account for cost of living. But I was also told there would be merit raises every year. Despite the fact that I have one of the strongest research profiles in department and getting very high student evals for all my classes (I could also list all the program building and committee work I do, too, but that would get boring), I only received a 1,000 raise my first year (which was taken away the next year due to state budget cuts) and a then a 2,000 “tenure bump.” So yeah, I can feed my 2 kids on this salary but I don’t think it’s outrageous to expect to get a little raise every year, given how hard I work. As Alan notes, this is especially infuriating when you work in a state that completely devalues higher ed. We are continually asked to work harder each year (we have to constantly engage in self assessments, actively petition our students to fill out teacher evals, and publish more and more) for less and less. It’s insulting.Report