Crunching the Numbers
National education data shows MSU falls below Big Ten peers in key faculty salary figures
MSU’s faculty salary and compensation numbers are lacking compared to its peers, raising questions about the university’s ability to recruit and retain talented faculty.
The university is second from the bottom of the Big Ten Conference on average when it comes to faculty salaries and sits about in the middle for total compensation, according to data compiled by the MSU Office of Planning and Budgets for the 2012-13 academic year.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions about why are we in the cellar on these things, of course someone has to be in the cellar,” said William Donohue, chair of the University Committee on Faculty Affairs and communication professor. “Adding 1 percent to all salaries would probably take us out of the basement, but it’s probably a lot of money.”
Recent data released by the Chronicle of Higher Education breaks salaries down by type of faculty, including instructors, assistant professors, associate professors and full professors. MSU paid full professors better than three other Big Ten universities and associate professors better than five, but ranked the worst for pay to assistant professors and instructors in 2012-13.
When people are first hired into the tenure stream, they generally start as assistant professors.
Donohue said he doesn’t know of any time when the university didn’t get someone or lost someone because of the pay rate. Professors make less than people in the private market who have similar training, Donohue said, adding that salary is probably third, fourth or fifth on the list of considerations.
If the university could offer more money, it might get more people here, but if the work environment isn’t good, money won’t keep people here, he added.
“As a general brand, I don’t think it looks good for us to be at the bottom. I don’t think we should be at the top but I don’t think being at the bottom is a good place to live forever,” he said.
Compared to the more than 1,200 institutions surveyed by the Chronicle, MSU is above the median for pay to full professors and associate professors, but below the median for assistant professors and far below the median for instructors.
As for his own salary, Donohue said it probably should be higher to be competitive with other people in his department.
He said that when he started in 1976, he made about $12,500 a year.
In 2012-13, he made about $97,000, according to the university’s public salary list.
“I’ve been well treated by the university and I feel very honored to be a part of it,” Donohue said.
The average pay for a full professor at MSU is $131,200. Associate professors make an average of $90,900, assistant professors average $71,000, and instructors get an average of $42,200, according to the Chronicle data.
The University of Michigan, which receives Michigan state support from the same formula as MSU, pays its faculty more — professors make an average of $148,700. The Chronicle rated U-M far above the median in salary for every category of faculty.
“Certainly, the faculty understand where we fit relative to our peers — our overall compensation package is reasonable, but salaries are below where we need to be,” said Sue Carter, chair of the Steering Committee and a journalism professor. “We want a robust faculty and salary is one way to attract people.”
Carter made almost $132,000 in 2012-13, according to MSU data.
“I enjoy my time at MSU and I’m pleased to be here,” she said when asked if she’s satisfied with her salary. “It’s just a fantastic place — that’s what I hang my hat on.”
Full professor salaries have risen across the board at Big Ten institutions over the past 10 years and MSU has consistently been toward the bottom.
“Every organization wants to acquire the best talent. If you look collectively, we’re competitive but not overly,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a recent interview with The State News editorial board.
She added that the university will have to rebalance to stay in the middle of the Big Ten on compensation after cutting some components of post-retirement healthcare.
University officials have said in the past that MSU strives to be about in the Big Ten’s middle.
Carter said there is concern among faculty about the erosion of benefits, especially health benefits that have been cut recently, which will affect the overall compensation numbers and push MSU down in compensation category rankings in the near future.
Northwestern University, the only private institution in the Big Ten Conference, pays every type of faculty more than any other Big Ten school when looking at both salary and compensation.
“To raise the prestige and academic rigor of the university, it’s obvious that the value of the faculty would have to increase, and therefore, their salaries would need to be similarly increased,” said Evan Martinak, ASMSU president and international relations senior. “It’s up to the university community if we’re willing to pay for exceptional faculty.”
Pennsylvania State University, a fellow Big Ten member and land-grant college, like MSU, ranked above the median in every faculty category, according the Chronicle.
“It’s important for us to have top quality faculty,” said Stefan Fletcher, Council of Graduate Students president. “Being at the bottom and in the middle … (is a) consistent struggle for MSU and they need to evaluate whether it is competitive within the Big Ten.”