Wednesday, March 26, 2008

But Baby I Don't Intend to Leave Empty-Handed

In the Chronicle, here's a prof talking about civilians' perceptions of what academics do, and academics' perceptions of getting paid shit after doing a PhD and surviving the job market:

"I wish I had your job," said a friend who works in the banking industry, when I characterized last summer's poolside reading as work.

"I wish I had your savings account," I replied.

You know what's sad? Thinking to yourself, "30K a year? I don't know what I'd do with all that money!" No doubt that's what people are talking about when they tell us to stop thinking like grad students.

-- PGS


Anonymous said...

I guess Dr. Johnston's extensive education didn't include that whole "supply and demand" thing.

Mysjkin said...

The analysis of the article appears
"Professors aren't paid a wage commensurate with our level of education and experience, and that can only be because the people who control our salaries -- the families who decide how much tuition they are willing to pay, and the administrators who decide where those tuition dollars will go -- don't believe we work hard enough, or that our work is important enough, to warrant better compensation."

Hm. Might it be supply and demand rather than perceived merit? As has often been noted on this blog, there is, after all, an abundance of qualified and desperate academic job-takers.

will philosophize for food said...

I know what I'd do with that money--pay off my loans.

Asstro said...

Well, yes and no on the Supply and Demand question. Obviously there's an oversupply of philosophers, so that is keeping our salaries low relative to other professions; but clearly there's also something keeping the salaries "falsely" elevated. (I don't actually think it's falsely elevated. I think that they're elevated thanks to pressures of "fairness" and "merit".) It's not like, for instance, some of you job seekers would bail on your phliosophy careers for a few thousand dollars less. Also, the starting salary is relatively consistent across the country, by about ten or, at most, twenty thousand dollars. If it were strictly supply and demand, one would expect that more desirable jobs would pay less and less desirable jobs would pay more.

So the question is, how much _would_ you accept for your first job? Whatever that number is, that's the market clearing price on a starting salary in philosophy. You could all race each other to the bottom.

Anonymous said...

I think that 9:57 PM is right about this. The only thing I would add is that Dr. Johnston is apparently an english professor which is an oversupplied area. I don't want to claim that academic positions are flowing in money, which of course they are not, but I also wouldn't say that the plight of english faculty are representative of everybody.

Anonymous said...

How about bank managers and the like make too much money! And because of that, the relative value of faculty salaries seems quite small.

Anonymous said...

It's true that the dude's going a little overboard, but I think a charitable reading won't have him denying or ignoring supply and demand. Clearly the claim that profs aren't paid a commensurate wage *only because* parents and administrators don't value their work enough and don't know how much work they do is false.

But we might have good reason to think he's on to something. Consider the increasing reliance on part timers. This could reasonably be taken as evidence that administrators don't value various qualifications enough: education, experience, etc. Perhaps if they did, they'd be less prone to hire (and work to the bone) one part timer after another, some of whom don't even have PhDs. Investing in those with more education and giving them the opportunity to get experience and become better teachers (by giving them permanent positions or chances at them) may be in the interest of the powers that be. Various misunderstandings can obscure that and the dude can be taken, at least in part, to be trying to correct or at least bring to the fore some of those misunderstandings.

More generally, I'm skeptical of simple appeals to supply and demand in this sort of context. Considerations of fairness, prohibitions on exploitation, etc. all seem imoprtant. Most of us don't think that having a minimum wage is unjustified simply because market forces, if left to their own devices, would set wages lower. I think the dude can reasonably be taken to be appealing to considerations of fairness also. Even if market forces are in large part responsible for the wages profs (and college educators more generally) get, that doesn't mean some of them aren't being exploited to some extent. It may not be the worst case of exploitation and, in light of that, we might not be terribly sympathetic. But that doesn't mean exploitation isn't going on and it doesn't mean this dude isn't on to something.

Anonymous said...

Supply-and-demand still works as an economic system of distribution. The problem is that education, or at least a solid liberal arts one that includes philosophy, is not in demand. Not that it's useless, but that a lack of education breeds more people ignorant of the benefits and intrisic value of philosophy...

Anonymous said...

anon 9:30 and mysjkin:

No shit. I thought that was an incredibly whiny-ass article with an obvious answer that el doctor still didn't manage to figure out. Duh.

Prof. J. said...


So the question is, how much _would_ you accept for your first job? Whatever that number is, that's the market clearing price on a starting salary in philosophy.

Uh, no. No market works that way, in fact. Mobil would accept a much lower price for its oil than it gets, but that doesn't mean it is selling for a higher-than-market price. You would pay hundreds of times as much for clean water as you do pay, but that doesn't mean it's selling for way below market price. And so on.

(Not to say we aren't overpaid in some sense, but that's not a good argument for the conclusion that we are.)

Anonymous said...

"Might it be supply and demand rather than perceived merit?"

It might, if colleges and universities were part of a genuine free-market economy.

"So the question is, how much _would_ you accept for your first job?

Again, that might be "the question", if only colleges and universities were part of a genuine free-market economy.

By the way, we should keep in mind that hardly any sector of our economy works according to free-market principles, no matter how much the Masters would like us to think so.

Asstro said...

Sorry Prof J, I think you've got that inside-out.

That we would pay a lot of money for clean water doesn't map neatly onto how little any one candidate would accept as a salary. So too for Mobile Oil: that they would accept a lower price doesn't say anything about how much we'd be willing to pay for another gallon. Oil and water don't really mix here, mostly since they're provided in marginal quantities; but also because you're assuming either that there is (a) discriminating demand or (b) some unmet demand. The related question in water is "at what point would you be willing to pay an equivalent amount for some liquid substitute." In oil, it's "at what point would you be willing to forgo that gallon of gasoline."

I'm just talking about willingness to pay in pure conditions of oversupply, where there are no assessments of quality or merit. That was, after all, part of the implication by Mysjkin. If there are so many qualified jobseekers, then those job seekers should be setting the lower bound of the price.

How much--"how little," I suppose is a better way of phrasing it--would any one of these qualified jobseekers accept to stay in philosophy? $25K? $20K? $15K? Whatever that is, in conditions of oversupply, that's (at least) the market clearing price. No doubt, there's someone out there who might come in at a lower number. In which case, _that's_ the market clearing price.

Luckily for us, there's quality and merit, as well as many other facters (perhaps unluckily for some) involved in these hiring decisions. Otherwise, Joe Schuckbuckets could sign up to be a philosopher at pennies on the course.

Supply and demand talk is slippery.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that the article was written by 'the dude'

Anonymous said...

Don’t fool yourself when it comes to salaries;

As one who works at large public research university I can attest that supply and demand is everything when it comes to faculty salaries; I looked in our university budget for all entry level assistant professor salaries for the last fiscal year (all of our salary information is public by state law). These are all new faculty who were hired directly out of graduate school or medical residency or in the case of the law professor a one year judicial clerkship after law school.

Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery: $750,000 (12 month appointment)

Assistant Professor of Urology: $600,000 (12 month appointment)

Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine: $200,000 (12 month appointment)

Assistant Professor of Bio-Engineering: 188,500

Assistant Professor of Computer Science: $ 185,000

Assistant Professor of Accounting & Information Systems: $ 165,000

Assistant Professor of Law: $140,000

Assistant Professor of Art (School of Medicine; Medical Illustration): 77, 500

Assistant Professor of Economics: $ 75,000

Assistant Professor of Political Science: $ 65,000

Assistant Librarian: $ 55,000 (12 month appointment)

Assistant Professor of English: $50, 000

Assistant Professor of Classics: $48, 500

Assistant Professor of German: $ 48,000

Assistant Professor of Philosophy: $44,000

Assistant Professor of Art History (2 positions hired) $41,500 / $ 43, 500

Assistant Professor of Diversity & Cultural Studies: $43,000

Assistant Professor of French: $40, 500

Anonymous said...

anon 6:35,

Is that because of supply & demand, though, or because of sources of external funding, or a mixture of those factors and others?

Prof. J. said...

Asstro, I don't follow you.

The example of water shows that the level someone is in principle willing to pay for a good doesn't set the price. The example of Mobil shows that the level that someone is in principle willing to accept for a good doesn't set the price. One focuses on the demand side, the other on the supply side.

You say the relevant questions are:

The related question in water is "at what point would you be willing to pay an equivalent amount for some liquid substitute." In oil, it's "at what point would you be willing to forgo that gallon of gasoline."

Those both focus on demand. But the value to the buyer doesn't set the price any more than the value to the supplier does.

But anyway, I do agree that assessments of quality are very relevant here. One reason departments pay assistant professors more than, say, $35k, is that if they paid that much they would have no chance of getting the best candidates. (I think by saying that 'perceived merit' isn't the issue, mysjkin meant that administrators aren't making judgments about the intrinsic worth of what we do, rather than that SCs do not discriminate by quality among candidates.)

Finally, as 6:35 AM points out, anyone who thinks that the market has no bearing on philosophers' salaries just isn't paying attention.

Anonymous said...

Assistant Professor of German: $ 48,000

Assistant Professor of Art History (2 positions hired) $41,500 / $ 43, 500

Assistant Professor of French: $40, 500

Anon. 6:35: Can you indulge me and my spleen by telling me -- if you know -- whether the two higher salaries noted above were for men and the two lower ones for women? I don't want that to be true, but I just have a sinking feeling... I hope I'm just being paranoid.

Anonymous said...

6:35 -- those are great numbers, but what's the supply and demand for each of those fields?

Asstro said...

Don't know why I feel compelled to do this, but just to clarify what I said earlier:

It's easy to think that the quality and merit of any given candidate is factored into supply and demand. One can also factor in transaction costs, coordination costs, and other such things. Indeed, this is how most people teach and think about S&D. Personally, I think this is slippery talk, because once one goes down this road, it's easy to get confused about what's really driving someone's price.

In the case of the salaries listed above, it is _clearly_ supply and demand that is driving the neurosurgeon's ridiculous income. There are not enough neurosurgeons and there is too much demand. It's unlikely that that one guy is so much more deserving on quality or merit than any of the other professors. So there, I think it's safe to say that there are market pressures pushing his salary through the stratosphere.

By contrast, the salaries of the humanities professors are comparatively low; but they're not rock-bottom low. By all accounts, in a market with so few jobs and lots of qualified applicants, those salaries could be even lower than they are. I bet almost all of us would accept a few thousand dollars less and still stay in philosophy. Something, in other words, is keeping those salaries elevated that is _not_ supply and demand.

Presumably, this something has to do with the merit and quality of each individual faculty member. So, Prof J at Supershit school gets paid X because the school wants to keep him, and Prof R gets paid just a bit less. That may seem like Supply and Demand, and to a certain extent it is, but the primary drivers of price in the two cases are different. (Of course, it's also true that salaries between neurosurgeons will vary as well, mostly because of merit and quality.)

Supply and demand is deceptive. Often the phrase gets thrown around as though _it alone_ can explain prices. But within markets, quality and merit do make an appearance; and they make an appearance that is poorly characterized, to my mind, by reductionistic talk of supply and demand.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:35

You're _Anonymous_, so if this information is public and true, why don't you reference it for us?

I won't speak to the other numbers, but $185K is quite high for a non-middle-or-high-management computer science professional, let alone a freshly minted one. If that wasn't a very special circumstance, it implies that supply and demand _isn't_ much of a factor.

Anonymous said...

This is the most depressing thread I've ever read on this blog, and that's saying a lot for the PJMB.

Prof. J. said...


So, Prof J at Supershit school gets paid X because the school wants to keep him, and Prof R gets paid just a bit less.


Asstro said...

Hey Prof. J:

On the oil and water thing. If I'm choosing between philosophy jobs in a free market with oversupply, I'll take whatever salary will keep me satisfied until the point at which I can't stand it anymore and desire to move on to something else. That's my willingness to pay. In a world in which there are a lot of people like me, the lower bound of the price for people like me will be determined by whatever that that willingness to pay is.

Water, by contrast, is a necessary good in abundant, albeit limited, supply. My willingness to pay for clean water is huge and virtually inelastic, just as you suggest. The limiting condition in this case is the supply of clean water. Currently, water is abundant enough that price is fine. But if supply suddenly dried up, my willingness to pay for water would start working its magic on price. There's some point at which I'd stop buying clean water (I suppose), which is about as soon as I can find some sort of substitute that would replace it. Maybe I'd switch to toilet water, though I perish the thought. It is willingness to pay, again, that will determine the price.

On your example, you assume that there's not surplus demand, so price finds an equilibrium somewhere inside the indifference curve.

With oil, your case is flipped, but the principle is the same. If there were limited demand and an oversupply of oil (which there's not), then Mobil would absolutely take a lower price. They'd do this until the point at which they no longer thought it wise to offer oil; no longer saw the investment as worthwhile. Conversely, if oil came suddenly into short supply (which it has and likely will even more), there would be a case of too much demand. Again, my willingness to pay (against the WTPs of others, of course) for the next gallon would set the price. Highest bidder wins.

Philosophers could be paid like migrant workers, given the scarcity of jobs and the qualified applicant pool. But they're not paid like migrant workers for a host of reasons. One important reason, to be sure, is that there is precedent. It would look terrible for a University to pay a much lower salary to incoming junior faculty than they paid, at one point earlier, to another junior faculty member.

So, maybe that's even a better argument against S&D: If this were truly a free market, we'd see price fluctuation as the supply of philosophers waxes and wanes. Since salaries appear relatively stable, barely tracking inflation, it's probably the case that something else is influencing price.

Actually, maybe that's an even stronger argument to stop the mad abundance of PhD programs in philosophy: not for their sake, but for ours. If we limit supply of philosophers, we'll all get a raise!

Anonymous said...

mysjkin is, I think, largely right about supply and demand. However, I think that things are more complex than this, as others have noted. In particular, I'm interested in why medical and business schools pay much more than philosophy departments for business ethicists and medical ethicists. Surely, if supply and demand were the only things in play here, these salaries should be roughly similar?

Perhaps the med. schools and B-schools need to pay higher to offset both the lack of status that the philosophers who work at them with suffer from (obvious exceptions exist, of course, like Kamm), or because people working in them aren't going to have the philosophically-interesting conversations with their colleagues that you can get in a good philosophy department?


Anonymous said...

Wow, did that post catch people’s attention:

I’ll try and answer all your questions to the best of my knowledge.

9:30 am:

Assistant Professor of German: $ 48,000

Assistant Professor of Art History (2 positions hired) $41,500 / $ 43, 500

Assistant Professor of French: $40, 500

Our German Prof (Male) was offered 40 and balked; PhD from Ivy School, negotiated 48K.

Both Art History prof’s female; neither negotiated, both accept offers as is.

French Prof (Male); PhD from state univ – accepted offer as is – did not negotiate.

Lesson Learned: It pays to negotiate – some PhD’s so desperate for jobs they will take the first low ball offer they get.

10:40 Am:

Computer PhD although recent grad was offered lower salary – had private sector offer of much more but the provost wanted him; thru a ton of money at him. That’s life – and computer sci asst prof is bringing in a ton of R&D dollars – so he was well worth the investment.

A note on medical school incomes, my baby brother is a med school prof, a new asst prof in Family Medicine – right out of fellowship.

Specialist make the most $$$$, neurosurgeons are the top of food chain – but they are in residency for 7 yrs after med school and then 1 yr fellowship – they basically sign away their 20’s and don’t to practice till their mid 30’s.

Notice the drop in income between the Urologist and the Internal Medicine Prof.

After Internal Medicine generally comes Family Practice which is the lowest of the low in medicine – avg starting salary for a family practitioner, about 105K.

That is not a lot of money when you figure that a nurse practitioner in family practice starts at 75-80K.

The way we fund med school incomes here is via patient fees; the university will float your salary for the first 2 yrs and then you live off patient fees, grants and R&D dollars – and for the lucky few consultant jobs for pharmaceutical companies that pay very well.

Anonymous said...

Asstro, you seem to create a false dichotomy between supply & demand on the one hand, and merit & quality on the other. Why don't all the philosophy jobs pay much lower? Well, because the universities are willing to pay more for a candidate they perceive as better than another candidate, and because they know that other universities are willing to do the same. They need to compete with each other to recruit and retain faculty that have the level of perceived quality that they are willing to live with, and this is what sets the demand curve for philosophy labor at a given level of perceived quality/desirability. NYU is not willing to accept just any Ph.D., and neither is St. Anselm College.

Similarly, although some Ph.D.s are willing to accept almost any job in philosophy at almost any salary, not all of them are, and this sets the supply curve for philosophy labor for jobs of a given level of perceived quality/desirability.

In part because philosophers are generally willing to accept lower salaries in academia than accountants are, philosophers get paid less. Universities are also probably willing to pay more, in general, for accountants and computer scientists not only because they have to in order to compete with the non-academic job market, but also because faculty in these fields often bring in more external funding, in one way or another.

I'm not denying that factors other than supply and demand (such as concerns about equity) can play some role in setting faculty salaries. And I'm not claiming that supply and demand lead to 'fair' or 'just' salaries, whatever that would mean. But just because philosophy labor and philosophy jobs aren't undifferentiated commodities doesn't mean that supply and demand aren't the primary drivers of faculty salaries.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:18 -- Think of it this way. How much is someone making $500k/year willing to pay for a week-long vacation in the Caribbean, and how much (if anything) is someone making $50k/year willing to pay for the same thing? The B-schools are the ones making $500k, and the philosophy departments are the ones making $50k.

B-schools are competing with each other for talent, not just with philosophy departments. And if you're a philosopher that a B-school wants, you probably know that the B-school is willing and able to pay much more than philosophy departments. This gives you some negotiating leverage, and it also may influence your willingness to work at a B-school that pays you philosophy-department-level wages.

And as you note, many philosophers will view the B-school job as otherwise less desirable.

Asstro said...

Anon 4:14:

I don't think I ever once denied that supply and demand are the primary drivers of lower salaries in philosophy. Clearly, philosophy salaries are reasonably large buckets of bullshit. I love going out to dinner with my colleagues in the Law School and feeling like a pissant humanities wanker. I also love it when I am reminded that most of them don't have doctorates. That's supply and demand, plain and simple. But it's just false, as you sorta acknowledge, that these salaries can all be written off as supply and demand. Universities aren't free markets in the way that, say, markets for oil are free markets (though there's even a subsidy case against that).

Universities are large bureaucracies, governed by a variety of interests and imperatives. It is way too simple to collapse all value questions with regard to University hiring practices into "demand" (or "supply", in this case). There's much more going on here, very much caught up in University policy, social expectations, evaluations of quality and merit, fairness, irrationality, and so on.

So, no, I don't think it's a false dichotomy. You have to have a pretty naive view of these other factors to suppose that it's "_just_ supply and demand." (I'm not even sure what it means to say "_just_ supply and demand," but it rings as an overused catchall to my ear.)

Moreover, to add emphasis on this point, starting philosophy salaries all basically suck ass, though they're a lot more than most grad students are making. They range, across the board, with the possible exception of a few outlier schools, from $40k to $70k. That may seem like a wide variation, and I suppose in some cases it is, but it would be interesting to see this information hung out on a regionally adjusted laundry line, not just a Research I/II/SLAC scale.

Prof. J. said...


I don't think there's an oversupply of philosophers in the relevant respect.
I basically agree with what Anon 4:14 said, so I won't repeat it. But in short, philosophy labor isn't a commodity like oil, because it's too heterogeneous.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2.18 here:

Anon. 4.26--that makes a lot of sense; thanks!

Plus, of course, if you go to a B-school or a med. school as a philosopher right out of grad. school, then you're pretty much writing yourself out of mainstream philosophy--a considerable cost to many (tho' obviously not all) phil. grad. students.

I know a couple of people who've done this (one med. school person, and one B-school person) and they both really regret their decisions.

Anonymous said...

At least we're not alone...

"Josh's Job Quest: 10 resumes a day, no takers"

Asstro said...

I'm afraid you're gonna have to take it up with these guys:

Your view is simply too simple.

Anonymous said...

Plus, re: anon 7:41, I *really* hate it when folks I know with law degrees act like our degrees amount to the same thing. I've actually had a guy tell me the JD and the PhD are "equivalent" because they're both terminal degrees, and JD stands for juris doctorate.

3 year degree taking classes vs. 5-7 year degree involving book-length original research. Not the same.

Anonymous said...

Good point, anon 3:01. Can you think of how ridiculous it would be for us to claim our degrees amount to "the same thing" as an M.D.?

Anonymous said...


In certain ways law school is harder, and in certain ways grad school is harder. In law school, you have to spend way more time on work and you have way less free time, and in grad school, the time you do spend on work must be on original work. Clearly they're not "equivalent," but I would say that they're incomparable, rather than that one is harder. Why the need for one to be superior to the other, anyway? To balance the fact that we make less money on average?

Anonymous said...

The US government's Department of Education notes that, "It is...important to recognize that first-professional degrees in these fields are first degrees, not graduate research degrees. Several of the degree titles in this group of subjects (see Degrees Awarded below) incorporate the term "Doctor," but they are not research doctorates and not equivalent to the Ph.D."

From the Wikipedia site on this.

Anonymous said...

"In certain ways law school is harder, and in certain ways grad school is harder. In law school, you have to spend way more time on work and you have way less free time, and in grad school, the time you do spend on work must be on original work."

- In my opinion this is completely false. I know people in law school, good law schools. I've discussed with them how much more work I do than them and I'm only an MA student. We're talking multiple hours per day more here. Now I don't know the work of law school first hand, but from what I can tell you can in no way make that distinction. It would be my guess that the difference in work has more to do with learning/working styles than anything else.

Anonymous said...

I'm the commenter from 3:01. My own impression is that law students do a *lot* more work than I have (as a PhD candidate), but that it's mostly rote work that any decently bright person could do (on their own admission). On the other hand, I don't know any grad students who work as hard as med students, and that's just trying to keep up. The mere presence of the common word 'doctor' should indicate no substantive similarities across degrees.

Anonymous said...

Lesson learned: we should all be unwilling to accept low salaries.

If we are able to band together and refuse to accept low salaries, we will all be better off.