Where You Sit

I have a friend who used to say that class was simple to understand; it’s where you sit on the plane. In the front are the big, comfortable seats in first class where they serve wine; the rest of the plain is crowded and the service isn’t so good. You get a soda if you’re lucky. The Chronicle of Higher Education summary of faculty and administrative salaries (Faculty Salaries Vary by Institution Type, Discipline) show that, in academia, class is all about where you sit on the committee.

Charts are never that exciting, of course, but these are worth browsing if only to dispel the myth that high education is a meritocracy, or rather, to dispel the myth that a meritocracy is egalitarian. It’s clearly a self-serving and self-perpetuating system. The gap between the highest paid professors is startling by itself: nearly $200,000 a year at Harvard versus $40,00 for the lowly no-rank instructor at the two year institution. The have protect themselves; the have-not slide farther down.

Even more amazing is that while the rest of the system seemed to be collapsing for lack of finances, and tuition rising, presidential salaries rose about 5 times faster than the rate of inflation. The usual justification for these inflated administrative salaries is that without them schools could not compete for what they call the best talent. I am pretty sure I have said this before: if the best talent is driving our schools into the ground, shouldn’t we redefine “best”?

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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