A Paycut By Any Other Name Is Still a Paycut

There are at least four ways of meeting a decline in labor demand: laying off workers, cutting nominal annual salaries, cutting hires, or reducing hours. It is difficult to lay off tenured faculty; but in this recession, universities are using two other methods of cutting payroll.

Some schools have imposed faculty hiring freezes. Others are furloughing faculty: Arizona State, for example, has imposed 15 days of furlough over the next six months. Many years ago, Michigan State met a budget crisis by postponing the implementation of a previously agreed salary increase, essentially a wage cut.

Despite tenure, senior university faculty members are not immune to recession-induced budget crises. Our only consolation is that layoffs are rare. On the other hand, in the real world a furlough usually means less effort is required of workers; not so in universities. North Carolina State is proposing a five-day furlough this spring, with each faculty member choosing the days; but teaching days cannot be taken as furlough.

I was furloughed by Michigan State many years ago — but the furlough was the week between Christmas and New Year. These are really just pay cuts by another name, and I resent the attempt to hide that fact and the attempt to deliver the same service to students at lower cost. University administrators should be more honest about this.


I fondly remember the email that I got some years back:

"The pay raise this year will for some of you be less than 0%" (Um, isn't that a pay cut?!?!)


Yeah, tenured professors really have it rough.


You "resent ... the attempt to deliver the same service to students at lower cost?"

That's what a business is about. To somehow believe that education is some supremely noble endeavor that should be immune to market forces and permitted to spend without concern for efficiency is the height of folly and hubris.

John M

Is there a purpose to this other than to whine about the possibility (not yet the reality) that you might be included in the hard times?



Hundreds of thousands of people are losing 100% of their income and you're complaining about losing 1.3% of yours.

Only in academia...


@mike: The job security is good, certainly, but in most fields, professors work relatively long hours, for relatively low pay (compared to what they could make in industry), with particularly annoying colleagues, students, and bureaucracies.


Yeah, being tenured is a real nightmare, isn't it?


Isn't it really the rules of tenure that make this move necessary? What would be the effect of having universities be more honest in their approach and words? (Seriously, I'm curious.)

It isn't accurate that in other areas, furloughs reduce the amount of work expected--at least not in other professional jobs. People then have to take on the work of others who are either furloughed or let go.

Universities have had a tough time figuring out how to increase productivity. It would be quite interesting to hear your thoughts on that--how can universities increase productivity--esp vis a vis students? (Using students more as assistants in pursuing research springs to mind...)


carol browne

re: 10% pay cut.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The legislators should also have a 10% pay cut.


While a furlough is effectively a pay cut, it is better in a way. I have a contract, if they gave me a new contract with a lower wage, it would be much harder for me to get that money back when things got good again. If I get furloughed, true I lose the money for the time that I'm forced to take off, but as soon as they stop the furlough, I have my full salary again.


"I resent ...the attempt to deliver the same service to students at lower cost."

No wonder that college tuition continues to dramatically outpace inflation. Where is the concern for the value that your customer (the student) is receiving?

The parallels to GM circa 1970s are striking. Very high employee job security. Very little emphasis on the value provided to the customer. Us vs them relationship with management. The list goes on. I don't know what your Toyota will be, but when it comes it is going to be painful.

And if your personal situation were really that bad, you'd do what those of us in industry would do: find a better offer someplace else. If such an offer doesn't exist, then what are you complaining about?

Justin A

You want me to call the Whaaaambulance for you?


As someone trying to break into academia this year, things are rough too. Roughly 20% of the jobs in my field have been casualties to budget cuts/freezes. Many other ABD's from my program (arguably the best in the nation in its discipline) cannot get jobs either... so far only one of five have been able to get placed. This, compared to the past five where every single candidate was placed, usually by early January.

And to those that think that academics have it easy...I took a pay cut (or will once I get hired) to attain a PhD and work in academia over other public/private sector jobs that I could have with my master's degree. I am fairly confident that is the case with nearly every person who goes into academia. Just because someone is only teaching two classes a semester and in the class room 6 hours or so a week, doesn't mean they only work 6 hours a week. Prep time can be as many 5 hours per each in the classroom. That puts you at a 30 hour/week job, but teaching is not all of what tenured professors do...they are also expected to be publishing, researching, advising, and often time contributing to pubic service initiatives. This easily pushes the job to more than a typical 40 hr/week job.


Al Marsh

Wow, that must be tough. I have a problem myself, in that I can't quite fit all my £50 notes into my undersized wallet, but your problem is almost as bad. Also, my wife is just TOO attractive. What can I do about that?


Many of the commenters have missed your main point.
Your pay is being cut and they are wrapping it in fancy words and prevarications rather than being honest.


Are professors held to any measures of productivity (from a teaching perspective, not a research perspective)? Everything I read these days lends me to believe that our post-secondary educational system is falling behind the rest of world. If we're not linking one of the primary purposes of a university (preparing students for a career in this increasingly competitive global marketplace) to the productivity of educators and administrators, how do we expect to keep up with other countries?


As an un-tenured High school teacher, I find this very offensive. This is the type of attitude that gives all professors, and teachers, a bad name. Welcome to the real world, teachers and government employees have benefits that most of the private workforce does not. To complain about these benefits, especially in these hard economic times, is offensive.


Education (at least at the elementary and high school level) is a higher and more noble endeavor than almost every other profession. The value we add to society is far greater dollar for dollar than that of most.

Joe D

As I understand it (as a faculty spouse), the traditional sense of tenure can best be compared to other professional workplaces, such as partnership in a law firm or a medical practice. Promotion to full professor could be considered similar to admission to "equity partner", then.

This long-standing arrangement has started to fall apart with the rise of of the professional-and-permanent administration. How many law firms have had their secretaries take over? "These partners are too expensive. We need to hire more (cheaper) fresh-out-of-law-school faces to handle most of our clients, and never give them a chance of making partner."


Agree with MattKSU. All employees at Arizona State - administrators, faculty, staff - are taking required furlough or alternatively, voluntary pay cuts while continuing to work. Either way you choose to take the pay cut, your nominal annual salary is not reduced. Cutting annual salaries - which could still happen - would be far harder to remediate later. And even if they take the cut as furlough, most people still work at least part of that time. It's a matter of integrity and caring.

Of those who think education should be run strictly in response to market forces (like commercial television) I ask: Where do you think your cars, computers and cell phones come from? Alternative fuel programs? Engineering for roads and bridges?

They come from people and countries that value education as an investment in everyone's quality of life. If the U.S. fails in this regard, then we take a back seat to countries who don't.