Kai Nip

Over the past 35 years, the average salary that Yale pays full professors — excluding those in the School of Medicine — has declined relative to the average salaries of professors at peer institutions.

According to publicly available data from the American Association of University Professors, the ratio of the University’s average full-professor salary to the mean of the average salaries offered to full professors at five of Yale’s peer institutions — Harvard, Columbia, the University of Chicago, Stanford and Princeton — has fallen nearly 10 percent, from 1980–81 to 2016–17. During the 2016–17 academic year, Yale’s average faculty salary was $209,500, while the salaries at Harvard, Princeton and Columbia were $227,000, $229,400 and $244,000, respectively. A large fraction of this drop has occurred over the past 10 years, said Anthony Smith, professor of economics and chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty.

Now, the 2016–2018 CESOF — an FAS committee of faculty members appointed by faculty Dean of the FAS Tamar Gendler — is working to pinpoint the causes of the trend, one of the primary focuses of its 2018 report, set to be released in May.

Smith advised against drawing any conclusions about trends until the report is published, since the AAUP data includes the average full-professor salaries at all professional schools, as well as that of each arts and sciences faculty. According to Smith, the professional schools can “dominate the data” — business schools tend to pay their faculty members more than arts and sciences schools do, so the numbers for a university like Harvard, whose business school is much larger than the Yale School of Management, could skew the data, Smith said.

With the primary goal of studying the economic status of the faculty, CESOF is analyzing additional confidential data to determine whether the salary disparity trend holds for Yale’s full-professor salaries in the FAS when compared with the salaries of faculty in the arts and sciences branches of peer institutions.

“These findings are potentially quite important, so I think it’s important to be clear on what we don’t know at the moment, and then when the report is submitted, we’ll have more information that will hopefully shed light on this,” Smith said.

Chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate Matthew Jacobson called the 10 percent disparity in salaries a “very concerning” issue. The FAS senate has met with University President Peter Salovey, Provost Ben Polak and Gendler over the past month to discuss the disparity, Jacobson told the News. He added that the senate and the administration do not yet have a clear understanding of how the disparity arose or its implications. Jacobson said the senate expects to have a more “meaningful breakdown” of statistics in the upcoming months from both the CESOF report and the assessment of the senate’s budget committee, though he added that the budget committee is relying heavily on the work of CESOF.

At a January meeting of the FAS senate, economics professor and faculty senate executive committee member William Nordhaus ’63 brought up the disparity in full-professor salaries from data he and John Geanakoplos ’75 collected from CESOF. According to minutes from the meeting, Nordhaus deemed the findings “incendiary” and “extremely disturbing,” particularly in light of University-wide efforts to retain and recruit faculty members. Asked to speculate on the cause of the trend, Nordhaus “demurred,” according to the minutes, though he said the salary disparity suggested that the core mission of the University was being short-changed. Nordhaus declined to comment for this story, instead referring the News to CESOF, which he said had greater access to relevant data.

During the meeting, Geanakoplos conjectured that the 2008 recession might have contributed to the downward trend in salaries. Still, he said it was Yale’s responsibility to manage its finances through economic cycles.

“You can’t manage a great university without being able to manage through the down cycles,” Geanakoplos said, according to the minutes.

Geanakoplos did not respond to repeated requests for comment via email.

Gendler did not respond directly to the AAUP data trends. But she told the News that she was “delighted to be working with CESOF,” which she said is doing important work.

“I look forward to reading their report this spring and to responding to any issues that they identify,” Gendler said.

Even if CESOF does identify a trend in relative faculty professor salaries, Smith said it will be difficult for the committee to diagnose “deeply” what is guiding that trend, since it does not have access to all the relevant information about how salary decisions are made. Rather, the primary duty of the committee is to “document and assess” the economic status of the faculty in its report, rather than perform advocacy work based on the findings, Smith added.

The FAS senate was established in 2015.

Adelaide Feibel | adelaide.feibel@yale.edu