While Yale’s academic departments frequently snag the top spots in national rankings, salaries in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have fallen behind Yale’s peers. The gap is widest in the science and engineering departments, where Yale has lost considerable ground over the last decade.
Every two years, a Committee on the Economic Status of Faculty assesses how faculty salaries at the University compare to Yale’s peers. CESOF plans to release its report later this spring, but its last report published in 2018 showed that since 2008, Yale’s average full-professor salaries in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering had fallen by seven percent relative to the University’s peers, compared to a loss of three and four percent in the humanities and social sciences, respectively. Assistant professors’ salaries had also fallen by about seven percent compared to Yale’s peers.
Last month, CESOF provided preliminary findings to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate. The data showed that Yale’s salaries in science and engineering have not made up significant ground since CESOF’s 2018 report. In interviews with the News, six professors expressed their thoughts on the state of faculty salaries.
“It’s a great job and it’s awesome to be in the FAS,” said Valerie Horsley, an associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. “But at the same time, it’s just really discouraging to know that you’re not getting paid as much as if you were at Princeton.”
About a year ago, University Provost Scott Strobel told the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate that he saw a relative gap had emerged in Yale’s FAS faculty salaries in comparison to a small number of the University’s peers. “The disparity didn’t come about in a year; it happened over a long period of time. In the same way, it cannot be fixed in a year,” said Strobel, who took over as university provost just over a year ago.
“I have made a commitment to bridge that gap,” Strobel told the News. He said he has committed to increasing the pool of resources available for FAS faculty salary raises but declined to specify an amount or timeline.
The 2018 CESOF report found that raising the average salary by six percent would have cost about $15 million, or only 0.6 percent of the total expenses of Yale’s Central Campus.
At the FAS Senate meeting at the end of February, CESOF presented the trajectory of Yale’s salaries compared to a group of its peer institutions. Due to confidentiality rules, the University cannot specify which schools it compares salaries with, but the list contains universities “similar to” Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia and the University of Chicago, according to the 2018 report.
Paul Van Tassel, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering, said that as he understands it, Yale at one time had one of the highest average faculty salaries from among its peer institutions, but now is closer to “the middle of the pack.” In the case of science and engineering, Yale may be closer to the bottom, Van Tassel said.
“At Yale we don’t really aspire to be the middle of the top group,” Van Tassel said. “We aspire to be the best.”
Professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Alessandro Gomez said that individual faculty members can compare their salaries with those offered at state schools, as the salaries are available publicly online. But Yale’s collective data is not publicly available anywhere.
According to the February FAS Senate meeting minutes, up until 2018 the gap in salaries between Yale and its “peers” in the biological and physical sciences and engineering has widened “consistent[ly] with no major [salary] upturn.” By contrast, the administrative efforts to boost salaries in the social sciences were “significant,” according to the minutes. Since the last CESOF report two years ago, the science salary discrepancy has remained largely unchanged, Horsley said in an interview.
CESOF uses salary data from three sources. One is the American Association of University Professors. This data is current and public, and shows that there was a smaller relative increase in Yale’s salaries compared to its peers up to 2017, but that Yale has since gradually lessened the gap, though it is still more than seven percentage points. The AAUP data shows the average salary by rank in universities, and includes all professional schools but the School of Medicine. The data, while current, does not give an FAS-specific picture.
To look at the FAS specifically, CESOF also uses data from the Association of American Universities Data Exchange. This data has a lag of two years, but provides information on the specific departmental level. The AAUDE data shows that up until 2018, science salaries at Yale were consistently declining compared to peers. According to the meeting minutes, CESOF Chair Costas Arkolakis said there was not a significant effort to bridge the divide. Arkolakis declined to comment for the article, citing CESOF’s ongoing work.
There is a difference between being an FAS faculty member in the sciences and an FAS faculty member in the humanities or social sciences, Horsley said. Science faculty essentially run small businesses, managing a staff of researchers and writing grants year-round on top of teaching classes, serving on committees and advising undergraduates, she added.
Van Tassel said he thinks the administration is aware of the disparities and wants to pay Yale’s faculty as well as their counterparts at other top institutions.
For the 2018-19 academic year, the most current publicly-available data, among full professors, Yale ranks only below Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Chicago for the highest salaries. But for associate professors, Yale’s ranking falls to 10th. For assistant professors, Yale comes in at 12th among private, four-year universities.
How salaries are set
Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Pericles Lewis said that the makeup of faculty salaries depends on a variety of factors. For example, some fields generally pay better than others do, and some universities have to pay faculty higher salaries due to the cost of living in the areas around them.
Additionally, people hired by Yale when they are farther along in their careers often have much higher salaries.
CESOF’s 2018 report showed that FAS faculty hired with tenure earn an average of 8.5 percent more than faculty hired without tenure who ascended while at Yale.
Yale used to hire primarily senior faculty who were well-established in their careers, Van Tassel said. Now, it hires more junior faculty and promotes them from within, which generally leads to lower salaries than when hiring a senior faculty member from another institution. There are benefits to having younger faculty, including more energy and a greater desire to prove themselves — but Yale has to take active steps to counteract lower salaries, he added.
Within Yale’s FAS, faculty report their yearly activity to their department chairs, who then might recommend a raise to the upper administration. The activity report includes teaching and research achievements, as well as university service. These raises are almost always modest — only a few percentage points or less, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Corey O’Hern said. He could not comment on what specific achievements and activities qualify for a given raise, as faculty don’t typically receive such feedback.
Faculty salaries play an important role in retention, Van Tassel said. Successful faculty members become very visible around the time they earn tenure, and other universities often make attractive offers, he added.
Three of Van Tassel’s colleagues were poached in this way from his department over the last five years, although he does not know the extent to which the economics of the offers were deciding factors, he said. According to Van Tassel, Yale can be in a better position to retain top faculty by maintaining competitive faculty salaries.
Professor of earth and planetary sciences David Bercovici said the salary disparity primarily affects recruitment, morale and retention. Faculty know they are working for the second-wealthiest university in the world, but that they are paid less than some of their peers are, Bercovici explained.
Questions of transparency
While CESOF is made up of Yale’s faculty, professors outside of the committee do not have access to data on faculty salaries, only the aggregate versions released in reports. At its Feb. 18 meeting, members of the FAS Senate called for more transparency around the issue.
Gomez, who serves on the FAS Senate’s Faculty Advancement Committee, was one such professor. He initially asked that faculty have greater access to the information, but was told that Yale’s administration — and administrators at peer institutions — are legally bound not to divulge the information. Recognizing the legal constraints, he has since stopped asking, he said.
Yale’s Office of Institutional Research shares aggregate data from the Association of American Universities Data Exchange and from the Consortium on Financing Higher Education with CESOF. The data allows the committee to see the ratio of Yale’s average FAS salary compared to the average FAS salary in a set of peer institutions along departmental and school lines. The data from the two sources is confidential, and governed by strict rules as to how much information can be shared with CESOF or in a public report.
But Bercovici said that rules around sharing information frequently change, he said, and the rationale for keeping salaries confidential was “simply to keep you and us in the dark.”
“Specifically, imagine you are negotiating a salary for a new job; having no idea what to shoot for keeps you at a severe disadvantage in the negotiation,” he wrote in an email to the News. “Low-balling new hires is a way of keeping costs down. This is true everywhere, not just Yale.”
Horsley said she has asked administrators for more information about salaries, but was told that departments are small enough that if she were given that information, some faculty would then be able to determine each others’ individual salaries. But in Yale’s medical school, when faculty get their annual salary letter, it includes the range of salaries among their department members with similar positions, she said.
“I think that is something that could be helpful in kind of understanding where your salary sits compared to other people,” Horsley said. “At the moment, it’s just like a vacuum. I have no idea.”
The FAS Senate began meeting in the 2015-16 academic year.
Rose Horowitch | email@example.com