Faculty salary gap will take years to close, administrators say
Yale’s faculty salaries increasingly fell behind those of its peers over the last decade, a trend administrators will attempt to rectify through incremental changes.
Tim Tai, Contributing Photographer
Over the last decade, many of Yale’s professors have made less and less money compared to those holding similar positions at the University’s peer institutions. It might be another decade before that changes.
Last Thursday, Yale Provost Scott Strobel pledged to close the gap between salaries for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Yale and those at similar schools. The FAS Senate will soon form a special budgetary committee to advise the financial investments in faculty. Still, data from the 2018 report from the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty, or CESOF — the most recent report the group has released — shows that the gap between faculty salaries at Yale and its peers began opening up more than a decade ago, when faculty pay at Yale last matched that of its peer institutions. The mechanisms that administrators plan to use mean some time will pass before the gap is corrected.
“We are beginning to catch up,” Gendler told the News. “We will close the gap in the amount of time that it took to open the gap and no longer. But we can’t necessarily adjust in a single year what took many years.”
The University has not yet provided details of how much of the budget will be allocated to boosting faculty salaries.
Gendler said that efforts to close the gap began around two years ago. In January 2020, for example, a large number of structural adjustments were made for certain groups of faculty whose pay had fallen furthest behind peers, including professors who had been internally-promoted and long-serving lecturers. That same month, Gendler also set a new minimum salary for ladder faculty and increased minimum pay for courses taught by instructional faculty.
Still, faculty have continued to sound the alarm about pay disparities. Professor of economics John Geanakoplos, who as chair of the FAS Senate authored several reports about University spending during the pandemic, noted that while the average raise was 0 percent in 2020 and 3.5 percent in 2021, inflation rates in that same two-year span could reach 10 percent, giving faculty members an effective 6.5 percent pay cut in real terms.
Geanakoplos said he hopes that Yale’s policies toward salary during the COVID-19 pandemic don’t mirror tendencies seen during past recessions.
“After each crisis, in the mid 1970s, in 1991, and after 2008, we hired less and paid less than our competitors,” Geanakoplos said. “I hope the administration now is thinking a little bolder.”
He pointed out that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College, both of which also saw unusually large endowment returns, recently announced pay increases or bonuses for faculty and staff.
Professor of chemical engineering Paul Van Tassel said that while Yale faculty may not feel any acute effects of the salary gap, the gap does pose a concern about Yale’s ability to compete against other universities to recruit quality faculty.
“While higher salaries would impact both current faculty and future recruiting, there’s probably a bigger impact on the missed opportunities as to the people who are here,” Van Tassel said. “If we think of ourselves with Stanford and Princeton and Harvard, we should be paid roughly the same as them.”
Van Tassel added that while other universities may have to offset high costs of living in larger cities like New York or San Francisco with higher salaries than Yale offers, home prices in New Haven have risen in the last two decades. If salaries were to increase to match costs of living, more professors, particularly younger and recently-recruited faculty, might live closer to Yale and vitalize campus culture.
Salaries at private colleges are typically kept confidential, making direct comparisons with other universities difficult. While universities share some data among themselves, Dean of Faculty Development Larry Gladney said that administrators often have a sense of how much other universities are paying based on their frequent searches for new faculty.
Additionally, faculty composition often varies; if a university has a higher proportion of faculty in a highly-paid field like computer science or data science, for example, its average salary would likely be higher than its peers.
The 2018 CESOF report used multiple datasets to analyze the gap in faculty salaries, factoring in ranks and weighting by departments. It cites public data from the American Association of University Professors, which includes salaries for professors in the FAS and Yale’s professional schools. The data shows that salaries in 2017 were 12 percent below those of the average of five peer institutions — Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and the University of Chicago. It also includes a second dataset produced by the Association of American Universities Data Exchange, which reports numbers specific to the FAS. That dataset showed that salaries in 2015 sat five percent below salaries for comparable groups of faculty at a wider set of peer institutions.
CESOF was slated to release another regular report in spring 2021 and presented preliminary findings to the FAS Senate in February, but the committee delayed its full release in part because of the pandemic, Gendler said. The report is now expected to be released later this year.
Raises, raises, raises
Faculty raises come in two forms: standard raises based on yearly evaluations by deans and department chairs and structural adjustments that address specific groups of faculty.
Regular yearly raises begin with faculty submitting an activity report around January. Professors are asked to submit their contributions to the University and wider society over the last 12 months, including the publication of research papers and books, roles in public service or advising to graduate and undergraduate students. Department chairs then give each faculty member a rating of between one and three, with twos being the default and threes reserved for those with particularly outstanding contributions. Full ratings are then submitted to Gendler and Gladney, who translate the ratings into percentage-based raises, which typically average around three percent. The total allotment for faculty salaries and raises, however, is set by the University provost.
Ranks, too, are factored into each professor’s assigned percent raise, with junior faculty more likely to receive higher percentages than their seniors in order to account for their lower base pay.
Gladney said that outside of regular raises, the FAS Dean’s Office also frequently considers pay adjustments for a particular group of faculty. If one department is found to have an average below that of another university, all of its faculty members may receive a special percentage increase. Salaries are also corrected to minimize gender pay gaps and to ensure that newly-recruited faculty salaries are not substantially higher than their internally-promoted peers.
Gladney added that faculty members are always welcome to inquire about their salaries. Active faculty members who receive offers for positions at other universities or institutions sometimes negotiate for higher retention packages. Even with yearly ratings, Gladney stressed that salaries are not formulaic, but consider a professor’s holistic contributions.
The percentage system overall is a partial explanation for the widening gap between Yale and its peers, Gladney said. If the fractional pay increase is even slightly lower in a given year, the effects of the difference are then compounded in the years moving forward.
“We are committed to faculty salaries at Yale that properly acknowledge the excellence of our faculty, for our ladder faculty whose research shapes the world and our instructional and ladder faculty that engage in extraordinary teaching,” Gendler said.
But still, some faculty wonder as to why a school like Yale could be lagging behind its peers. Geanakoplos said that if Yale wants to continue to be competitive with peer institutions, it must provide competitive pay to recruit and retain star faculty members.
“I don’t know why Yale shouldn’t aspire to being the number one college in the country, as we used to be,” Geanakoplos said.
There are 676 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.