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The UW Salary Situation

Included on this page:
A. The Trend in Salaries from 1984 to 1997
B. Comparisons with Peer Institutions

The low level of faculty salaries at the University of Washington has been a recurrent topic of discussion in academic circles, both here and nationally, for many years. Many current UW faculty members do not receive a salary sufficient to allow them to purchase a home in the Seattle metropolitan area. There is a widespread belief that an increasing number of UW departments and colleges can no longer compete successfully to hire the best candidates for available faculty positions. These conditions are beginning to erode the quality and social fabric of a great university.

To address these concerns as objectively as possible, our committee considered several key questions:

  1. What have been the trends in average faculty salaries and in the inequality of the distribution of salaries in recent years?
  2. How do University of Washington faculty salaries compare to our peers?
  3. What is the pattern of salary distribution across units in the University?

A. The Trend in Salaries from 1984 to 1997

In Table 1, we present the mean monthly salary in each year for full-time 9/10-month faculty (for professors, associate professors, and assistant professors) on the Seattle campus, for the College of Arts and Sciences as a whole, and for the major divisions of the College (Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences). An examination of the annual time series in constant dollars reveals that 1991 or 1992 represented the high water mark with salaries rising up to that point, then remaining stagnant or declining for the last 5 to 6 years. Accordingly, we summarize the time trend for two periods: 1984 to 1992 and 1992 to 1997. The summary indicators (shown in the last columns on the right-hand side of the page) include the absolute change for each period in constant 1992 dollars and the average annual rate of change for each period.

The average salary of full professors (full-time on 9/10-month appointments) at the Seattle campus was a bit over $7,000 per month (in 1992 dollars) in 1997. From 1984 to 1992, full professor salaries rose, on average, about 1.6 percent per year, for a net gain of more than $870 per month. These "good times" were followed, however, by hard times from 1992 to 1997. During this period, the average faculty salary at the University of Washington declined in inflation adjusted dollars. Indeed more than 25 percent of the gain from the late 1980s was lost in the 1990s.

The same basic trends hold for associate and assistant professors. There were real gains of more than one percent per year for the late 1980s, but then real losses were experienced for the mid-1990s. In proportional terms and in dollar amounts, however, the losses have been greatest for full professors. This simply reflects that fact that there has been somewhat greater pressure to increase entry-level salaries to compete for new assistant professors than to maintain the salaries of long-term faculty. Salaries are lower for faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences than for the Seattle campus as a whole.

The lowest salaries are experienced by faculty in the Arts and Humanities. Consider the plight of an assistant professor in the Arts whose average monthly salary was $3,772 in 1997 or slightly below $34,000 for the year (a 9-month salary). Based on the traditional assumption that the price of a house should be no more than 2.5 times one's salary, an assistant professor in the Arts could afford a house costing no more than $85,000 in 1997. The current median sale price for a home in King County is about $200,000. A similar calculation for an assistant professor in 1984 reveals the maximum price would have been $80,000 then. Although average salaries (inflation adjusted) have risen a bit (from 1984 to 97), the change has been so slight that many faculty members may feel that a middle class living standard is beyond their reach.

Our initial expectation was that the measures of inequality in faculty salaries would show a widening gap between those with above-average and those with below-average salaries. The trend in inequality, as measured by the coefficient of variation, shows only slight changes over time. For the Seattle campus as a whole, there were modest increases in salary inequality during the late 1980s when overall salaries were rising. As salaries stagnated in the 1990s, there have been only modest fluctuations in inequality. And although there are differences in the magnitude of inequality across colleges and divisions, the same basic trend holds. This basic conclusion--no widening of salary inequality over time--is also supported with a more detailed examination of salary trends for the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles (see Chart 1).

Another indicator of relative salary inequality shown in Table 1 is the ratio of mean salaries across ranks. We present the ratios of assistants to associates (90 5 points), assistants to fulls (65 5 points), and associates to fulls (70 5 points). Stability in relative salary levels across ranks appears to be the basic trend. This pattern may seem to be in conflict with the perception that there is an increasing trend towards compression and inversion. Although it is true that the relative gaps across ranks have not changed in recent years, there is still plenty of room for considerable variations within these overall averages. The average dollar gap between assistant and associate professors is only a few hundreds of dollars per month. There are cases of salary compression and inversion even though the average ratio of salaries between ranks has remained constant.

B. Comparisons with Peer Institutions:

The salaries of faculty at comparable institutions provide a rough approximation of the market value (and quality) of educational services offered at the University of Washington. The key is to develop a set of comparable institutions - the set of peers - with which to compare the University of Washington salaries. For this report, we rely on the standard set of eight peer institutions: Michigan; North Carolina; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); University of California, Berkeley; Illinois; Indiana; Arizona; and Oregon. In Table 2, average UW salaries are compared to the average salaries of the unweighted average of the eight peer institutions. The universe of faculty includes only full-time faculty (professors, associate professors, and assistant professors) on 9-month appointments and whose salaries are measured for the academic year (9-month excluding summer salaries). We also include an additional comparison to UCLA. Of all the universities on the list of peers, UCLA seems most comparable to the University of Washington. Both are nationally ranked public universities located in metropolitan areas on the West Coast.

Table 2 includes two summary measures comparing UW mean salaries with the eight peers and UCLA: (1) the percent change in the average UW salary needed to attain parity with the peers, and (2) the dollar gap. The percent change figure is the average peer salary minus the average UW salary divided by the UW salary. The dollar gap is simply the UW salary minus the peer salary.

As of the fall of 1997, the average College of Arts and Sciences faculty salary was about $57,000 compared to $67,000 for the set of eight peers and $75,000 at UCLA. To "catch up" to the average peer salary, the University of Washington would have to increase UW Arts and Sciences salaries by 17 percent or almost $10,000 per faculty member. If UCLA were the standard, the catch up would require a 31 percent increase or almost $18,000 per faculty member. Although not every unit has comparable peer data, the overall pattern is remarkably similar for almost every department in Arts and Sciences and for the other colleges. Most departments have average salaries 10-25 percent behind the average of the peers and 20-30 percent below UCLA. The salary gaps are staggering.

The other UW schools and colleges are also disadvantaged relative to their peers, but the salary gaps are slightly less than for Arts and Sciences departments relative to their peers. Even a number one ranked program, such as the School of Nursing, falls below the salary level of its peers. The simple conclusion is that every unit at the University of Washington can claim that its salary structure is well below that prevailing at other institutions.

In addition to the comparison with peers, Table 2 also shows measures of relative unit-level inequality within each institutional category (peers, UCLA, and UW). The average salary for each college, division, and department is divided by the average of the College of Arts and Sciences. A ratio (in the columns labeled "Ratio") greater than 1 shows the average salary in that unit is above the average for the College of Arts and Sciences and a ratio below 1 shows the opposite.

There is no correlation between the average salary in a UW department or unit and its relative and absolute inequality with peer institutions. Most departments in the Arts and Humanities divisions have average salaries that are 15 percent below the average for the College as a whole, while the Natural Sciences are about 10 percent above (and Social Sciences in between). Each division has, however, salaries below those of its peer institutions. In fact the percentage gaps are almost the same--ranging from 15 to 19 percent needed for UW departments to catch up to the eight peers and a 31-33 percent salary increase needed to catch up to UCLA. Although the pattern of inequality between departments at the UW mirrors the patterns of inequality found at the peer institutions, the lower average salaries at the UW exacerbates the problem. In other words, faculty in the UW Arts and Humanities face a double burden--low departmental salaries on top of a low UW average salary.

It is widely believed that the problem of low salaries is most acute for senior faculty - full professors - at the University of Washington. The data in Table 3 confirm this impression. The average College of Arts and Science full professor (full-time on a 9/10-month appointment) earns $67,000 compared to the $80,000 average of the eight peers and $90,000 at UCLA. A program to achieve parity would require a 20 percent increase in full professor salaries to reach the average of the eight peer institutions or a 35 percent increase to reach UCLA. If the average UW Arts and Sciences professor changed places with a counterpart at UCLA, the UW professor would get a salary increase of over $23,000. The patterns are pretty much the same across the University. With the exception of a handful of units, full professors in most departments and colleges are 15 to 30 percent behind their peers across the country.

Table 4 shows the same measures of inequality relative to peers for associate and assistant professors. In contrast to some claims, UW entry-level salaries are not comparable to our peers. For example the average salary of UW assistant professors in the College of Arts and Sciences is 9 percent behind the eight peers and 22 percent behind UCLA. The situation is worse at the associate professor level. Only in a few selected units has the UW managed to stay competitive at the assistant and associate levels.

  1. The analysis of salaries requires a number of assumptions about the composition of the faculty, the measurement of salary, and a number of other definitional issues. In order to keep technical issues to a minimum, these considerations are reported in Appendix B of this report.

  2. Also reported are the standard deviations, the coefficient of variation, and the Ns (the number of observations for each time point).

  3. The average annual salary increase = r = 100{exp[1n(T /T) / t ] 1}, where T = mean salary at time 2 and T = mean salary at time 1 and t = the number of years between T and T.

  4. For departments and colleges where comparable units do not exist at the peer institutions, a slightly different set of peers was used.

  5. The mean salaries for faculty at all ranks in the peer institutions were weighted by the distribution by rank at the University of Washington. This is a partial control for composition by rank between the peer institutions and UW, but it is not complete because there may still be compositional differences by years of service.

  6. Whenever there is not comparable peer data, dashes (--) are entered in the cell. If there are too few UW cases for a reliable comparison (arbitrarily set at fewer than 5 faculty), then asterisks (**) are entered in the cell.

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