University salary gap among the highest in Big Ten, state

The U has the biggest pay gap in the state for profs. and instructors.
July 10, 2013

The University of Minnesota pays its professors more than many colleges and universities nationwide but ranks far lower when it comes to instructor salaries.

In 2012-13, the salaries of full University professors, associate professors and assistant professors were higher than at most four-year institutions nationwide and all colleges and universities in the state. But University instructors were on the lower end compared to their peers, according to data compiled by the American Association of University Professors and released by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Instructors rank below assistant professors and work on contracts that are renewed annually.

The average annual salary for University professors has climbed steadily in recent years — reaching $134,300 for full professors in 2012-13. But average instructor salaries have leveled off near their rate in 2000 of slightly less than $50,000 per year.

Professor and instructor salaries are determined by various factors, said Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. These factors include where a professor or instructor got their degree and the overall experience they bring to the University.

The field the faculty member works in also makes a difference, she said.

“What we have at the University is what we call market pressure,” she said. “If you want to hire the best of the best, you may pay more for someone who is, say, in engineering than you may for someone coming in for a graphic design position.”

When compared to other Big Ten schools that employ instructors, the University lands near the middle for full professor and assistant professor salaries but near the bottom for associate professor and instructor salaries.

Only two schools in the conference pay instructors and associate professors less in each category.

Carney said schools classify and use instructors differently — some schools have a lot of tenure-track instructors, for example — which could account for some of the differences in average pay between institutions.

“As a rule, we don’t have very many instructors on the tenure track,” she said.

The University also tries to use instructors to teach lower-level courses, Carney said, while other colleges and universities may have more instructors teaching higher-level classes.


Graphic by Jeff Hargarten

The salary gap

The pay gap between full professors and instructors at the University is one of the highest in the Big Ten and is the highest in Minnesota.

Only Michigan State has as wide of a gap between its full professor and instructor salaries as the University of Minnesota, which on average pays its full professors $85,600 more per year than its instructors.

It’s important to find a balance between the highest-paid and lowest-paid workers in any organization, said professor John Budd, chair of the Department of Work and Organizations in the Carlson School of Management.

“If those gaps get too big, it might be hard for those people to work together,” he said. “But if they get too narrow, it might fail to provide an incentive for people to move up the ladder.”

In Minnesota, the University ranks No. 1 for full professor pay out of the 20 colleges and universities included in the AAUP data — $21,000 more than Macalester College, the second highest paying school that also employs instructors.

When instructor salaries statewide are compared, though, the University slips near the middle of the pack, with salaries nearly $6,400 less than at Macalester.

But the gap between full-professor pay and instructor pay is significantly higher at the University than at any other Minnesota school that employs instructors included in the data — nearly $48,000 higher than the average gap.

The University of St. Thomas has the smallest average pay gap out of the Minnesota institutions included in the data, and is the only school where average instructor pay is more than assistant professors.

Jim Winterer, director of media relations for St. Thomas, said the data is slightly skewed because two of the five instructors at St. Thomas are in high-paying fields.

“If we didn’t have those two higher ones, the average would be in the low [$70,000s],” he said. “It would be lower than the assistant professors.”

But even with those two instructors out of the equation, the school would still have the highest-paid instructors in the state — a fact that is more coincidental than strategic, Winterer said.

Jay Kiedrowski, senior fellow in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said he’s surprised University instructor pay doesn’t rank at the top of Minnesota schools but added the University offers other benefits, including the prestige of working at a top research university.

“Salaries are always a function of the market,” he said. “So if the University is able to attract instructors that are willing to work for less, it’s because they want to work at the University.”

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