Follow the Money: UC Salaries

Miranda Conway

The higher administration of UC San Diego receives a disproportionately large salary compared to professors, according to a database of California public employee salary records compiled by the Sacramento Bee. This reflects the appeal of finding a job in the UC administration, which has increased in numbers by more than 200 percent in the entire UC system. As the salaries of the UC administration seems to have been prioritized over that of teaching faculty, several high-ranking professors have made the choice to seek employment elsewhere.

It is no secret that UC San Diego professors earn less than their contemporaries at equivalent universities. UC San Diego compares itself with 8 other universities: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, SUNY-Buffalo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and Yale. Harvard, for example, pays its professors on average $193,000 a year.

In 2010, the average salary of all full-time professors of the Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Linguistics, History, Literature, and Music departments was a whopping $129,300. This includes overtime, bonuses, housing allowances, sick leave pay, vacation pay, and many other forms of cash compensation. The average salary varied between departments, as Linguistics professors earned an average of $84,000 while Molecular Biologists earned around $169,700.

But even the compensation for science professors seems pathetic in comparison to the salaries of our upper administration. In 2010, the average income of our Chancellor, Vice Chancellors, Assistant Chancellors, Assistant Vice Chancellors, and Deans was $262,850. On average these members of UC San Diego’s upper administration earned $130,000 more than instructors.

Of course, the state government bears responsibility for this disparity to an extent. Indeed, it is disheartening to see that a professor of UCSD who uses computational modeling and psycholinguistic experimentation to explain cognitive language processing earns considerably less than a correctional officer at the Fairfield State Prison. Obviously, there are many fiscal decisions on the state level that demand serious reform, but the UC system can no longer afford to blame the state budget for the severely unbalanced allocation of funds.

As the system stands, there is a greater economic incentive for professors to set aside their lectures and pursue a position of authority within the administration. The primary difference between the responsibilities of senior administrators and instructors is essentially a matter of power.

The Vice Chancellor for External and Business Affairs, for example, has worked for the past twenty years managing business operations for the entire campus (at least his salary of $286,215.96 would appear to suggest so). There’s no denying that his job is potentially demanding, yet there are many tenured professors at this university who have been teaching for over 20 years and barely make six figures. This income disparity is even more disconcerting after recognition of the unquestionable authority of our professors in their respective fields of studies and their devotion to the education of their students.

What motivation is there for decent professors to maintain their teaching positions at UC San Diego, when they are offered more money to work as an administrator or teach at a competing university?

For the UC regents, the solution is a fancy accounting gimmick. In August 2011, the majority of the UC faculty that currently earn less than $200,000 was granted a three percent pay raise. However, this pay raise is actually a pay cut, because professors are now obligated to contribute 3.5 percent of their income to the University of California Retirement Plan, effective as of last July. Effective next July, they will have to contribute 6.5 percent, which ultimately reduces their take-home pay to less than it was before the “pay raise.”

In a letter addressed to the chancellors regarding the “three percent pay raise,” the University of California President Mark Yudof surprisingly acknowledged that most of the senior faculty across the board are compensated below market levels.

Yudof explained, “During the furlough program, employees at the higher end of the scale saw their salaries reduced at a proportion far greater than their colleagues in the lower ranges. But, I am confident that these senior employees, notwithstanding their enormous contributions to the University, will understand that the fiscal pressures we are under make it imperative that we focus this merit pool on our faculty and those of our non-represented staff who are not at the high end of our compensation range.”

Even President Yudof seems to sense the danger of losing more research professors to higher paying institutions at the expense of compensating the administration. It is no coincidence that his letter was released shortly after the top physicists Jose Onuchic and Herbert Levine and the biochemist Peter Wolynes, left UC San Diego to conduct research at Rice University, where they will now earn 40 percent more than they did at UCSD.

Economic incentives aside, the UC regents should consider what their students want. Students have made our opinion clear time and time again: we just want to be taught. Students in the UC system compete for internships and lab positions in the hopes of having an opportunity to work directly with our instructors. UCSD students boast an average GPA of over 3.0 – the result of an exceptional discipline to our courses. It is a figure reflected during the final exams of Fall 2011 when at least a hundred students were caught breaking into the closed Center for Library & Instructional Computing Services (CLICS) just to study. CLICS library had been permanently closed by the administration last spring in a desperate effort to save $450,000. Yet the Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences raked in $737,500 just the year before. Granted, the library budget and that of Health Sciences are separate, but the former is a direct service to the students. Ultimately, the UC regents need to ask the question, “Who is worth more?”

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