how to increase sociology’s paycheck
— Beth Popp Berman (@epopppp) July 15, 2015
On Twitter, Elizabeth noted that the typical economics assistant professor makes 50% more than the typical sociologist. Rather than twist our hands and foam at the mouth, I’d like to start a more constructive conversation about how sociology might increase its paycheck.
To start, you have to understand how academic salaries are set. It goes like this: every year, your college gets a big chunk of money and part of that chunk goes to faculty salaries. Roughly speaking, the faculty salary chunk has a few major chunks – one for part timers/adjuncts; grad students; professional school faculty; and all other faculty. Within each segment, people get “around” the same amount. I am not saying that older faculty aren’t paid more. Rather, most older faculty make what younger people make plus a third, at most. At some schools, full profs make only a tiny bit more than associates or assistants. What you don’t see is senior faculty making double or triple what entry level professors make. The only exception are faculty of world class reputation (e.g., Nobel prize winners).
So how does one improve the overall economic standing of your academic discipline? How does one not get paid the same salary that the rest of the university is getting paid? One strategy is to move to a professional schools. For example, economists in business schools usually make more than those in arts and sciences. But that begs the question – why do they get paid more? Why aren’t MD’s paid what arts and sciences biologists get paid?
Answer: provide actual value to outsiders. If you can do this, you will increase the value of your discipline in two ways. First, outsiders will compete for professors in your area. Second, outsiders will pay academics and increase their salaries through grants, donations, and sponsored research. They will provide an independent pool of income in addition to what your college gives you and it won’t be taken by competing groups (e.g., the Spanish Department).
I think sociology has a lot to offer – we have invented a fair number of things that the wider world uses like focus groups and network analysis. Also, sociologists were pioneers in survey analysis. But nobody seems to know that. So here are some suggestions:
- Change our public image from “critical” to “we know social behavior.” Note: that doesn’t mean we stop being critical, it’s about packaging.
- Emphasize our advantage: we are the cool jack of all trades social science.
- For the BA degree, create a track for applied (e.g., ethnography at work or big data).
- At the PhD level, celebrate and encourage students who go to the private sector. That ethnographer who is now working in tech? Invite them for a talk!
- At the faculty level, create “pathways” between high level policy and private jobs. For example, in economics, economists who work at the Fed frequently find their ways back to top econ programs.
- Break out of the arts and sciences. The pool of income is highly constrained. ASU, for example, has had some success in being a stand alone social science school of sociology.
I think sociology is great, but it is not wise to take things for granted. We should innovate where we can and try to create a new niche for ourselves.