Monday, September 4
My previous post can be read as suggesting that professors, in general, are overpaid. Let's forget that for the moment. Certainly, for those of you who are professors, I do not know how much you specifically are paid and do not want to appear to be passing judgment on whether it is more or less than what you deserve.

So, consistent of what I'm fond of doing anyway, let's just talk about me. Let me amend my statement to say just that I'm overpaid.

More precisely, I'm in a strange position. On the one hand, I would argue--passionately, if I've had a few drinks--that I am presently underpaid relative to certain specific others in my academic proximity. On the other hand, I would argue that I'm already overpaid in abstract moral-justice terms. Why? Because I've found myself at various times being willing to stand at cocktail parties and hold forth on each of the following six propositions:

1. Income inequality in the United States is too high
2. Income inequality worldwide is (way, way) too high
3. Student tuition is too unaffordable for working-class families
4. Graduate students who are teaching assistants or lecturers are paid too little and commonly (depending on institution) deserve better in terms of health care and tuition benefits
5. Academic staff (e.g., secretaries) generally are underpaid for what they do
6. Government spending on people both needier and more deserving than myself is too low

And, thus, even though Scarlet is the official color of passion, icy-blue logic makes it hard for me to be comfortable following these assertions by then joining other professors in complaining about my salary by endorsing that:

7. Your Secret Correspondent Scarlet is underpaid

Because, I ask myself, where do I think the extra money to augment my standard of living should come from? Once I get past the intraprofessoriate comparisons--if their paying him $x, they should be paying me $x--it's hard for me to see how I justify deserving a bigger feeding from the Great Economic Trough.

Oh, and: Happy Labor Day!


Lucy said...

I think I'm overpaid as a grad student, too, by the same logic.
It also seems bizarre to me that I'm earning almost the same (once the currency is converted) as I was at home when I was working full-time, and enough that I have to pay back my student loans.
I think comparing myself to grad students in other departments/institutions would just make me feel undeservedly fortunate, too. Although, I might be willing to take a pay cut to have the 6 weeks holiday a year that my friends in the UK get.
Post-docs, however, are underpaid, I think.

fraud, in denim said...

I think I'm overpaid as well, in the Scarlet sense.

What I find amazing is that I don't feel like I have any more money now than I did living on grad student stipend and student loan refunds. Maybe it's trying to compensate for living without an income for three months this summer, but by the time my much fatter paycheck comes, I am literally scraping by on pennies. That happened a few times in grad school, but certainly not every month.

Of course my monthly taxes rival my rent plus utilities from grad school, but I'm still not sure how I manage to spend it all. Especially now that happy hours are a thing of the past.

Sienna said...

Hmmm. Scarlet, although I wholeheartedly agree on points 1-6, I am trying to think how much your department would have to pay me to maintain a scholarly identity so spectacular that I would consider faking my own death to get out from under it. In other words, there are some things about the "lifestyle" that I don't always consider benefits. Oh, here. I can capture a piece of it by misqoting you. Some days, I am "willing to stand at cocktail parties." And some days I am not.

Anonymous said...

Let me just say up front that I am a very very very strong supporter of the working wage. I agree with you Scarlet that pay discrepancies in the U.S. and the world are grossly unjust. But...But...BUT if you think for one minute that your measly salary is the root cause (or even contributes on any reasonable scale) you are absolutely wrong. Besides, standard of living is a much large issue than salary alone.

The idea that you are overpaid is, well, delusional. In my opinion it is one of the major things wrong with science. At some point in time it became fashionable to decry one's own worth in academic circles. The self-depracating attitude is what causes us to work long hours for appallingly low pay. It is the attitude that somehow for one to be really good at what they show their level of commitment to their field....they should accept only the meagerest compensation. Please justify to me why the best and brightest minds...working ostensibly for the collective good...are not awarded with the highest pay?

My eyes were opened in a very rude and traumatic way. Twice in court I was forced to defend my decision to forgo 'a real income, in a regular job'. During my divorce, I had to justify why I should receive child support since finishing my Ph.D. (which meant earning a meager stipend) paid so much less than a real job. (I had been employed as an Office Manager a few years previously and making three times the salary). Then, during a custody battle three years later, I was forced to defend why I should be allowed to move and post-doc at Stanford (again at a pitiable salary considering the cost-of-living in Palo Alto) as opposed to getting job in industry. I talked with my lawyer about the merits of academic life, etc. She folded her arms and gave me a stern look and asked "Tell me how to justify to a judge that you willing to lower your child's standard of living because you prefer to work at a University as opposed to a company."

Finally I must address this statement: "Because, I ask myself, where do I think the extra money to augment my standard of living should come from?"

Take a good long look at people who are grossly overpaid (actors, plastic surgeons, CEO's) and just think about this question again. Let's be HUGELY generous and say you make $100K/yr for easy math and since you seem to think you are so overpaid. Do you know what Brad Pitt made last year? $20M. (
(Average pay for a CEO? $12M)

Now I ask you....Is Brad Pitt's expertise really worth 200 times more than yours???

Stand up for your self-worth! You can still fight for social justice without decrying the value of your own expertise!! If you still feel guilty then donate your time and your money to those causes.

Sulphur Siren said...

Hey Scarlet...Here's such a deal! When you feel guilty and overpaid, send me whatever extra cash is causing you pain.

Poppy Red said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kodachrome said...

ha ha ha ha ha! Well, we finally found something that gets people more fired-up than the guilt associated with procrastination: making sure we get paid for it, and nicely!

Sienna said...

BTW, Scarlet, I forgot to say that I think this was a very nice post. You aren't the first to academic to say you're overpaid, but you put the list together in such a way that it works even better on, for example, dentists. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add myself to the list of those who do not think they are overpaid. Yes, some other people are underpaid, but that doesn't mean I should be paid less as well. Instead, I have to wonder why people doing really mediocre work in corporations and consulting companies make so much more than I do.

And yeah, Scarlet, if you feel you're undeserving, there are numerous charities that will welcome your money, I am sure.