University Senate                                                                                                          March 29, 2002








Because some fields of study are far more attractive to the outside world than others, differences in salary levels among divisions (broadly speaking, in favor of the sciences over the humanities) seem to be inevitable. It makes sense therefore to look at salaries within the context of each particular department.


At present, these departmental salary ranges are essentially unchecked (except by reviews designed to avoid any appearance of bias based on sex, race, or age). The “free market” argument, emphasizing the beauties of unbridled capitalism, is often used to justify such uncontrolled salary ranges. But markets in academia at the high end are conspicuously un-free in any case, since tenured professors, unlike corporate employees, cannot be fired or demoted at will.


The crux of the problem, however, is that significant salary increases come almost entirely through outside offers, so that people with strong local commitments who cannot maintain the requisite “have gun will travel” stance have no other means of demonstrating any kind of “merit” that makes a real difference in their salary level. The present system, in short, gives people strong incentives to be poised to leave the university at any moment. It rewards them for focusing only on their own career prospects, and punishes them for committing themselves seriously to staying at Columbia and devoting time and energy to the welfare of the university as a whole.


Because of the intense secrecy that surrounds faculty salary ranges at Columbia, we do not know how great the spread of senior faculty salaries is within each department. Yet without this information, we cannot discuss the problem intelligently—or even decide whether there is a problem. In the accompanying resolutions, we request the minimum necessary information, in a manner carefully framed to preserve salary confidentiality.




Use of non-tenurable “other ranks” of instructors is widespread within the university, and is likely to increase further. Language Lecturers are employed by a number of departments to organize and teach language courses, at elementary and intermediate and sometimes advanced levels. Many Language Lecturers also work with graduate students. Most have Ph.D. degrees. Many publish academic articles and books; most attend conferences and prepare teaching materials. All have course loads heavier than those of professors in their departments. While they are just beginning to be offered a few perks, compared to their professorial colleagues they are treated as second-class citizens in every way.


Salary ranges for Language Lecturers are at present extremely low, mostly in the $30-40 thousand range (and often in the lower half of even that range). Obviously, these salaries need to be raised especially since opportunities for promotion are very limited, so that Lecturers often remain at these salary levels for many years. We understand that some improvements are starting to be made in these salary levels, and of course we applaud this news.


Within each department, we would like to see how far below Assistant Professor levels the Language Lecturer salaries are at present. Accordingly, we are asking for the minimum necessary information to be able to make such comparisons, and thus to understand the situation more clearly and see what might best be done to improve it.


After the requested data are obtained, the Faculty Affairs Committee should begin by looking first at the departments with the most skewed ratios, and seeking to learn what factors are involved in these ratios, and what measures (if any) need to be taken to improve the situation. Information of this kind should also be made available to departmental review committees in the course of their normal work.


We would like to start by looking at the Language Lecturer salaries, and then use this information to explore other salary issues around the university.