The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently released their annual faculty salary survey and the University of Mary Washington does not look good relative to our peers in Virginia.
The most alarming figure is the average UMW assistant professor salary: $55,400. This figure is lower than all but one of the thirteen public four-year colleges and universities in Virginia. Only Longwood has a lower assistant professor average (at $55,100).
Why does this matter to UMW students, staff and faculty? First, our low salaries for assistant professors are a barrier to recruiting the best possible new faculty. When we have a tenure-track opening on the faculty we almost always hire at the assistant professor level so our salary at that level has a huge impact on the quality of our new faculty and, in turn, on faculty quality as a whole. Because UMW offers such a relatively low salary, some high quality candidates never apply, whereas others turn us down after being offered a position due to a significantly better financial offer elsewhere. The high cost of living in Fredericksburg compounds the problem. Quite simply, we run the repeated risk that the best candidates for open faculty positions will receive and accept offers from other institutions that pay more, like VCU ($66,800) or even Christopher Newport ($59,000).
Second, our low average assistant professor salary is a barrier to retaining the best faculty we have. In academia, assistant professors are the most mobile rank. Because they do not yet have tenure, assistant professors often actively look to move to a better institution. At Mary Washington we can and do lose assistant professors to better salary (and lower teaching load) offers elsewhere. The best assistant professors we have are the ones most likely to get competitive offers elsewhere. We need to do everything we can to keep them around.
University administrators will point out that our assistant professor salary is above the nation-wide median for four-year institutions and that UMW has faced extraordinary budgetary cuts from Richmond in recent years. We recognize the challenge budget cuts have posed, yet when all but one of the other public four-year colleges in the Commonwealth have been able to weather those cuts with a higher assistant professor salary, it seems that we can and should be able to do better.
In higher education, as in other sectors of the economy, you get what you pay for. We cannot reasonably expect to be the best public liberal arts institution in the state–let alone the country–with the second lowest assistant professor salary in Virginia.
Ernest C. Ackerman, professor of computer science, president of the UMW chapter of the AAUP
Jason W. Davidson, associate professor of political science, vice president and president-elect of the UMW chapter of AAUP
Suzanne Sumner, professor of mathematics, CAS faculty senate president, and secretary/treasurer-elect of the UMW chapter of AAUP
Craig R. Vasey, professor of philosophy & chair, department of classics, philosophy, and religion, and president, Virginia Conference of AAUP