The Chronicle of Higher Education has published the results of the 2013 faculty salary survey of the American Association of University Professors. Columbia tops the list with an average salary for full professors of $212,300; Stanford is next at $207,300; the University of Chicago at $203,600; and Harvard at $203,000.
When I point out that that compensation isn't bad for a job that generally includes summers, spring break, and winter vacation periods off, in addition to regular sabbaticals, and involves usually perhaps four to six hours a week in front of an actual class, I get angry comments pointing out that I need to account for the time spent grading papers (though graduate students do some of that), preparing for classes, researching, attending faculty meetings, etc. Fair enough. But it should also be noted that in some cases this salary income is supplemented by royalties for published books or textbooks and by, for business school or law professors and professors in the sciences, fees for consulting work, directorships, and other non-academic work. Nor do the salary figures include, so far as I can tell, health insurance, housing, or retirement benefits.
If tuition-paying parents or generous alumni donors want to volunteer to shoulder these costs (or of sometimes even higher paid administrators), terrific. But the whole thing is erected on a platform of government subsidies — Pell Grants, subsidized student loans, federal research grants, the tax exemptions for charitable donations and endowments — shouldered by taxpayers who do not have such a choice. Many of these taxpayers earn less than the professors.
That's not unique to academia, of course; plenty of taxpayers also earn less than the CEOs of defense contractors who are supported by taxpayer dollars, or than highly paid employees at banks or automakers that taxpayers injected capital into via the TARP program. But if the faculty salaries and the government subsidies keep increasing in tandem, I wouldn't be surprised to see it emerge as a political issue for Republicans, whose support among college professors is already so low that there isn't much of a downside to attacking their pay.