Tuition Special: We Can’t Afford Salary Increases at the Current Rate

[Updated April 1, 2013]

On its face, the title of this piece sounds a little ridiculous to most people. We have to pay our professors well or they will leave and the quality of our education will suffer, these same people say. I completely agree. Our professors are intelligent and talented professionals who probably also have significant debt loads from their JDs and LLMs (and possibly PHDs). Many of them are considered the top in their respective fields of research. They have often literally written the book on the subject matter. This article, along with the subsequent one, is not meant to convince you that our professors shouldn’t be well paid. Instead, these articles are meant to demonstrate that the way in which our professors are currently compensated isn’t sustainable or logical.

Let’s recap some facts:

  • The average salary of a U of T Law professor is above $200,000 (with a median of $193,000);
  • UC Berkeley Law is our American equivalent in terms of entrance statistics;
  • The average salary of a UC Berkeley Law professor is about $40,000 more than a professor at U of T Law;
  • Revenue at UC Berkeley is more than double that at U of T Law;
  • A U of T Law professor starting at the base salary of $100,000 in 2002 has had a 73% increase in salary in the following 10 year period;
  • Around 50% of the salary increases for professors at U of T Law are the result of discretionary (non-contract) increases by the administration;
  • If professor salaries had increased by only the contract amounts (no discretionary increases by the administration), tuition could be lower by ~$3500 for every student OR more than half the school could receive a 25% tuition bursary;
  • Due to additional hiring and salary increases, the amount of money spent on faculty almost doubled from 2001 to 2011;
  • Salaries and research support are more than 50% of our cost

In my opinion, these facts demonstrate that the current method of professor compensation isn’t sustainable. Before I get into analysis, let’s clear up (or, arguably, debunk) a claim made by the administration: they can do something about it – half of the professor salary increases are discretionary and not mandated by contract.

Professor Salary Increases At the Current Rate Are Unsustainable

The administration has repeatedly made the claim that tuition has to go up 8% a year or we will be unable to meet our costs. Dean Moran has also stated that she does not want to see tuition continually increasing to the point where it reaches, say, $50,000 a year. However, this is inevitable given the current method of compensation for professors. The doubling time for professor salary is close to that of the doubling time for tuition. This means that even if the administration were to completely freeze spending on every other expenditure, we would still have to increase tuition by 4 to 5% a year forever to pay for higher professor salaries. Is a 5% per year increase forever really better than an 8% per year increase forever? It just means we’ll hit $50,000 a year in tuition 4 years later than expected, which is 8 years from now.

If that didn’t convince you that professor salaries are unsustainable, let me frame it another way: U of T Law professors are paid only 20% less than UC Berkeley Law professors but our school takes in 55% less in tuition revenue. Faculty Council minutes show – along with former Dean Daniels’ article in the National Post – that the administration implemented higher professor salaries to compete directly with schools like UC Berkeley and Harvard for talented professors. Looking at it from a business perspective, does that make a lot of sense? U of T Law has roughly 70% less revenue (factoring in that US schools have large endowments to boost revenue) than its competitors but still insists on having the same costs. That clearly hurts “profit”. In this case, “profit” is our student focused programs, like financial aid, clinics, and career development. Attempting to match professor salaries of American schools with bigger budgets is unsustainable if we want to ensure accessibility into and diversity of the student body, train students in more than just the theory of law, and have gainfully employed graduates.

I don’t think anyone is against modest and deserving increases for professors. I’m certainly not. And I would love if it were possible for our professors to continue to get large raises every year. In an ideal world, I actually think they should be paid as much as Bay Street lawyers. But that’s not affordable. It has to be realized that U of T can’t continue to increase professor salaries at the current rate. It hurts student programs and will force the continuation of significant increases in tuition forever. With an average salary of almost $200,000, I believe our professors are already fairly well paid. Salary increases should be limited to contract increases, some merit-based raises, and the original modest raises we gave to professors with other offers.

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