On the Paterno Family Professor of English Literature

So the AAUP released their annual report on faculty salaries. I don't want to be too critical, but I do want to call out one of their arguments as bogus.

They say,
"The salaries paid to head football coaches at Division I-A universities are ten times as high as the salaries of senior professors. What does this say about the priorities of these universities?"

If anyone who has been here more than once doesn't know I'm a football fan, let me state for the record my bias -- I'm a season ticket holder at PSU, which is both my employer and the institution that awarded my bachelor's degree. That being said, though, I have to say that I think including this argument in what is otherwise a pretty standard paper on salary statistics hurts their credibility.

I know that it is easy to pick on football and fashionable to do so, but I just don't buy the argument that it is bad for colleges to pay football coaches more than $1M. Let's look at their argument:

(paraphrased) Major football schools pay their football coaches ~10 times the average full professor salary.

Well, what about supply and demand? How many PhDs are there that can fill your average full prof's slot? How many coaches have the CV to coach Penn State? Isn't it also simple economics that you pay a salary that is competitive with the other options a candidate might have? The full profs in my department are a talented lot, and could go to most other universities, could go to NSF, NASA, a national lab, or other federally funded research institution. So, PSU has to offer a competitive package to what those places have to offer in order to keep its faculty. Your average top D1 football coach gets approached annually by an NFL team, so D1 schools have to pay of order what an NFL coach might make to keep them. Last time I checked, even the worst NFL franchise (Detroit?, Arizona?) pays its coaches of order 10 times what NASA pays their senior scientists. If I'm wrong about NASA's salary scale, please tell me where to apply.

The authors of the AAUP report disagree. They say,
"If the purpose of the institutions were to produce football entertainment for profit and serve as farm teams for the National Football League, then arguments about letting market forces determine college coaches’ salaries would make sense. Otherwise, they don’t."

Huh? What is special about colleges that market forces can just be ignored when someone decides it is convenient? Why is it ok for market forces to determine that business profs should earn more than liberal arts profs, but not ok for football coaches? I just don't understand that statement at all. Personally, I wish that market forces were such that the best teachers commanded top salaries and movie stars and athletes made middle class salaries, but that's just not the case. Penn State can buy this argument, take a stand for the AAUP, and offer its next coach $100k, and we'll see if market forces can be ignored.

You can say that Penn State should do this, because it will mean the end of its football program (or at least the end of a D1 quality program). There is precedent for such a decision. Do the senior faculty at Chicago get larger annual salary increases than the schools that remained in the Big Ten? I'm going to guess that there is no correlation -- I bet Chicago profs have been getting annual raises similar to PSU faculty. I imagine that whatever the difference is in salary scale between PSU and Chicago, it has more to do with public vs. private than D1 vs. D3 athletics.

Lastly, how many head football coaches do schools like Penn State have? If you're not sure, the answer is 1.

Anyone know how many full profs there are? I would guess here it's in the neighborhood of 1,000. So if you integrate the salaries for football coaches and do the same for full profs, I get $1M for football coaches (tough math there -- 1 x $1M), and $100M for full profs. Seems to me that the ratio of football:full prof salaries does not show a lack of proper prioritization on the part of the administration.

We can argue about how self sufficient athletic departments truly are and how much football teams help to generate donations for academics (and here, I have to plug that at PSU Joe donated millions for things such as endowing faculty positions), but I just don't understand the demonizing of coaches and athletics.

Personally, I find football to be something that adds value to the quality of life here in State College. Isn't one of the Penn State PR lines "making life better"? So pay our head coach > 10 times what I make -- you're making my life better, even if you're not pleasing the AAUP. I'm not saying I want a raise less than inflation in 2008, but personally I don't think that there is any relationship to Joe's salary, football revenue, and my salary increase.


Blogger Chris said...

Preach on, brother. 110% agreed.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Who are you and what have you done with Chris Palma? Next you'll be telling me government shouldn't set prices.

4:43 AM  

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