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Tuition Breakdown: Tenured Professors Gobble Up My Money

A huge chunk of tuition goes to professors and retirement pensions.

Photo of Kevin Mathis
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The article describes the rising cost of tuition in Canada and how the 20+% increase in the last decade is correlated with increases in professor benefits. It sheds light on the student union's reluctance to argue for less benefits because of their solidarity and shared interest with the professor's union. It argues that increases in tuition are strongly correlated with increases in educator's pensions and salaries and states that the student union is not fighting against the educators out of respect for the professor union's right to unionize for higher salaries. 


The contents of the article are supported by tuition distribution statistics from The University of Texas. In this visual, you can see that over 40% of student's tuition is going to professor salaries and pensions (a growing university expense because of professor unionization).

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Yes, professors deserve great benefits, but would it be better if we abolished the standard of "tenured" professors who gobble up a majority of my tuition?

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Photo of Christopher

I think maybe a more productive battle would be decreasing the pay and benefits of the administration. The professors are central to the mission of universities but the administrators often represent non core aspects of their institutions.

Photo of Kevin Mathis

Christopher, I agree that this should also be researched and considered as an option. There should be cuts to personnel benefits across the board.

From my experience, I would argue that many tenured professors are NOT acting in unison with the central mission of universities today. I have been taught by tenured professors and lowly lecturers during my 3 years at The University of Texas at Austin and I am confident in saying that the lecturers I have been taught by have MUCH MORE zeal and passion for education and students' learning than the tenured professors.

Tenured professors do an absolutely terrible job of organizing and presenting material to students, they are often solely focused on their research and do not care to prepare lectures properly for students. Tenured professors are notorious for pushing huge workloads and responsibilities to their teaching assistants who usually have no experience in test creation or class management. Each of these factors has contributed to my disdain for overpaid Tenured employees at large universities.

Photo of An Old Friend

Kevin, obviously we cannot generalize all tenured professors, but you raise a very fair point. Many tenured professors do become disengaged from students and possibly lose their original intrinsic motivation. I'm sure there are many overpaid/overrated professors on every college campus, and changing the system or "tenured" title could provide a more true evaluation of an instructor. That said, there are many tenured professors who have earned that right and are first class teachers, so we should be careful and considerate in our approach to a solution!

Photo of Cowboy Rindler

Kevin,

Perhaps there should be a system implemented to serve as a system to check tenured professors every so often years to ensure that they have maintained a certain level of teaching. I think it is also extremely important to remember that most professors who receive tenure do so through their research contributions to their specific field (within their specific University). In my own personal experience, most tenured professors I have had are less about teaching by the book and teaching what they believe to be important within a specific field. This has lead to far more interesting classes and discussions than many of my other classes.

Photo of Cristin

Kevin, I think another distinction to consider is the balance between research and teaching. Often, these tenured professors focus much of their time on research that is beneficial to the community. Their salaries reflect not only their teaching, but their contributions to the academic community. Perhaps if students were engaged with professors in their research, this could keep those less engaged professors re-integrated into their passion. Still, you're correct that it is a huge cost to have tenured professors.

Photo of Connor Roane

Kevin, this is a valid point. It's hard to see the justification of student tuition supporting tenureship specifically of professors like the ones you described above. After some research, I found that your experience is largely due to the flawed process of earning tenure. Some institutions favor professors whose political, social, and curriculum views are aligned with those of the "higher-ups." Meanwhile, they may forget or ignore the professors showing real passion for their teaching.

Photo of Ian Gregory

As a bit of background, I work as a 'freelance' professor in the UK in business and IT subjects. I have also led consulting work reviewing faculty processes so understand the admin side quite well. Here in the UK professors rarely have tenure and are paid a lot less than in the US.

There are a number of key points to consider which are true here and I believe also in the US. Firstly, academic career paths are driven almost entirely by research output - no papers, no job. Teaching is a chore that you have to do if you want to make a living out of research. Until that changes, there will be poor professors. Research is king because that is what drives organizational reputation, and reputation drives fees and prestige. Lecturers who love teaching but have little talent for research are often treated as second class citizens.

Secondly, the economics of professors teaching classes can be very poor (and of questionable pedagogy). Here is one example from Stanford https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/160.

Finally, the administrators are vitally important, however the schools have to staff for the peaks of workload at the beginning and end of semesters. Hence, much of the time they are over-staffed. IDEA- get rid of semesters/terms and use a block module approach.

Photo of Beatriz

Great article and I just saw an article by UC San Diego and the different ways in which they attract medical talent for their school and their cutting-edge research. Salary and benefits is huge when attracting top-notch talent but beautiful beach weather in La Jolla doesn't hurt either.