Although a recent report claims GW’s full-time faculty salaries are not up to par with those of comparable universities, officials say high pay is only one of many factors that attract professors.
Other factors such as location and resources available to professors outside of the classroom can play a part in attracting faculty.
“Location is definitely a factor if (a faculty member) is into politics and you’re comparing GW to a place like the University of Chicago,” said John Curtis, director of research at the American Association of University Professors.
Jeffrey Henig, head of GW’s political science department agreed.
“Some people would very happily sacrifice a little bit in terms of salary to live in Washington instead of a place like upstate New York or the middle of Texas,” he said.
Although the cost of living in D.C. is high, Michael Schoenfeld, vice chancellor of public affairs at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee Schoenfeld conceded professors might be attracted to GW instead of a school in a city with a lower cost of living, like Nashville, because they’re willing to “sacrifice some money to live and work in Washington.”
“I came here . because GW is the best place in the country for Cold War studies, which is what I do,” said Hope Harrison, assistant professor of history and women’s studies.
Although assistant professor of geology Christopher Fedo said there were many reasons why professors come to GW, he said the location and the District’s resources were “an important part of it.”
He said geology professors in particular find D.C. attractive because it hosts the Carnegie Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Smithsonian.
Curtis added that the professors “may be attracted by the quality of students,” and the fact that GW is a private rather than public institution.
“Professors come (to D.C.) to teach because of the students, their colleagues and the resources of the city,” said Todd Sednick, director of media relations at American University. “You can’t match it anywhere in the world.”
But although several other factors play a role in attracting quality faculty, salaries still represent an important part of finding staff.
“Determining faculty salary is mainly about competition,” Curtis said. “If a particular university is trying to enhance its reputation, they’ll put extra funding into faculty salaries to attract top scholars in a particular field.”
Henig said GW salaries “are actually pretty good.” Although Henig is leaving GW for Columbia University next year, he said he is not leaving because of his salary.
Officials said last week GW is currently striving to keep its average full-time faculty salaries above the AAUP’s 80th percentile – the University would like to pay its full professors an average of $103,266, associate professors $72,100 and assistant professors $65,970. Those numbers include graduate school positions.
Curtis added that once faculty members have “established themselves” there is competition among universities to get them.
Schoenfeld agreed, saying faculty pay “depends on the marketplace.”
“We’re competing with the finest institutions in the country for faculty at all levels,” he said. “It’s like any other business. What compensation do you need to pay to get the best people?”
Schoenfeld added that another primary factor in determining faculty pay is the “quality and experience of the individual faculty member,” and that it is “impossible to calculate” how much of Vanderbilt’s tuition goes toward faculty pay because “there are so many other sources of revenue.”
Curtis said some elements of faculty pay at a private university like GW are at a particular department’s discretion.
“Faculty salaries are pretty much negotiations, usually within a department,” said Donald Lehman, assistant vice president for academic affairs at GW. “A department chair, and sometimes a dean, will usually have some room to offer what a faculty member will receive.
“There’s usually quite a bit of flexibility in private institutions,” Lehman said.