NTT Salary Compression

I chair a medium-sized department at a school that, like many, has relied on non-tenure-track labor for much of its introductory teaching (such as first-year composition). My department is lucky to have had several instructors working for years with us, as well as the regular “churn” of others coming and going. The problem, however, comes with salaries. I have wide latitude within my budget to set an initial salary upon hire, but increasing that salary in subsequent years requires something akin to an act of God. I’m thus regularly faced with a dilemma—recognizing that like most places we pay our instructors too little, I could raise the initial salary for new hires, but that would leave them making close to what our long-term instructors make. There will be—rightfully—resentment there, but I’m also uncomfortable continuing in perpetuity a bad compensation model. I should also add that we are not unionized, so there’s no help there. What to do?—Professor Pay Dilemma

Dear Prof. Pay Dilemma,

I wish I had a bit more information here. Your letter implies that your NTT instructors get some kind of pay raise over time, otherwise they wouldn’t be making more money than their more junior colleagues. Does “raise” here mean shifting from one salary schedule to a higher one? Finally, given that you’re assigning NTT salaries, who is it that approves pay raises, and on what basis? I don’t think this is a problem you can solve on your own. I’d recommend you go to your dean about this to strategize some kind of solution. Before you do that, though, you should do some number-crunching. First of all, what is the proportion of long-term instructors to newer ones? Likewise, in the budget, what percentage of your NTT allotment goes to more senior versus more junior instructors? Finally, what is your actual rate of churn year-to-year over the past few years? The answers to these questions will give you a clearer sense of how many new hires you’re making year-to-year, how many instructors leave after less than five years, how many stay for eight or more, and how much each group costs you.

Once you’ve got those numbers, see if you can calculate an appropriate increase in pay scale in relation to seniority that takes into account the amount of money you get back via turnover (ie if 40% of your instructors leave within 5 years, you’re saving money overall since you’re regularly losing higher-paying employees and replacing them with cheaper instructors at entry level). By the way, it might be useful to have someone experienced in spreadsheet design to put this together, since there are a lot of variables and calculations that you want to make. See if you can redistribute the “churn savings” across the board, from newest to most experienced hires, thereby raising the initial rate of pay and giving a small bump to the folks on the other end of the spectrum.

Take all this data to your dean. Show him or her your various calculations and explain why and how you can integrate some kind of salary increase across the board for your instructors. You might sweeten the pot by offering to increase the enrollment cap on these classes by a very little (say, one student per section) to make this more cost-effective and add some more cash to your discretionary funds. You could also talk about cost of living increases, since over time even your best-paid instructors will be losing money if their salaries stay the same as their fixed costs rise.

As with all significant changes, I’d recommend that you also strategize with chairs of other departments in a similar situation (for example, foreign languages). How do they deal with this problem? Could you combine forces with them and meet with your dean collectively? Often we see budget issues as a zero-sum game in which each department is competing with the other for scarce resources. However, I would hope that your fellow chairs are also concerned about compensation for NTT faculty, and would welcome some collaborative work on how to stay fiscally responsible while providing instructors with a living wage.

The Chair

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