Addressing faculty compensation and why they choose to stay

Emily Lataif, Staff Writer

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Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal, former affiliate classics and philosophy professor at UD, attributes low wages to a "depreciation of academic value." Photo courtesy of Becca Rosen.

Several weeks ago, the Dallas Observer published an article accusing the University of Dallas of underpaying its female professors. This is a very serious accusation which, if true, merits immediate action on the part of the UD administration to rectify the situation.

Regardless of the veracity of this claim, however, the university community needs to do some soul-searching on a broader issue: the widely known fact that all UD professors are woefully underpaid. I decided to ask faculty why they chose to teach here despite the low pay.

President Keefe has pointed out that, during his time here, he has made tenure-track faculty wages more competitive in the academic job market.

While this may be true, my conversations with faculty revealed that professors come to UD for reasons other than the salary.

My first stop was to Dr. Carla Pezzia’s office. Pezzia, an assistant professor in the human sciences department, told me:

“Coming in, I think most professors are aware that UD does not pay top dollar, but I also think that … all the faculty here … find other reasons to compensate for that.”

Her analysis was in line with a university report I read, made public by the Dallas Observer article. The report claimed that UD faculty responses to a survey about job satisfaction cited “appreciation for the intellectual level of the students, the serious scholarship of the students and the ability to work closely with students because of the small class sizes,” as benefits to teaching at UD.

Many faculty members agreed.

“What’s really exciting for a professor [at UD] is being able to go pretty far in the classroom and having students who are pretty well prepared and who have a high level of ability,” said Dr. Jonathan Sanford, dean of Constantin College. “There’s a relationship that forms between the professor and the student. And the student knows that the professor really cares about them.”

There are other professors, however, who see deeper problems than our faculty being underpaid.

“[I] made less money than pretty much every other affiliate professor [at] UD … [because] schools (not just UD) no longer want to use their money to pay teachers,” wrote former classics and philosophy professor Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal in an email. “The administration has been severed from academic departments. People who may not be in academics or may not be in your academic discipline are in charge of whether or not you get a position. [Members of the administration] do not always know the worth of what they judge; and this sees a depreciation of academic value, as the fuel of teaching is reduced to numbers, statistics and gang politics,” said Grewal.

Dr. Susan Hanssen of the history department also hinted at deeper problems.

“I have always held that if we fund-raised (sic) with conviction in our enthusiastically Catholic and rigorous liberal arts program, our emphasis on the classical Western tradition and our unique Rome campus, we would be able to pay competitive salaries to all our amazingly committed faculty,” Hanssen wrote in an email. “Anything that divides faculty into pressure groups is a lose-lose game. We need to work together towards our mission.”

I have always been struck by the sacrifices and trade-offs that both students and professors make to be here. Many students take on debt in order to receive a liberal arts education and to come to a school faithful to the Catholic tradition. Faculty come here not because they’ll make bank, but because they see something special about the UD community.

“What’s unique about UD is the way in which the Catholicism is expressed both in the sacramental life, in the campus, the student body… it is manifest also in the kind of education we provide: the Core Curriculum and the approach to majors,” said Sanford. “This is a very rich way of living out a faithful, Catholic life.”

Professors should be paid more, and the university could do a better job of retaining and attracting great faculty. And if it’s true that there is a pay gap for women, outrage would be justified. While we wait for that accusation to be verified, however, we should commend our professors’ dedication to UD.

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