How Important Is Undergraduate Teaching In Public R1 Universities? How Important Should It Be?

Ian Robinson:

I ended my previous post by arguing that (1) if teaching is at least as valuable as research, and (2) nontenure-track (NTT) faculty teach at least as well as tenure-track (TT) faculty, then the very large pay disparities between the two classes of faculty that characterize American universities today violate a basic principle of workplace fairness: equal pay for equal work. When conditions (1) and (2) are met, then, all an institution can do to defend current practice is plead poverty: we can’t afford to do what we ourselves must acknowledge to be “the right thing.”
But what about places like the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where I work? Is condition (1) met in what are sometimes called “R1” universities like mine? If not, maybe big pay disparities are warranted by the fact that, in such universities, research is a much higher institutional priority than undergraduate teaching. If teaching is a low enough priority, current pay inequalities could be justified by the fact that NTT faculty are not paid to do research and publishing – even though many of them do it – and, conversely, that most TT faculty pay is for their research and publishing, rather than their teaching.
We can estimate what we might call the “implicit” value of teaching at a place like UM-AA, by starting with the unrealistic assumption that TT and NTT faculty are paid the same to teach a course. At my university, the median full-time NTT faculty member, if they start (as most do) as a Lecturer I, will be paid an average of $38,289 to teach six courses. That is about $6,381 per course. The median Assistant Professor will be paid $80,361 to teach three courses. Three courses at $6,381 per course is about $19,144. This implies that the value of the median Assistant Professor’s non-teaching work (mainly research, though there is some service work here too) is $80,361-$19,144 = $61,217.