Salaried Professors of Minor Houses

Lucian, On Salaried Posts in Great Houses, 29

“What is this shining wage here?”

τίς ὁ λαμπρὸς οὗτος μισθός ἐστιν;

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Vespasian 18

“He was the first to establish annual salaries of 100 thousand sesterces for Latin and Greek teachers of rhetoric from the treasury.”

Primus e fisco Latinis Graecisque rhetoribus annua centena constituit

While doing some spring cleaning in my department, I uncovered some salaries for classicists from 1968 (aside: I really love the font on the letterhead):


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Calculator, the top Departmental salary in 1968 of $14,350 is worth $105,123.88 in modern buying power while the bottom is $66,663.93.

For comparison, as chair of what is now the Department of Classical Studies, I have just done salary reviews and this makes our current low salary 9.1% higher than the 1968 low while our current top salary for an associate professor is 11% lower. Based on current ratio between our highest full and lowest assistant, our maximum salary is between 7% and 9% higher than an equivalent ratio in 1968.

These numbers, of course, ignore that the living costs in the area have skyrocketed over the past generation (now Boston is among the 10th most expensive cities to live in in the US). The historical cost of a home in Massachusetts in 1970 was $79,100 (adjusted to 2000 dollars which would have been $15,737.41 in the buying power of 1970).

[The AAUP has an annual Faculty Compensation Survey here]

Just to make this a little clearer, based on government inflation calculators, an associate professor’s salary for a single year could almost buy a home at the average price of Massachusetts homes in 1970. The current median home value/price in the Boston area is just over $600,000. Again, to translate this back to the halcyon days of 1968, this would a equivalent home price would have been $80,959.24 (which, to make rough calculations, means a five-fold increase in cost).

Plato, Lysis 208b

“They trust some contract worked more than you to do whatever he wants when it comes to the horses and they give him a salary in addition to it?!”

μισθωτῷ μᾶλλον ἐπιτρέπουσιν ἢ σοὶ ποιεῖν ὅ τι ἂν βούληται περὶ τοὺς ἵππους, καὶ προσέτι αὐτοῦ τούτου ἀργύριον τελοῦσιν;

Full confession: I am obviously not an economist. My friend below used the total of all departmental salary cost to make the calculation below.


For comparison, here are numbers from 1984.

According to the US CPI calculator, the top salary of $43,000 here is equivalent to $105,000.00 in current buying power (actually a decrease since 1968) while the minimum for assistant ($20,800) is equivalent to around $51,534.13 (average Massachusetts home prices had risen to $95,500 in 1984).

If these numbers teach us anything its that faculty salaries on the tenure track have stayed somewhat stable in relation to general inflation over time, but that they lost value between 1968 and 1984 and then lost considerable value in comparison to cost of living despite making modest gains relative to inflation.

The story for contract or contingent faculty? There is no data for 1968, but the $9850.00 above for 1984 translates into $24,572.03 worth of buying power in the current economy. I can say that we do better for contingent faculty who have a full time appointment, but certainly not nearly enough.

[The Chronicle has commentary on Faculty Salaries here]

From the Oxford English Dictionary: Etymology: < Anglo-Norman salarie = Old French salaire, Italian salario, Spanish salario, Portuguese salario, < Latin salārium, originally money allowed to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt, hence, their pay; substantive use of neuter singular of salārius pertaining to salt, < sal salt.

Pliny Natural History 31.88-89

“Therefore, by Hercules, a rather civilized life cannot proceed without salt. This substance is so necessary that the word is transferred to significant pleasures of the mind too. Also named “salts” [sales] are all the charms of life, the pinnacle of humor, resting after work—the matter is made clear by this simple word more than any other.

It is also among the honors of the military too as “salaries” were coined from the root sal with great authority among ancient people—this is clear from the Salarian way since, by its course salt was conveyed to the Sabines. The King Ancus Marcus gave the people a grant of 6,000 bushels of salt and was the first to have salt pools built. Even Varro stands as an authority that the ancients uses salt as a condiment and that they ate salt with their bread (as is clear from the proverb). But the greatest indication of the importance of salt is in sacrifices which cannot be completed without the salted meal.”

ergo, Hercules, vita humanior sine sale non quit degere, adeoque necessarium elementum est uti transierit intellectus ad voluptates animi quoque nimias. sales appellantur, omnisque vitae lepos et summa hilaritas laborumque requies non alio magis vocabulo constat. honoribus etiam militiaeque interponitur salariis inde dictis magna apud antiquos auctoritate, sicut apparet ex nomine Salariae viae, quoniam illa salem in Sabinos portari convenerat. Ancus Marcius rex salis modios v͞i͞ in congiario dedit populis et salinas primus instituit. Varro etiam pulmentarii vice usos veteres auctor est, et salem cum pane esitasse eos proverbio apparet. maxime tamen in sacris intellegitur auctoritas, quando nulla conficiuntur sine mola salsa.

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