INTERIOR – HOTEL LOBBY. People mill about. Our protagonist, a worn
professorial type, makes his way across the lobby and sits down next
to a complete stranger at one of several tables set up in the hotel
lobby. A waiter approaches and we see our hero order a cup of
coffee. The stranger, who has been reading a paper, folds it down and
About time you got here. They told me to expect someone a little
different this time around. They did a nice job on the make-up.
You look like a mid-career soft-belly case.
I wear it well, don’t I?
What should I call you?
Bond, I’m a bond.
Things change over the years, but bonds remain a steady, low-risk, low-yield investment. And I’ve recently discovered I’m a bond: 3.55% is the annualized average salary increase I have received over the past fifteen years at my university. That means a net gain of 17% over inflation since I first began. In the interest of complete transparency, I am sharing the numbers, if only as a moment of truth in the history of one individual at one institution. How this might be an index of larger phenomena I leave to others for the time being.
First, the numbers:
Then, the chart:
The chart is a reasonable summary of the table of figures. The particulars of the history here are:
* The jump in 2001 came from discovering that while I was hired at the same time as a Shakespearean scholar, we were not offered the same salaries. My department head was indifferent but my dean, and we had a great dean at the time, recognized the value of folklore studies.
* The increases that matter, and make all the difference here, came in 2006, 2007, and 2008 and were part of an attempt by the university, then under different administration, to bring UL-Lafayette up to something like the Southern public average (which is a low threshold with which to begin, but it made an amazing difference). We have since been under a different administration, both at the university and at the college level.
* In defense of the current administration, times have been tough for higher education in the state, with a net loss of 47% of state subsidies, I believe. Still, there’s been hiring and there have been raises during this period.
* A 17% gain over my original salary means that I am making $40,950 in 1999 dollars. Which means I’m finally making more than that Shakespearean, who later left the university for, er, other pastures.
What’s the takeaway here? 3.5 percent growth is something you expect from savings accounts and bonds. That means I’m a safe, but not particularly valued investment. Given my productivity over the first decade of my career, that is not an inaccurate conclusion to draw.
However, I am enjoying a bit of a professional renaissance. I’ve got two book contracts in hand, with one book already with its publisher and due out later this year and another manuscript due this summer. I’ve also given invited talks at both the Library of Congress and at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in the last year on the topic of my current research, and I’m pretty sure that’s a singular accomplishment not only in my college but perhaps in my university. (The university noticed the talk in China but apparently thought the talk at the LoC wasn’t worth mentioning. We won’t mention the fact that the talk in China was translated into Chinese and published last year, because, well, my university hasn’t mentioned it. *Sigh.*)
Unfortunately, as noted above, this renaissance comes at a moment during a nadir for funding of higher education in Louisiana. And it might come too late to save my family from having to make difficult choices: like does our daughter continue at the school she loves or do we get the roof repaired? (Yeah, it pretty much comes down to that.)
To be clear, when my wife and I decided, individually but eventually together, to launch careers as academics, we had no higher hopes than to lead the most middling of middle class lives. Unfortunately for us, we imagined that such lives would include being able to send our one child to the school best suited for her. And that we would also be able to afford things like home maintenance. Crazy, no?
We don’t lead extravagant lives. We drive a ten year old car and a six year old truck. We bought our current home five years ago when our old neighborhood was increasing the number of student rentals and was just less safe for our daughter to ride her bike. We take driving vacations to national parks! (We haven’t flown as a family on vacation since our daughter was two!)
Our only hope is that things are better elsewhere, and maybe we will have to go to one of those places, but that means taking our daughter out of the school she loves and out of the soccer team that has embraced her so totally. So, if sometimes if you detect a hint of despair in an occasional post here or on [Twitter], you know it’s because we are facing decisions we never imagined we would face.