Lion of the Blogosphere

It pays to work in academia

Contrary to some commenters on this blog, the New York Times sets things straight:

Forty-two presidents of private colleges were paid more than a million dollars in 2011, up from 36 for the previous two years, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual analysis of the colleges’ latest available tax forms.

The three top earners were Robert J. Zimmer, University of Chicago ($3,358,723); Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern University ($3,121,864); and Dennis J. Murray, Marist College ($2,688,148).

Yet another example of people who go into self-actualizing careers and make a killing financially. (And Robert J. Zimmer went to the same high school as I did!)

Murray didn’t even attend any good schools, but the other two both have graduate degrees from universities in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a general rule, elite eduction is required if you want to make money from self-actualizing, but as with all rules there are occasional exceptions.

* * *

Some commenters don’t know when I’m joshing with them. By the way, it’s interesting to note that Zimmer is a STEM guy, so I guess you can become rich from STEM if your STEM degree is from Harvard and you are good at fundraising.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 23, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Posted in Bobos, Education

57 Responses

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  1. Two of these are presidents of basically run-of-the-mill universities.



    December 23, 2013 at 9:59 AM

  2. University presidents are fundraisers. Proficiency in that activity is exceptionally valuable, and doesn’t require elite education. Indeed, to some extent it’s a natural ability not really affected by education level at all, though IL connections are certainly make it easier.


    December 23, 2013 at 10:05 AM

  3. University president’s are fundraisers. The position has nothing to do with being an academic, though they often are, or even running a university (that’s the job of the dean). Even in the 1940s, Eisenhower was a university president and since then this has become more pronounced.


    December 23, 2013 at 10:16 AM

  4. It also pays to become a rockstar or A-list Hollywood actor, but would you advise your children to pursue that career path?

    A career in academia has enormous hurdles, significant capital costs, and is rife with failure. Achieving college president of a university is akin to winning the lottery; not very likely to happen.

    “It pays to work in academia”: please stop drawing conclusions from an article about the three highest-paid university presidents; there are a lot of stories out there of men and women trying to make it in academia, expending so much time, money and effort, and still not hacking it. I’m sure they’ll be chiming in in the comments.


    December 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM

  5. This is a fundraising job. If you want to self-actualize by schmoozing wealthy donors, there are plenty of jobs available.


    December 23, 2013 at 10:38 AM

  6. What a lot of critics don’t take into consideration is the flexibility in academics’ work schedule. Outside of the classroom I work when I want to. Because I care about students I get good evaluations, and that protects me from drama somewhat.

    It’s true that lawyers, bankers, etc. often make more money. When I was in the army my platoon sergeant learned I wanted to be a professor. ” You’d make more money as a 2nd Lt ” he said. He didn’t take into account that I’d be getting paid for what I love instead of cleaning rifles. Course he was hellbent in reenlistment.


    December 23, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    • These guys are not academics, at least not in this job. They most likely work their tail off, though schmoozing rich donors might be self-actualizing if you’re a natural who enjoys it. Still, I suspect there’s an element of Jerry Seinfeld’s words – “I realize this doesn’t look like work to you, but…”.


      December 23, 2013 at 4:10 PM

  7. Maybe college professor can be considered self-actualizing, but college president? Seems like it would be a a headache (politics, etc.). Self-employed Writers, musicians, film producers, and artists have jobs which are more self-actualizing than professors since they have more creative freedom. For example, the history professor has to publish on history, the communication studies professor has to publish on communications, so in a sense they are not all that independent….


    December 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM

  8. Lion, most tenured professors aren’t paid nearly as much as the top administrators at the colleges/universities, who don’t teach or research (which is more in line with self-actualizing).

    There are other factors that determine your pay as well. Professors who teach STEM – hard sciences, business and law, earn more than those who teach fluff subjects such as English Literature and Women Studies. Prestige doesn’t always signify higher pay. Many of the prestigious institutions would rather hire short term faculty with low pay because they can get away with it. There is more supply than demand when it comes to this. Those who teach at less prestigious places such as community colleges and institutions with a higher NAM demographic, are more likely to get tenure and get paid well. So it’s a tradeoff.


    December 23, 2013 at 11:33 AM

  9. It pays to work in academia, *if* you are in the upper administration. Your typical schlub professor isn’t going to make any money. A guy with good glad-handing and political skills, who can bring in money, will get the top job.


    December 23, 2013 at 11:33 AM

  10. Steve Sailer has a self-actualizing job (more self-actualizing than a university professor). Someone who has the ability to obtain a PhD from an accredited university has the ability to be a full-time successful blogger.


    December 23, 2013 at 1:30 PM

  11. “It pays to work in academia”: please stop drawing conclusions from an article about the three highest-paid university presidents

    I’ve gazed into my crystal ball, and I have seen some of LOTB’s future posts based on faulty logic and reasoning:

    – Robinson Cano – 10 yr, $240 million contract – LOTB: “It pays to become a professional baseball player!”
    – E.L. James, author of “Twilight” books, earned $95 million in 2013 according to Forbes – LOTB: “It pays to become an author!”
    – Lebron James – $19.0 million for 2013-14 season – LOTB: “It pays to teach your NAM child to dribble a basketball!” (Double category post for LOTB! Two birds with one stone!)

    Where’s Nassim Nicholas Taleb when you need someone who knows how to think?

    Wade Nichols

    December 23, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    • If professional baseball player means major league baseball player, then definitely it pays.

      There was a guy in my law school class who was a professional minor league baseball player before law school, so he probably suffered two career disappointments there.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 23, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      • A couple of years ago, a coworker divorced her minor league baseball player husband after she caught him cheating w/ a groupie, The ex-husband rejected a full scholarship to play quarterback at UCF (currently ranked #15 in the BCS) to sign a minor league baseball contract for $15,000. After ten years bouncing around the minor leagues, the guy is now out of baseball and mows lawns for a living.

        E. Rekshun

        December 23, 2013 at 4:40 PM

  12. “Some commenters don’t know when I’m joshing with them.”

    Guess you need to dial the sarcasm up a notch. It’s more difficult to detect sarcasm/joking when one can’t read your face.


    December 23, 2013 at 2:20 PM

  13. Average pay for a FULL professor at Yale is $180,400 (not including the medical school). That is hardly chump change. And you probably get subsidized housing, too. Plus all the other benes spoken off in the earlier thread (loads and loads of time off, a few hours of work a week, etc.)

    Average pay for an ASSISTANT Professor at Yale is $89,700. That’s hardly slave wages either.

    Prestige pays.

    Harvard Full Prof average is $198,400.
    Univ of Chicago Full Prof average is $198,200

    Christ, even Rutgers is $145,000. In fact, you have to get to about the 350th highest paying college to get below $100k for a Full Prof.


    December 23, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    • $162K/year for Dartmouth looks pretty good. You can live pretty well in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire with $162K. How do I sign up?

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 23, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      • It’s hard to get a full time teaching position at an Ivy League or top tier school. Part time, maybe. But being a full time professor is a very hard thing to achieve. It takes many years to say the least.

        The competition is less intense at the public and community level. Pay is in the low six figures. I know of a guy who teaches art history full time at a community college with a large black and hispanic student body, and his salary is well over 100K. He told me he was once offered a position at Princeton, but not tenured status, paying him only about 50K for a part time adjunct position, for only 2 semesters. Clearly, the competition and desirability of wanting to be associated with a prestigious institution that comes with perks is very intense.


        December 23, 2013 at 3:27 PM

      • Real estate in and around Hanover is actually pretty damn expensive these days (I was there last week and was surprised by how many $3MM+ houses I saw). It really is a nice little town, though.


        December 23, 2013 at 4:07 PM

      • Step 1: spend ~6 years getting a Ph.D., making a stipend of ~$15k per year.

        Step 2: Find away to compete against the surfeit of Ph.D.s working as adjuncts and in other non-tenure track positions for < $40k per year for a tenure track assistant professorship.

        Step 3: ???

        Step 4: Land an assistant professorship at Dartmouth.

        Step 5: Maybe become a full prof making $162k in another 10 years.

        Dave Pinsen

        December 23, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      • NH isn’t unlike NYC in that there is a drab expanse of undesirables punctuated by elite enclaves. A nice home in one of those enclaves can quickly reach the multimillion $ range, plus if you want your kids away from redneck methheads you’re shelling out for private school. NH also has some of the highest property taxes in the country.

        But, if you’re content to live in a shack on 40 acres with only the mounted taxidermy keeping you company (no purple moon spas in the granite state), you could live handsomely on 162k/ yr.


        December 23, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      • One summer in the early ’90s, I took an 8-week total immersion Spanish course at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. We took a couple of road trips over to Dartmouth for a couple of events. Quite scenic and pleasant during the summer, but winter must be tough. New Dartmouth MBA grads do pretty well in the job market w/ an average starting salary of $124K in 2012 according to B.week.

        Oddly, a few years ago, two Dartmouth professors were killed in their home by two local teenagers.

        E. Rekshun

        December 24, 2013 at 5:28 AM

      • @ erekshun

        My plan to become a part year tax accountant/professor seems like a good idea.

        I’ve done some research and I can actually take my tax practice up into Canuck territory. I’m also familiar with the Canadian tax accounting system.

        Average salaries for full time Canadian professors aren’t significantly lower than ours. Except, grad school in America costs an arm and a leg and reduces to you to serfdom, if you want to get a PhD. Graduate school in Canada is dirt cheap.

        General tuition rates for Canadian universities:

        What full-time professors get paid in Canada:


        December 24, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      • By the way, I would rather deal with a large contingent of South Asian/Muslim immigrants up in Canada than your typical black/puerto rican undesirable or white prole here in the states.


        December 24, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      • @ E. Rekshun

        Tuck is actually a fantastic school — not quite HSW, but certainly viewed by most as a peer school of the rest of the M7. They’re got far and away the strongest and most loyal alumni network of the top schools.


        December 24, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    • “you have to get to about the 350th highest paying college to get below $100k for a Full Prof”

      The number of four-year colleges in the US is approaching 3,000. Faculty salaries are nowhere close to six figures at most of them.


      December 23, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    • It’s not true that professors have it easy. They work their asses off, preparing for class, grading papers, researching and writing. You have to earn your dues. At the tenured level, it is similar to making partner at a BIGLAW firm or Big Accounting firm. Competition is intense, but once you make it, that’s when the good times roll.


      December 23, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      • The Ivory Tower Motto – Publish or Perish is still true. You have to constantly write and publish in order to keep your job, that includes tenured professors.


        December 23, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    • Do professors have loads and loads of free time? In addition to teaching classes, they’re expected to write prolifically, and not casual blog style writing where you draw sweeping conclusions based on a few cherry picked anecdotes, but meticulously well cited and footnoted articles and books based on independent statistically significant research which can pass peer review. That’s some of the most tedious time consuming work imaginable. One professor I knew was miserable, constantly crammed in a small messy fluorescent lit office on a gorgeous summer day, furiously trying to crunch numbers.


      December 23, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    • Average pay for an ASSISTANT Professor at Yale is $89,700. That’s hardly slave wages either.

      The chances of getting a spot there are puny. For every well healed assistant prof at Yale there are thousands toiling in TA hell.

      The Undiscovered Jew

      December 24, 2013 at 12:58 AM

      • This is when connection comes to play. If you are a toos the odds are much better.

        There was a professor who killed a few nonwhite faculty members. She was a Harvard grad , living in an ultraliberal Boston enclave, but she ended up in Alabama out of all places. Her mother was powerful enough to pull her out of a murder (of her own brother), but not powerful enough to land her an Ivy Leagure tenure.


        December 24, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    • Well, you could spend 10 years and $200K working your way through university, graduate school, etc. Then you could spend another 15 years busting your hump for even a chance at a professorship at a top school. Professorships don’t grow on trees. Then, if you’re one of the lucky few, you might make $100K. Or you could just be a plumber. Or a nurse practitioner. Or a pharmacist. Or start your own company. i figure anyone smart enough to make 6 figures in academia is smart enough to make at least that much doing something else.


      December 24, 2013 at 4:06 AM

    • I have a friend who has a sister who is an English professor at the University of Illinois. She makes in excess of a hundred thousand a year and is also going to get a very big pension. The financial condition of the state government is very bad and part of the reason is the extremely high salaries and pensions they pass out. My friend says his sister is aware that when it comes time to get her pension there might not be any money left to pay it by then because of the precarious financial condition of the state.

      Mark G

      December 24, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    • And you get to peddle worthless books written by grad students to sell to the hapless students, and if you are in a ‘hot’ field you get to be invited in fancy parties and earn a sizable sum of consulting fees.


      December 24, 2013 at 5:00 PM

  14. “Work in academia” means a lot of different things.

    College administrators and college faculty members exist on different planes. Administration is a good gig if you don’t mind a pointless job (most people don’t) and having to move around a lot as you climb the ladder.

    Professors resent administrators, which tells you who is in the better position.

    College presidents are their own breed. They will not impress you with their IQs. (Look at what happened when Harvard hired a smart guy, Larry Summers, for the job.) They tend to have salesman personalities.


    December 23, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    • Most people don’t mind having high-paying pointless jobs because it is better than low-paying pointless jobs (which often have the prole stigma to it).


      December 23, 2013 at 10:30 PM

  15. Ten years ago, I made the mistake of turning down a mid-level auditing position at a large southern state university to take a job w/ a large health insurer.

    E. Rekshun

    December 23, 2013 at 4:45 PM

  16. It seems like former high-ranking state and federal politicians have become attractive candidates for the position of university president. Off the top of my head I can think of former FL Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan (under Jeb Bush) who went on to become President of FAU, then Chancellor of the FL State University System, and recently Chancellor of the PA State University System. (He’s a former public school teacher w/ a degree in Education.) And there’s former HHS Secretary under Clinton, Donna Shalala; now President of the University of Miami. I recall hearing of a few others.

    E. Rekshun

    December 23, 2013 at 4:56 PM

  17. What’s funny is: if you sort by “compensation by total expenditures”, the president of Harvard (total pay $900,000) is right above all the presidents of catholic colleges, who are priests and nuns and don’t get paid…


    December 23, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    • Although they will drive better cars and drink better wine than ordinary priests and nuns.


      December 26, 2013 at 4:08 AM

  18. Yet another example of people who go into self-actualizing careers and make a killing financially.

    There are very few self-actualizing fields that pay well. There are thousands of starving TAs for every cushy tenured position, positions which are handed out based on connections. The one’s who didn’t have the social network to climb to the top (> 99.9%) become embittered DailyKos bloggers.

    The Undiscovered Jew

    December 24, 2013 at 12:54 AM

    • That is indeed true, and why Asperger syndrome is a “true” disability since one needs social skills (and other forms of social capital) for economic mobility.


      December 24, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      • That is indeed true, and why Asperger syndrome is a “true” disability

        Introversion is no more Aspergers than extroversion is mania.

        The Undiscovered Jew

        December 25, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    • ” become embittered DailyKos blogger”

      I waste my time at Smogon University and on Pokemon Showdown. Better than reading liberal rants at the Daily Kos.


      December 24, 2013 at 8:12 PM

  19. Competition for tenure track positions is hard, but you have to distinguish between real competition and fake. For any particular sub-specialty, there is a small number senior researchers whose grad students and post docs (if applicable for the discipline) will get 75% to 100% of the tenure track positions nationwide. If you get one of these slots and do satisfactorily in your research and other work, your odds of getting a tenure track job are better than 50%. If you get any other slot — and depending upon sub-specialty the “any other” slots are going to be 5x to 50x the good slots — your chances of a tenure track job are in the sub-10% range unless you are an underrepresented minority or woman which boosts you to maybe 15%-20%.

    If you use getting a BIGLAW associateship, imagine that the real competition is Georgetown Law School and the fake competition is all of the T3 schools in the aggregate. There’s no Yale Law School analog (because at least a third of students of even the hottest researcher won’t get a TT job) but there’s also no Golden Gate University (because a PhD is real pretty much anywhere and you can always get lucky in choice of subspecialty vs. job market six years forward.)

    suburban dad

    December 24, 2013 at 10:18 AM


    Here’s one major problem with the asianification of important scientific research.


    December 24, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    • Yup. Between the Hispanification of blue-collar labor and the Asianification of tech and science, the future of America will be a shabby one.


      December 25, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      • It’s already shabby, for a country infested with liberal dullards and unproductive NAMs.


        December 25, 2013 at 9:25 PM

  21. “Some commenters don’t know when I’m joshing with them.”

    Oh, okay. So your blog is just a troll, including your inane support for a guaranteed living wage and your assertion that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. Now it all makes sense, jooboy. Thanks.

    dufur maximur

    December 24, 2013 at 2:08 PM

  22. I’ll be finishing my PhD in a year or two and have basically conceded that my academic career is going to be over when that happens. I got the degree (at an ultra-elite foreign university where tuition is ~$6000 per year, so no debt) while holding down a back-office job in finance and will probably stick with the finance job rather than chase an academic position. My job already pays ~$50k; I’d take a pay cut if I became an adjunct and might or might not ever get to full professorship. Maybe 20-30 years ago this would have been different, but these days there are so many academic graduates, and such a dearth of “regular” jobs, that when you’ve already got a regular middle/upper-middle-class job, you’d be a fool to let it go.

    The thing is that academia really is self-actualizing. I’m the only person in the world who really understands what I study, it’s genuinely pleasurable to learn it and record it, and the other people who are familiar with it are all over 80 years old; it’s now or never when it comes to studying this stuff. So I really do want to publish as much as I can so that this knowledge doesn’t die. The catch is that you have to do it while you still have a university affiliation; without that name, you’re just an outsider “crank” whose writing will be tossed in the bin.

    I’d be more interested to hear what the median post-PhD salary is in academia than what these presidents are making. Seeing these seven figure salaries is actually a disincentive to stay in the field: if the bigwigs are pulling in all that money — and we all know how much is siphoned off by administrators — what’s left for a new professor?


    December 25, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    • Interesting post. Have you considered writing on the blogosphere on the side while holding down the finance job?

      I’m in a similar situation- I studied the humanities (Social Science/Chinese Literature) in college but eventually made the switch to finance when I acknowledged the prospects of an academic career. No amount of money made on a trading floor will ever be as satisfying to me as what I studied in college, and I acknowledge that. Right now for fun I’m helping two professors I know at a top 3 overseas b-school write a book on the Chinese economy; only one of these guys have a PHD and both landed their seats through networking. They aren’t tenured and they have to write about their specific field of expertise, “business”, but they are in an academic setting. I think it depends on why you like academia. For recognition you could always try self-publishing a book (no easy feat I realize); for the ease and tranquility of being in an academic environment… start networking.

      You could also try journalism on the side. One guy I’m trying to help out started off as a consultant (non-MBB) and freelanced for a local dining website. He was basically able to hustle his way within 2 years of freelance writing onto an editorial position at (Economist/Financial Times), and gets his shit featured on the New Republic. No PHD.


      December 29, 2013 at 5:26 PM

  23. A great roar from the indispensable Lion. The salaries are a joke and yes they are a joke even compared to professional athletes. Most baseball players in the Majors are between 20 and 35. No matter how gifted you are, you can only be in the show for a fairly brief time. A college President can basically be between 45 and 70. The local football U. a few years was going to have to shell out big money when they got rid of their athletic director (500K a year contract). Good fundraiser, looked like a CEO but he hired the wrong coaches and schmoozablity only gets you so far. Of course, you have to pay the next guy big money because you need a great fundraiser to pay the severance for the last good fundraiser you hired. I actually think these folks have special skills(special personalities) but making a hundred times what I make, not that special.


    December 25, 2013 at 7:43 AM

  24. I was a faculty member first at an elite private college and then at a major research university for 37 years.

    Faculty (not adjuncts) at nearly all colleges and universities have upper class earnings, and many are in the upper 10% of the income distribution or higher. They also enjoy cadillac health plans and excellent retirement plans. They attend expenses-paid conferences in the garden spots of the planet. Some are famous and members of the jet set. Many, especially the successful ones, work very hard indeed, 70 hours a week or more. Of course, they are doing what they like, so it’s not onerous. These aren’t coal miners or share croppers.

    They also live in a cocoon cut off from mainstream America and often are contemptuous of it. They are unsupervised and left alone as long as they are careful to adhere to the current PC doctrines. Lack of supervision sometimes leads to problems, as in the surprisingly large incident of fraud in some disciplines, mostly biologically related sciences like medicine, ecology, climatology, etc. The humanities and social sciences are beyond the pale of polite conservation.

    I would say that the really successful people I knew were self-actualizers and self-driven. It can be a very good life, but it is an extremely competitive one, and many faculty are consumed by self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    bob sykes

    December 25, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    • They also live in a cocoon cut off from mainstream America and often are contemptuous of it.

      College professors are a true sense of what a bobo is, which is having a self-actualizing career where they look down on folks who work in the real world, because that’s why proles do…


      December 25, 2013 at 4:08 PM

  25. My grandfather got his PhD from Princeton and was a Harvard Professor for 40 years and lived a very middle class and unglamorous lifestyle, no matter how “self actualizing” it may have seemed. Despite living frugally, a few years in a nursing home ended up wiping out most of his savings, so now my grandmother is forced to live in their shabby house because she cannot afford to move to a decent retirement community.

    Both my parents have graduate and undergraduate degrees from Princeton/Harvard/MIT and worked in “self actualizing” non-profit jobs. My dad is at the very top of his profession, but he still works 60 hour weeks in his late 60s. Despite his fancy and interesting sounding title, he mainly does administrative work and he can’t afford to retire yet. My father’s siblings who decided to go into law and business are multimillionaires several times over. My father wisely advised both my sister and I to go to professional school. Neither of us are as smart as our father, but we managed to lesser ivy league schools for undergrad and top law and business schools after graduating. We are both making more money than our parents by our mid 30s.

    I can’t say I love my job, but it is challenging. And seeing how hard my father worked, I don’t think that it is much more labor intensive. As someone who actually grew up in this “elite” that you pretend to know about, I can assure you that no one really looks down at us for not being in a self actualizing profession.


    December 30, 2013 at 2:25 PM

  26. A real SWPL is a Renaissance man, regardless of class and education. Most proles could never be a polymath because they have low brow interests. Most SWPLs aren’t true polymaths either, but well rounded hacks who have money and dabble with all sorts of hobbies and call it self actualization; that is if they have time away from their work and superficial social gatherings.

    This site provides a good guide to becoming a well groomed and well rounded individual. It isn’t about status whoring or PUA. It can be a poor man’s guide on how to be a real SWPL.


    January 12, 2014 at 8:26 PM

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