Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Professors--elitist fashionistas or still wearing clothes from grad school?

The NYT had a funny op-ed by Douglas Coupland yesterday, in which he provides new dictionary terms for the near future.  I've been thinking about one of them in particular:

"BLANK-COLLAR WORKERS Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that."

One of my passions is personal finance.  I'm fascinated by the decisions people make in terms of their money and their sense of who they are.

I know some people who fit the above description of "blank-collar workers." It's both a sad reflection on our economy and also throws a dim light on blank-collar workers' retirement.  I know many others who could use the advice: "Stop acting rich" (or at least spending like you're rich). But none of those people are professors.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have watched friends and relatives spend and consume conspicuously and beyond their means.  But this recession is one of those instances when you hate being right.  Kind of like when I was right about war in Afghanistan.  Fate of the eternal pessimist, I guess.

One thing we can say about professors--as a group we are quite sensible with our money! But on average we're also not paid so extravagantly.   Just take a drive through the faculty parking lot of your nearest university.  Then drive through the student parking lot.  Who has better cars? At my university, the students drive more expensive cars.  That should tell you something.

One "end tenure" book recently reviewed in the NYT claimed, "today's senior professors can afford Marc Jacobs"!  Hah! Most of us professors would have to look up "Marc Jacobs" to get it, and then we would laugh at the claim once we saw the price of that clothing line (at least I laughed).

What an outrageously stupid point.  Even a quick look at the AAUP Faculty Salary survey reveals, in my state, that full professors at a few institutions average $120k-$125k and more average $63-$75k.  At the lower end, it is certainly a livable wage--but Marc Jacobs?  What a small world those authors must live in--projecting NYC elite institutional norms (and fashion sense) on to higher education nationwide.

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