The business of professing

[flagallery gid=19 name=”Gallery”] How many professors out there can break into Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Bassoon on a whim?

On a cold, gray December afternoon, CU music professor Yoshiyuki “Yoshi” Ishikawa gave an impromptu performance in his office, fingers flying hypnotically as they traveled up and down the scales, pausing for an abbreviated breath every few seconds. Helping students with their own performances is what Ishikawa was hired for, and he said its part of being a musician himself.

“As musicians, we will all eventually teach,” Ishikawa said. “This gives me the freedom to pursue as an artist what I really love to do.”

Yet for all the hours Ishikawa and other music professors put into teaching, they are at a comparative disadvantage in terms of compensation. Combing through CU’s online faculty salary roster shows he makes slightly above the College of Music average salary, and they have the lowest average among all schools and colleges on campus.

Click for an interactive map.
Click for an interactive map.

A quick survey of CU’s Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis Web site reveals some interesting trends in terms of salaries campus wide. All of the data comes from the 2008-09 academic school year, which is the latest data available. In terms of average pay, professors at the Colorado Law School and the Leeds School of Business lead the pack at $178,719 and $168,420, respectively. At the opposite end, professors in the School of Education and the College of Music made the least at $98,715 and $92,391.

The extremes of each school and college also match the average salary comparisons. The law school and business school stand out by a significant margin from their peers when it comes to professors who earn the most money. According CU records, the highest-paid law school professor made $223,536 last year while the highest-paid education professor made $121,265. The lows illustrate significant discrepancies as well, as the lowest-paid full-time professor in business made $62,443 and the lowest-paid Arts and Sciences professor made $19,000 last year.

What determines the worth of a professor, and who makes that decision? According to professors and CU administrators, it’s a relatively simple case of supply and demand.

Todd Gleason, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the salary structure is driven by a combination of factors including the number of people with doctorates in a given field, options candidates may have outside of academia and the market worth of a particular field.

“In order to recruit, we have to pay market wages,” Gleason said. “We have a need to stay competitive in this climate.”

Gleason added that the university has to compete with the private sector in some fields, in particular business and law. Those professions can offer a great deal more in terms of compensation, and Gleason said attracting quality professors from those fields comes with inflated costs.

“You have to buy that expertise at whatever the market determines,” Gleason said. “I think the campus has done reasonably well (with what it has). Could it do better? Sure, it could always be better.”

While Gleason acknowledged that some groups of professors were better off than others, he said it wasn’t based on any prejudice on the part of the university administration. Gleason said the university has simply made the decision that having specialty schools like law and business schools is in the university’s best interest, and that paying quality professors in those areas cost more than others.

That doesn’t necessarily placate people like Daniel Sher, the Dean of the College of Music. Sher said the college has had to rely on private funding a lot more recently than in years past, and that the college is starting to lag behind its peer institutions nationwide.

“We are a little frustrated by a relative lack of support,” Sher said.

Sher was quick to point out however that CU receives very little in terms of help from the state of Colorado, and said that changing the salary structure of an institution the size of CU was difficult to say the least.

“You take a sailboat, it can change course very quickly. You take a tanker, and it’s a lot harder to get it to turn,” Sher said.

While Sher was adamant in his statement that the university administration is sensitive to the college’s needs, he said he still felt there was more work that could be done to make the salary structure more balanced.

“I would be satisfied if we were equitable with all the humanities and fine arts programs on campus,” Sher said.

The evidence seems to dismiss this notion; the arts and sciences average salary is $116,216 while the College of Music average sits at $92,391.

It doesn’t help that CU, on average, pays most of its professors less than comparable institutions nationwide. When compared to similar institutions who are members of the Association of American Universities, CU pays 3.8 percent less for all colleges across the board, according to university records. The College of Arts and Sciences pays four percent less, or $4,865, and the College of Education pays a whopping 11.8 percent less, or $13,258.

The only schools that pay more than the AAU average are the journalism school, which pays 6.1 percent or $6,829 more, and the law school, which pays 3.8 percent or $6,659 more.

For their part, the professors have very little say in the matter, but they seem to understand the realities they face as well.

Donald Lichtenstein, who is a professor in and chair of the marketing department as well as a former associate dean, said he once gave a particular finance professor a “very, very large raise,” which caused a bit of a stir in the business school.

“My rationale was, ‘this person’s market value, judged what other good schools are willing to pay him, is high,’” Lichtenstein said. “So I gave him the raise, and a couple years later another school came in and hired him for much more than I even gave him.”

Lichtenstein was careful to emphasize that what a professor makes was not necessarily an indication of value on anyone’s part.

“Salaries are not a statement of worth, they’re a price,” Lichtenstein said, and used an example that many CU athletics should be intimately familiar with to make his point.

“A lot of people are upset at what college football coaches are making,” Lichtenstein said. “The market determines those salaries…I’m not the least offended when a college football coach gets a certain salary because the market has determined that that’s what they’re worth.”

That’s much easier for Lichtenstein to say as a business professor when he makes twice as much as a music professor like Ishikawa. While Ishikawa acknowledged the market realities of the professor salary structure, he said he didn’t necessarily agree with them.

“Any society is driven by money, and your value is determined by the amount of money you bring into your organization,” Ishikawa said. “As teachers we do not bring in millions, we bring in and attract students. But what I believe academia has done is use the salary model of the outside world to attract faculty so their salaries are equivalent to what they would be in their professional field.”

Of course, there are intangible benefits to academia and music that Ishikawa was keen to point out.

“As musicians, we absolutely love what we do,” Ishikawa said. “I didn’t become a musician because my parents told me to do so; it’s something which I had to do.”

It’s that love of what he does that has kept Ishikawa in academia, and it’s something he said the university should prioritize a little more.

“I think they (the administration) need to pay more attention to the arts,” Ishikawa said. “I don’t think the salary (law and business faculty) demand does not necessarily mean that we’re getting the best…In the college of music and in the arts, we are not receiving equivalent compensation that we should receive.”

Ishikawa’s final point was that music has a value to society just like business does, maybe even more so.

“Imagine going to see a movie without music.” Ishikawa said. “Music exists because we need it for survival.”

Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Rob Ryan at

Contact CU Independent Editor-in-chief Danielle Alberti at

Contact CU Independent contributing writer Scott Franz at

Rob Ryan

Rob Ryan is a journalism student at CU in the News-Editorial program who is also studying political science. He has covered environmental issues, student government, local and state politics, and the Boulder arts and entertainment scene for the CU Independent. Contact Rob via email at

  1. Let’s not forget that the music school is filled to capacity. Non music majors can’t even use half of the resources there. Supply and demand it may be, or maybe the university needs to consider its priorities.

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