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Life on the Tenure Track: A Historian's History

Second of two reports about salaries for professors in the U.S. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Now, we continue our discussion from last week about the pay for professors in the United States. We looked at the averages. Today we narrow that to one example.

Andrew McMichael is a young history professor in his sixth year at Western Kentucky University, a state school in Bowling Green. He started as an assistant professor, teaching seven courses a year.

His starting pay was forty-three thousand dollars, plus benefits. These included health insurance for himself and his family, life insurance and a retirement plan.

His position was on the tenure track. This meant the university would have to decide either to award him tenure, which provides job security, or ask him to leave.

He requested tenure after five years. He had to present evidence of his research, teaching and service on committees.

Teaching skills are measured through evaluations by students and observations by other professors. The research requirement includes publishing three articles or writing a book or translating a foreign work into English.

Professors may think they have met all the requirements for tenure, but there are no guarantees. The process can seem mysterious and unfair.

In recent years many schools have reduced their number of tenured positions. Doing that saves money and gives administrators more control. It also means greater competition for fewer jobs.

Earlier this year, Andrew McMichael received the decision about his future at Western Kentucky. It was good news: he earned tenure.

That meant a promotion to associate professor. It also meant a ten percent pay increase as well as a one-time payment for good work.

He now earns almost fifty-eight thousand dollars a year -- not a huge amount, he admits. And he knows that even a starting professor outside the liberal arts, in an area like accounting, earns a lot more.

He also knows that his school could hire someone to teach the same number of classes he does for about fifteen thousand dollars, with no benefits. But being a professor means more than teaching classes.

Professor McMichael says tenure will mean the freedom to speak out and do research on whatever he wants. History is not his only interest. In the spring he will be team-teaching a class with a biologist on the history and science of beer and brewing.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Last week's report about pay for professors can be found at I'm Steve Ember.