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Normally a professor is paid for eight to nine months each academic year for teaching several courses in the period. However, if a professor gets a research grant, he can support himself by the grant in the summer months, or teach fewer courses.

I'd like to know how it works exactly. Let's say, if a professor only teaches half of the normal load of courses, then he will receive half of his normal salary from the department and the rest is covered by the grant, right? If the grant is large enough, can he choose not to teach any course without loss of pay?

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    Variations of professors' pay is probably proportional to the number of professors... – Solar Mike Mar 27 at 20:21
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    There is huge variation in how it works. What is true one place will be utterly false in another. Some are fully funded by outside sources and don't need to "teach" other than guiding doctoral students. But in many (most?) places the grant recipient can't manage the funds her/himself. An administrative office does and disburses funds when given appropriate documentation. You need to ask the question locally if it is of real concern to you. – Buffy Mar 27 at 20:35
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    Guiding doctoral students also needs teaching (graduate) courses generally. I want mainly how it works in mathematics – Math Wizard Mar 27 at 20:41
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    "Guiding doctoral students also needs teaching (graduate) courses generally" - not at all. Advising PhD students is often completely independent of coursework. – Bryan Krause Mar 27 at 20:50
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    At [most] US schools you are told a breakdown of the position's time. E.g., 60% research, 20% teaching, 20% service. So buying out of half of your classes is not worth half of your salary. – Austin Henley Mar 27 at 21:11
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Nearly every school will have a different policy on buying out of teaching.

In the US, many universities have a breakdown of the position's time. For example, you may be hired to do 60% research, 20% teaching, 20% service. At some universities, this means the grants must cover the percentage of your salary that you are buying out of. At others, there is a flat buyout price (presumably the amount it costs to pay an instructor). Although, some also have requirements for a minimum number of courses you must teach per year (can't buy out).

You can also get a reduced teaching load through additional service (e.g, serving as graduate coordinator or department chair).

  • I have seen many (eminent) researchers who do not teach any (or few) courses in several years. For example, Andrew Wiles in the 7 years of working on FLT. In those situations, they just have visiting positions elsewhere or departments simply do not assign courses for them. So buying out all courses is possible and happens pretty often. Any thought? – Math Wizard Mar 30 at 20:18
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    @MathWizard Buying out of all courses is possible (depending on your university/department), but no it is not common. The ones I’ve known who didn’t teach were bringing in multimillion dollar grants semi-frequently, which is quite rare. It is generally expected for professors to teach. – Austin Henley Mar 30 at 20:22
  • I’d expand this to nearly every department. – Fomite Aug 3 at 23:14
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It is complicated. The amount a grant is charged when a professor "buys out" from a course generally factors in the professor's salary and benefits as well as the replacement teaching costs (salary, benefits, office etc).

The number of courses a professor can buy out of varies. Some departments will let you buy out of all courses, others will require you to teach 1 course a year and some will not let you buy out at all. The exact number can vary year to year depending on the teaching needs of the department, past buy outs, total grant/overhead income, and other factors.

You should not take a TT job expecting to buy out of all teaching and it is not unreasonable to ask during the hiring process what the buy "rules" are.

  • Yes, tenure-track position requires some teaching and you must teach some courses in order to prove yourself – Math Wizard Mar 27 at 21:10
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Normally a professor is paid for eight to nine months each academic year for teaching several courses in the period.

No, professors are paid for doing many things, including teaching. See this question.

However, if a professor gets research grant, he can support himself by the grant in the summer months, or teach less courses.

That’s a misleading statement that’s only approximately correct. Many professors don’t receive summer salary but that doesn’t mean they can’t “support themselves in the summer months” - the base salary is usually adequate for supporting oneself. And it’s not always an option to teach fewer courses - that depends on the nature of the grant and on the department agreeing to a course buyout.

if a professor only teach the half of the normal load of courses, then he will receive half of his normal salary from the department and the rest is covered by the grant, right?

No, again your math shows that you are assuming the incorrect premise that professors are only paid to teach. Even if there is a well-defined percentage X such that X percent of the professor’s salary is given for teaching (there isn’t always such a number), the amount that will be charged to the grant for a course buyout may not directly correspond to a simple arithmetical calculation of the sort you suggested. As others have noted, every institution will have its own policies about such things.

If the grant is large enough, can he choose not teaching any course without loss of pay?

Professors never “choose” how much they teach. They get assigned teaching by their department, and are required to teach the number of courses that they are assigned. But given appropriate grant funding, they can request permission from the department for a course buyout, and if that permission is granted then they can teach less than the normal load. In some places this is a routine matter and effectively professors can assume that permission will always be granted; in others it may not be.

Also note that it’s not just the size of the grant that matters. The grant budget and policies of the funding body have to be compatible with using the money for a course buyout. That won’t always be the case even when the grant is “large enough”.

  • Many professors don’t receive summer salary but that doesn’t mean they can’t “support themselves in the summer months” I don't think the OP literally meant they thought profs would starve without a summer salary – Azor Ahai Mar 29 at 16:38
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    @AzorAhai I don’t know what OP meant, but what they wrote seemed to suggest that professors who don’t receive summer salary would have trouble supporting themselves. When people here ask loaded questions they not only confuse the people trying to answer the question but they may also mislead readers of the thread, so I thought it made sense to point out the imprecision. But I agree my answer is on the pedantic side, perhaps a bit more than was necessary. – Dan Romik Mar 29 at 18:57
  • I think the rest of your answer is fine, I just thought that line was maybe a little compared to the rest and could have been part of why you attracted some early downvotes (I didn't downvote). I don't feel like you're being "picky on words." – Azor Ahai Mar 29 at 19:14
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    @MathWizard because I don't think there are anything wrong in Well you're just straight up wrong about those things, which is what Dan is trying to explain to you. | Also you said in your first comment "So this post is really picky on words" and then in your most recent one "Picky on words is not my own feeling, as reflected by others." Please don't try to make that my opinion. – Azor Ahai Mar 29 at 19:17
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    @MathWizard that’s fine, please don’t feel offended because of my answer. It’s completely reasonable for you not to know the answer to the question you are asking. I think we’ve all clarified our positions. Whoever thinks my answer is not helpful is free to downvote it, same as with any other answer to any other question. – Dan Romik Mar 29 at 20:09
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The answer to this question is always the same: contact your office of the Vice Provost or equivalent office. Ask the chair of your department if you don't know which office to ask. A Google search works wonders. It doesn't matter how other schools work, you need to know how your school works. Here are examples:

University of Michigan

Texas A&M

University of Illinois Springfield

With questions about policy, it's always best to start with what's posted publicly, as the institution is liable for this information in an audit. This makes it pretty rock solid.

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