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Have professors just come to accept that there are significantly higher salaries in certain academic fields (generally engineering, some business, law, etc.)? Does it ever cause tension within a university faculty? The irony is that not only do certain academic fields pay higher professor salaries, those same fields often allow for greater ability to do consulting and other income supplementing activities.

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    where in the world are you basing this on? in Germany all professors in all disciplines get the same amount of state fixed salary, so this statement is simply untrue for some countries.
    – Sursula
    Dec 8, 2023 at 4:59
  • I agree with Sursula. In many countries I worked before, in Europe and South America, all academic positions in public institutions have the same salary range independent of the field. Is this a question about private universities?
    – The Doctor
    Dec 8, 2023 at 6:45
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    I am definitely talking about the US. As with most things, the US tends to be more market based and willing to have salary differentials. Dec 8, 2023 at 19:10
  • @Sursula See e.g. University of California, which has separate scales for business/economics/engineering, law, health sciences, and veterinary medicine.
    – user71659
    Dec 9, 2023 at 1:26

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This is certainly specific to the country you're asking for. It is true in the US, but it is not true in Germany where professors are (largely) paid the same regardless of the field they teach and research in.

Underlying your question is a suggestion that different salaries are unjust -- if that were not the case, "just come to accept" would not be an issue. But, I think your premise is at least open to debate. In the end, at least in the US, salaries are subject to market forces. If new PhD students in computer science, for example, can earn starting salaries well into the 6 digits, then universities will not have a choice but pay professors starting salaries that are substantially higher than, say, professors teaching medieval music who do not have a market that provide such high competing salaries. Perhaps one decry that these music professors do the same job and should earn the same salary, but meeting in the middle would then simply imply that computer science departments would be very empty -- because nobody would be willing to do the job.

So yes, there is an element to unfairness about this, but at the same time it's also reasonably pragmatic.

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  • From what I heard recently, there are actually quite extreme salary differences between professors in Germany, with individual professors having negotiated to receive twice the default salary (according to "W-Besoldung"). I don't know how the situation is between different fields, though. Dec 8, 2023 at 7:08
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    Note that the example of Germany you quote shows that the fear that CS departments would be empty seems relatively baseless. CS PhDs in Germany definitely also have much better paid job options compared to medieval music PhDs, professors teaching the two subjects are paid essentially the same and nevertheless CS professorships are all filled and quite competitive to get.
    – quarague
    Dec 8, 2023 at 10:38
  • @quarague If you talk to department heads in CS in the US, these fears are not without merit. Starting salaries for assistant professors of CS in the US (~$120k for 9 month salaries, plus grant funding in the summer) are about as high as W3 (full professor) salaries in Germany, In part that is because the CS salaries in industry in the US are very substantially higher than they are in Germany. Dec 8, 2023 at 15:53
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    Yes I am definitely talking about the US. The US tends to have more market-based compensation in just about everything hence the disparities. Dec 8, 2023 at 19:09
  • Also, did not mean to imply that I thought salary differentials was unjust. My question was more around whether this affects how the different faculty get along and whether the salary differentials cause tension. Dec 8, 2023 at 19:11

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