Is there anything to be done when a department has hot young assistant professors with much stronger research records (in books and peer-reviewed publications) than the associate professors? Must the assistant professors just accept that they are less well ranked and less well paid than associates who have been less productive?

  • 1
    Stronger research records is one thing. Funding might be another. Universities need people who attract funding (NSF, Horizon 2020 for Europe) probably more than paper-producing machines.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 16:41
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    Get to working on their promotions?
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 16:45
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    Not all assistant professors are less well paid than associate professors...
    – StrongBad
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 17:36
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    Prepare to watch the assistants leave for tenured positions elsewhere while your department collapses in on itself due to attrition?
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 18:12
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    To expand on StrongBad's point, salary inversion often refers to what happens when assistant professors are hired at a higher salary than existing associate professors. This can happen if the university changes its salary structure (for example to try to attract better faculty.) It is not uncommon for this to happen.
    – Jim Conant
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


Position in a university, and consequently salary, is not simply a function of being "hot and young", grant funding, and publications. But there are many other factors you may be missing. For example, the associate professors in your department may be teaching larger classes (under the assumption that the department tries to give the assistants smaller classes while they build a resume for their tenure decision); they may also, with more experience, be better teachers. And they will almost certainly have far higher service loads -- sitting on committees, mentoring, reviewing duties, etc. All of these are things that are valuable to a department and that is worth a certain amount of salary. But it's hardly visible from the outside, even though it definitely diminishes your ability to do research and publish a lot.

Finally, the associate professors have one less promotion to look forward to, and consequently a lower salary potential. For example, an assistant professor paid 5% less than an associate will earn 5% more after promotion, which translates into a quite significant sum over the remaining work life.

I do get your point, and there definitely are departments that have significantly improved and where the young crop is better than the old, and should expect to be paid better when comparing at the same stage in their careers. But it's hard to determine a "fair salary" between different ranks if all you reduce things to is grants & publications.


You seem to think that 'top' assistant professors carry the whole university. They are one of many variables that play a role in the running and success of a university. Who do you think pay the salary of professors? Hint: it's not high quality papers. Answer: coursework students. How do you get coursework students? for one, you have to teach well, have a well-run university; good admin, programs, reputation for teaching, community engagement, getting jobs, etc. These 'other' people you seem to think the ass/prof are better than actually created the environment that allow the ass/prof to flourish. Who do you think should get the higher pay? The leach (newbie) or the host?

  • You seem to think that the assistant profs aren't teaching the 800-person service classes. You think wrong. In fact, the person I'm most thinking of (the assistant with the strongest research record) also teaches the dept's largest class. And teaches it every semester because its the dept's major service class. It is certainly true, however, that the associates carry more of the administrative burden. But, then this same person asked for consideration for early tenure (thereby opening them up to pick up some of that administrative burden), they were told they had to wait their turn... Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 11:34
  • ...and that it didn't matter how good their record was. They just had to wait. That is the source of the intra-departmental frustration for that the assistant, as well as a few others who (having watched his request) haven't even asked. Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 11:36

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