Personal accounts of faculty struggle, sacrifice

The third paper in our “Race to the Bottom” series included personal accounts from CSU faculty about the impact low and stagnant salaries have had on them and their families.

The following faculty stories are excerpted from the paper “Losing Ground and Losing Faith.” The accounts were taken from comments made as part of CFA’s online faculty salary survey, held Feb. 5 to March 16, 2015.

“My husband and I live in a one bedroom apartment with our young daughter. We are both working extremely hard as adjunct employees. We qualify for WIC and that is how we have been able to feed our child. Our situation feels hopeless.”

“Work three jobs just to make ends meet. Have no time for family or friends, or exercise. All money goes to bills and student loans. No savings or emergency funds.”

“I am a single mother and receive no child support or alimony. The only way I am able to survive in this career and take care of my children is through the reliance on SIGNIFICANT financial support from my retired parents!”

“It’s impossible to save and not have to use money to repair the car or other emergencies. Been barely existing, not living, for 7-years now.”

“On a daily basis I have to make choices based on my income. For example, in wintertime I often do not use heating in my home, with temperatures dropping down to less than 55 degrees indoors. My vehicle is 17 years old and does not have safety features I would like to have. I live in an unsafe neighborhood because I can’t afford to buy in a safer part of the town.”

“I cannot afford to buy groceries often, so I eat meals with my parents and grandparents in order to save money. I have a PhD. This is not okay.”

“I love working at the CSU, but on what I make, I can’t afford more than to rent a one-bedroom apartment for myself and my husband.  I could never buy a house.  The period in which we were furloughed was particularly painful, as I was often down to less than $20 in my checking account, and eating peanut butter sandwiches in the last week of the month.  That sounds like an exaggeration, but unfortunately, it was the truth.”

“My salary situation has meant that (1) I cannot own a car; (2) I have had to live with roommates found on Craigslist in order to afford my rent — at the age of 45! (3) I have no savings, and approximately $25,000 in credit card debt; and (4) during my period as probationary faculty — when I was still in my 30s — I could not even consider the possibility of having a child, as my salary would barely cover the cost of housing and day care, omitting any other expenses.”

“Even though I am 54 years old, my father contributes to my rent because he thinks that the students benefit from having me as an instructor. I teach 12 units at CSUMB, 2 classes at a different school, and take on consulting contracts for administrative work as course review as available. My car has 140k miles on it and is in constant need of repair. I have teenagers and no savings. The last 5-7 days of the month, I use my mother’s credit card for gas and food and then pay it off after payday.”

“My house has needed a roof for 10 years. Until I took on considerable ‘additional’ work to my CSU job, I could not afford the roof and food. At this point in my career, teaching should pay the bills, but, it doesn’t, and emergencies like a roof, etc. make it more difficult to survive.”

“Each month I alternate which utilities will be paid. I no longer purchase food in supermarkets and I buy clothing in consignment shops or the Goodwill.”

“This is my dream job and I already feel like I am impacting students significantly. However, I am constantly under financial pressure. I sometimes cannot afford groceries….”

“My children and I rely on my family’s support, which is a shame really considering the fact that [I am] a fully grown adult with a Ph.D. degree and a Full professor’s rank….”


“With a salary like mine I will never own a home, even though I’m single…I lead the life of a student, only being able to rent a one bedroom apartment and not owning  anything but the cheapest car in the market.”

“When I was hired, the university was building new faculty housing. I did not qualify for a loan to purchase the homes that were built for me!” 

“Shouldn’t an adult professional with tenure be able to afford a one-bedroom condo after over a decade of service?”

“I live on meth alley. Break-ins are a constant threat. I was only able to afford my home because it was a run-down foreclosure. I wanted to have children, but I could never afford it in my 10 years at CSU. Now I am too old to bear children.”

“The only place I could afford to purchase a home is 70 miles away from my campus. I spend an average of 4 hours a day in my commute. This certainly has a negative impact in my life.”

“My insurance company told me that they do not insure homes that look like mine. My eldest son as a teenager was so embarrassed by our home that he insisted that we invite his friends to the local park to celebrate his birthday. Our department has an exchange program with a German institution in which faculty exchange homes and cars. My exchange faculty member was shocked by our home and it took many emails to convince him that my family car with 240,000 miles was safe for him and his wife to drive.” 

“I had to back out of being a foster parent because I couldn’t meet the minimum housing requirements of the state. This was a devastating blow to me that I cannot really describe.”

“I was able to buy a house 25 years ago in a somewhat dodgy neighborhood thinking it was an investment and that I could eventually sell and move to a better place.  My salary has not kept up and during the recession this dodgy neighborhood has gotten even dodgier. I am both underwater…and unable to qualify for a higher mortgage.”

“Since I accepted my job in 2007, I have lived in a dorm for three years and house-sat for 1.5 years.”

“My salary is terrible. I am a 43-year-old tenured associate professor. I work constantly with few breaks and am dedicated to my job and my students. To compensate me, the CSU pays me a salary that does not allow me to afford even a very modest home in my community. I have to rent a house with two adult roommates. This is demoralizing, and its effect is cumulative with each passing year.”

“I currently sub-let a room (1 room in someone’s 3 bedroom apartment rental) in the city. This forces me to move around regularly because I cannot afford to rent a place on my own. This takes considerable time out of my year and adds significant stress….The fact that I am forced to rent single rooms in a large apartment is shocking…I am competing with my students for the cheapest rooms in the city.”

“I still live in my van in my husband’s mother’s driveway because our combined salaries do not afford us our own apartment. I made more over twenty years ago when working as a receptionist!”

Paying for college

“I have a PhD and educate other people’s children for a living, yet worry about how I will help my own children go to college.”

“My salary is ridiculously low for a full prof. with 25 years of experience. It’s impossible to save for retirement, and I took a second mortgage on my home to send my daughter to college. We couldn’t afford to assist her with law school, so she was forced to take out a $200,000 loan — this is what our children inherit.”

“I cannot afford to send my children to a CSU on my current salary.”

“Both our children owe 100K in student loans because we had to liquidate our college fund to meet living expenses. We had to sell our home, downsize, and still struggle. Too embarrassed to share my name.”

“I am married to a CSU full professor, and it’s ironic that, in order to do our jobs well — be on campus to meet with students, effectively evaluate their work, etc. and to encourage them to persist in college, we have, in essence, sacrificed saving for our own children’s education. We’ve prioritized doing our jobs well, but we haven’t pursued as many outside “moonlighting” jobs as we could have to save for our own kids’ education.”

Looking for work elsewhere

“I have been EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL at this job but I am EMBARRASSED to work here. I will continue looking for employment elsewhere.”

“My salary is insultingly low for a tenured Ph.D. My wife, a 7th grade teacher with a MA, makes more than me. I am seriously considering leaving the CSU system for more lucrative work.”

“When I started I took this work because I love teaching and am very passionate about it.  At that time my husband was working and able to support us.  He was laid off 18 months ago and I now have to consider whether or not I can stay on in the nursing program. This is extremely disheartening as I love what I do and I know how difficult it is to get nursing faculty. But unfortunately this may end up being the only option.”

“I started in 2007, right after the previous contract was negotiated and accepted. I was promised a 24% raise over 5 years. Adjusted for inflation, I make less today than I did when I started. I will never be able to save for retirement and achieve my life dreams working at an institution where faculty are so grossly underpaid. I have been spending the better part of a year looking for a new job, as are at least half of the members of my home department.”

“I feel absolutely hopeless. There is no clear path for advancement. There is no future financially. I feel I am a very good teacher but that [CSU campus] finds me disposable. It is depressing. I’d like to stay at [CSU campus] forever but instead, I am always looking for other work.”

“For the first time in 27+ years since I started teaching, I am now seriously considering leaving the job I love.  I am not depressed but it is close. I work hard. I am a great instructor. But I am overworked and underpaid and undervalued by my campus. My students value me and that is what keeps me going.  That, plus my passion.  But I am getting maxed out. I’m 48 years old. I deserve not only a decent living wage but I deserved to be paid well. Why do I have to question whether or not I can afford to buy a lunch out or a new pair of shoes because my old ones are worn out. It is haunting me daily now that I am making $28,000 a year. I made more when I taught high school. I could make more waiting tables. It is despicable.”

Losing Faith: Faculty Attitudes towards their Salaries and Their Careers

“It is disheartening to live and work here- but not afford to really ‘live.’”

“I lost about 14% income over the past 15 years. i do not have savings, am paying off student loans, cannot move out of our terrible neighborhood, have had to take work outside of my job to make ends meet, have a husband with chronic health issues, cannot afford to engage in my research /exhibitions /career as an artist, and barely afford to make ends meet each month.  I am overworked, stressed out, and I am completely demoralized.”

“The hours I log for [CSU campus] compared to my salary places me below the federal poverty line. My family could not survive if I didn’t supplement my income. This all equates to a poor quality of life and psychological burnout. What an unfortunate way to live.”

“My salary has flat-lined for the past ten years.  My morale has flat-lined as well.”

“I have had to look for a part-time job as a full professor because of my low salary.  It is disgraceful. Morale is terrible.”

“It is a repellent and toxic work environment, filled with the most contaminating form of demoralization, pessimism, and cynicism.”

“Our university has become a sweat shop for the most educated persons in our society and those who are entrusted with the responsibility of educating society’s citizenry at the highest level.”

“I have low pay and no job security and yet I am supposed to put a smile on my face every day when we walk into class. I do just that, but I don’t know how much longer I can do this both emotionally and physically.”

“2008 put me into a major depressive episode that lasted 2 years.  Salary was a big part – full prof, but worthless in eyes of state…I have 15 years left in my career – feel my job is dead end.”

“This ‘part-time’ lecturer system is a living hell, it is slavery. I feel less and less human every day.”

“I have never, ever worked so many hours in a week and been paid so little. It’s demoralizing.  Of course, I love teaching and feel honored and privileged to be in a position to do so. This is why I continue to work for less than minimum wage.”

Failure of teaching as a career

“Having a faculty job was my dream job but I honestly am feeling humiliated about the fact that I found my dream job at [CSU campus].”

“My family and I now believe that my Ph.D. degree is nothing but a useless title. It’s not worth spending so much time, energy, and efforts to pursue a higher degree and work for CSU unless you serve as campus administrators whose income are much higher. It makes me feel like it’s a big shame to work here. It’s really embarrassing if someone finds out your actual income through a public website and looks at you with sympathy.”

“My current salary (as Associate Professor) is about 60% of what I was offered by other schools 9 years ago as a junior Assistant Professor. Colleagues from other schools keep asking why I don’t move, everybody feels sorry for me. This is pretty embarrassing, to say the least.”

“At this pay, I no longer feel like a professional.”

“I feel I have failed to achieve my aspirations of moving from poverty to a solid, stable middle class life as an academic. Such a shame and such a disincentive to those considering a career in academia.”

“I ADORE what I do but often feel as though the ‘higher-ups’ could care less.  To me, it’s an issue of respect.”

“I’m fed up with president’s speeches about the quality of faculty and their commitment to CSU which are not reflected in their salaries. Pretty soon it will be hard to take another speech and faculty will simply stop attending convocations, commencements and so on. What is the use? We do it for students, the only source of fulfillment this job provides, but it is hard to take hypocrisy and humiliation.”

“Having cancer has allowed me to get a mortgage modification that I would not have been eligible for otherwise. Sadly, I will get a bigger monthly break from strangers after having cancer than the monthly raise I have received from my employer over the past 8 years.”

“I have a Ph.D. and have worked on campus for over 10 yrs. My wife has a Master’s degree and works in a middle school. She makes $20,000 more than I do. Over the same period of time, her salary has increased about $18,000 more than mine. Why does CA have money for her and not us?”

“My current salary disgusts me, is an embarrassment to the campus, and creates a formidable amount of loathing and distrust towards our administration.”

“I really come unhinged over the fact that at this public—not private—institution, bloated admin levels and layers and their hefty salaries were climbing and still are while telling us faculty there ‘isn’t enough money’ to compensate appropriately, and telling the students they have to pay more for less. I consider the whole arrangement obscenely unethical….”

“I do not feel that the CSU values the work faculty do at all.”

“The administration should be embarrassed by the way it underpays not only lecturers but many full-time faculty at this institution.  This neglect/oversight/error—whatever it is—is quite honestly close to shameful.”

“It is difficult to feel like a valued member of the CSU educational team when my primary work—teaching—is compensated so poorly in comparison to the work done by administrative personnel.”

“Every day that I go to work at the CSU, I know that I and my fellow workers are being cheated.”

Should students go into teaching?

“I am very sad that I got a Ph.D. It was a choice that I would never recommend to someone that comes from a working class family.”

“I am personally ashamed about my lack of ability to provide a better life for my family. We have no retirement, no savings for their education. I would never recommend a career in higher education, at least at a public university.”

“For years I have recused myself on ethical grounds from serving on my department’s hiring committee, because I don’t want to be implicated in bringing new faculty into the CSU, where they will be overworked, exploited, and not paid a living wage…I regret that I ever thought that going into academia would enable me to live a middle class life.”

“I tell my best students to do something else with their lives, instead of pursuing academia. The only way to get a meaningful raise in the CSU is to abandon my students and enter administration, where the pay is much better.”

“I would never recommend my job to friends. I tell my children not to enter the teaching profession.”