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Ain't This The Life?

On 12 April, CNN's Money Magazine published a hoot of an article ranking “The Best Jobs in America” in terms of “stress level, flexibility in work environment and hours, creativity, and ease of entry and advancement in the field.” In order, those jobs are

1. Software engineer
2. College professor
3. Financial adviser
4. HR manager
5. Physician assistant
6. Market research analyst
7. Computer IT analyst
8. Real Estate appraiser
9. Pharmacist
10. Psychologist

I concur that wherever I go, being a university professor makes me feel like the second-happiest person among the people I meet. What is best about this job, for me, is that I have complete intellectual freedom. I can pursue those lines of research which most interest me. For example, I am currently working on an article about Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and how he is American literature's first cyborg subject. I'm also working on an article about zombie movies and the race-mixing fantasies which attend them beginning with George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead and ending (for now) with Danny Boyle's 2002 28 Days Later. 1

Self-satisfied navel-gazing aside, what made me LOL was CNN Money's description of the college professor, which details

What's cool Professors have near-total flexibility in their schedules. Creative thinking is the coin of the realm. No dress code!

What's not The tick-tick-tick of the tenure clock; grading papers; salaries at the low end are indeed low.

Top-paying job University presidents' pay can hit $550,000 or more, but most make about half that. [My italics.]

CNN Money must have some seriously arithmetic-impaired copy editors. If it is true that “most [professors] make about half” of $550,000, then $225,000 a year is below average salary for a college professor. 2 I cannot begin to tell you how much I wish this were true, my job’s #2 ranking nothwithstanding. My guess is that CNN Money means that most university presidents make about half of $550,000. 3 On the same page, CNN Money summarizes that the “average salary” of a college professor is $81,500, which might be closer to the mark if one includes the salaries of professors who teach in schools of business, economics, law, and medicine. However in schools of Arts and Sciences, and in humanities departments especially, professors make well below this figure. $200,000 is how much the most highly paid (and most famous) professors of English make (hint: none of them teach in the Ohio University English Department). At Ohio University, starting pay for an assistant professor of English is between $44,000 and $50,000 and yearly raises are smaller than 2% which is not enough to keep up with inflation.

There are many things that rock about being an English professor, but I will tell you now that pay is not one of them. Oh, and since I can hear it tick every time I press a letter on my keyboard, the tenure clock thing sucks pretty hard, too.

UPDATE: embedded in a graphic titled “Working Really Hard For the Money CNN Money provides a truth-in-ranking caveat that there are “a few careers where the time and money invested to qualify for a position can be disproportionately high to the pay.” There, CNN Money details that an “Assistant professor, liberal arts” can expect annual earnings of $44,300. Architects get the worst of it at $34,000, with medical research scientists not much better off at $35,520 per annum.

The part that really caught my attention was the admission that there are a class of jobs that

may require a great deal of time and money in graduate education, offer working conditions that only passion can excuse, and there may be such a long run for the roses that you forfeit prime working and child-bearing years just to achieve a salary that college peers were earning a decade earlier.

end of article


1 A side-effect of this freedom is that sometimes I have to engage in distasteful research. For example, Dawn of the Dead (Romero 1978) was great when I was 15 years old, but now I'm more sensitive to violence graphic and otherwise. A few nights ago just before bedtime, I lay down with Max Brooks's 2003 The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead and after reading “the main reason zombies tend to stay in cities instead of fanning out into the countryside is because an urban zone holds the highest concentration of prey” (16) I had to put the book down. I lay in my bed at 3:30 am, comforting myself by asking, “If the dead started reanimating, why would they come to my house of all houses?” Of course, this line of thinking doesn't work for the psychoanalytically-inclined because the answer to that question is the question “If the dead started reanimating, why wouldn't they come to my house?”

2 Elsewere, CNN Money does have more accurate data on professors’ salaries.

3 NB: It is possible to be a university president without have ever having been a university professor.

Work Cited

Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.