While Georgetown professors’ salaries are on the rise, some faculty members say the increase may not be enough to combat the high cost of living in the nation’s capital.
Over the past ten years, the salary for all levels of professors has increased: Salaries have jumped by $51,500 for full professors, $33,000 for associate professors and $35,000 for assistant professors, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The increase matches or tops the boosts in salaries at Georgetown’s peer institutions.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, full professor salaries at the University of Pennsylvania have increased by $18,600 in the past five years, while Georgetown saw a $19,000 increase over the same period of time. Cornell University saw only a $16,000 increase, Vanderbilt University a $15,900 bump and Harvard University a $16,400 rise.
Dartmouth College, The George Washington University and Duke University saw greater increases than Georgetown, but according to a graph on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website comparing Georgetown to peer schools, the university has seen an above-average increase.
University officials said that Georgetown aims to offer competitive salaries in order to attract the best candidates.
“Deans set salaries, looking at what other faculty here are already getting paid for comparable records and at what the market is paying for faculty in a certain field,” University Provost James O’Donnell said in an email.
He added that while Georgetown’s tuition has gone up steadily and the endowment is rebounding after the recession, how much money Georgetown has available does not influence how much faculty are paid.
“Sources of funding are not so important: How much money we have determines how many we can hire, but we try to pay everyone we do hire as competitively and as well as possible,” he said.
Georgetown’s pay has increased more for assistant professors — most new hires fit into this category, according to O’Donnell — than at many peer institutions. Since the 2007-2008 academic year Georgetown’s pay for assistant professors has jumped by $15,200. Yale’s comparable pay increase only rose by $9,600.
“We’ve tried to make sure that when we hire people to start, we are as competitive as we can be, to get the best,” O’Donnell said.
But these high numbers are not enough to ensure that all quality candidates come to Georgetown. According to O’Donnell, Georgetown recruits about 20 to 25 candidates per year. But ensuring competitive pay is difficult, as D.C. is one of the most expensive cities to live in nationwide. According to a Huffington Post article from July 2010, D.C. is the eighth-most expensive city in the United States. Of cities with peer institutions, only Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco ranked higher.
Compounding this problem, the neighborhoods near Georgetown carry some of the highest living costs in the district. As of February, a house in Georgetown cost $787,900 to own, while one in neighboring Burleith cost $827,500. In comparison, the cost of a house in Foggy Bottom, where GWU is located, is $308,500. The average cost to own in the District is $348,600, according to the real estate site Zillow.
These high living costs make it difficult for professors to buy homes near campus. James Vreeland, an associate professor in the government department, rents an apartment in Georgetown. He is in the minority, however.
“There is a tradeoff in between renting and walking to work or buying a home and commuting,” Vreeland said.
Most professors that he knows do not live near campus. Some live in other parts of D.C. and have a 20-minute commute, and the majority of professors buy homes in nearby Virginia or Maryland and travel about 40 minutes to work each day. A small minority live more than an hour from campus.
“I decided to live near campus, because I prefer walking due to my interest in the environment, and because I don’t want to drive,” Vreeland said.
Walking may be a preferable option with the District’s history of clogged roadways. According to an article in the Washington Post from January, D.C. is tied with Chicago as having the worst traffic in the nation.
Many choose to drive for the sake of buying a home for their family, however. Thomas Banchoff, an associate professor in the government department and director of the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, said that he chose to move to Arlington, Va., with his family because of the excellent public schools. According to Banchoff, the commute does not bother him significantly.
His wife also works at Georgetown in the German department, and buying a house in Arlington on two professor salaries is feasible, he said. While he said he was attracted to Georgetown in part due to its location in D.C. and is satisfied with his salary, he admitted it can be difficult for professors to finance living costs.
“Younger professors in particular sometimes have trouble making ends meet,” he wrote in an email.
Vreeland said that Georgetown gives little support to professors searching for housing in the area. At New York University, he said, professors receive large subsidies and are able to rent apartments in Lower Manhattan for $2,000 per month — well below average market value. Similarly, at Yale University, where Vreeland taught before coming to Georgetown, the school offers professors subsidies to buy houses in New Haven. This initiative was started in the late 1990s when the university decided to improve its relationship with the surrounding communities.
Georgetown could benefit from a similar policy, Vreeland argued.
“It is in the long-run interest of the university to get more pro-university people to move into the neighborhood. D.C. and the caliber of the institution can attract great faculty, but we are so constrained by the neighborhood,” he said.
As a renter, Vreeland said he does not have the same voice as a homeowner in local politics. Having more professors living in the surrounding area would help the university when trying to gather neighborhood support for items such as the campus plan.
“When I walk to work, I see all these signs saying ‘Our Homes, not GU’s Dorms,'” Vreeland said. “I would like to see less of these red signs, and more blue and gray ones.”