Full professors at Stanford University make on average $39,000 more than their counterparts at UC Berkeley, reinforcing fears about UC's ability to recruit and retain top professors in the face of deep reductions in state support.
A full professor at UC Berkeley makes an average of $149,100, and at UCLA a full professor makes $153,700. Compare that to a full professor at Stanford who makes an average of $188,400, according to the latest American Association of University Professors salary survey published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Berkeley and UCLA rank second and third highest on the list of full professor salaries at public institutions nationally. (Surprisingly, the New Jersey of Institute of Technology pays the highest average salaries) Stanford ranks fourth on the list of private universities, with Harvard at the top with an average full professor salary of $193,800.
The differences extends to lower ranked faculty as well. Associate professors on average make $101,500 at Berkeley, $100,600 at UCLA and $126,800 at Stanford. Assistant professors earn $88,400 at Berkeley, $84,000 at UCLA, and $103,400 at Stanford, according to the survey.
The Stanford differential is most problematical for Berkeley, because, as UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes said, "Stanford is our biggest competitor in this market."
"There is typically more movement (of professors) between us and Stanford than there is between us and Harvard and MIT," she said. "If they want to stay on the West Coast, those are the two options for them to explore among elite higher education institutions."
The gap is even greater at other UC campuses: Full professors at UC Davis, for example, earn $123,800, $132,000 at UC Irvine, $125,100 at UC Riverside, $136,300 at UC San Diego, $132,000 at UC Santa Barbara, and $120,500 at UC Santa Cruz.
The salary gap has existed for years, but Berkeley officials worry that as the endowments of private universities recover and Sacramento inflicts ever-deeper budget cuts on UC, the gap will continue to widen.
The salary gap grew dramatically for most of the last decade, until 2008, but interestingly has not grown since then, despite major reductions in state revenues, according to history and economics professor Jan de Vries.
De Vries, who until 2007 was Berkeley's vice provost in charge of hiring, promotion and retention, said the difference in average salaries between Berkeley and those at six of the nation's most elite private universities (Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Caltech and Stanford) grew from 10 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2008.
But since then, the gap has not widened, and may actually have declined slightly, to 22 percent. The reason: Private universities also suffered during the Great Recession as their endowments plummeted during the stock market crash. "While we have been suffering, private institutions have had their own problems as well," he said.
What worries de Vries and others at UC is that there is no expectation that the state's fiscal situation is going to improve in the foreseeable future.
"We are in a weak position, not only because our salaries are lower, but we are also less credible in saying 'If you stick with us things will get better,'" he said. "There is little out there which suggests that the problems we face are going to be resolved soon."
In fact, the immediate future looks especially grim. Incoming Gov. Jerry Brown slashed $500 million from UC's budget for the coming year, and may slash another $500 million now that his plan for a special election to raise revenue appears to have collapsed.
University insiders say that in some of the most competitive – and highly paid – fields Berkeley is usually able to match salaries offered by Stanford, so that many professors are making much more than the average of $149,100. Numerous professors in the economics department, for example, make above $200,000, they say.
However, that is often accomplished by not filling faculty positions in other fields, in effect cannibalizing one area of academic research to help pay competitive salaries in another.
But UC Berkeley's Holmes says that her campus offers less quantifiable attractions that help offset salary differentials. One is the allure of working with top scholars already at Berkeley. "There is also a Berkeley culture that people are attracted to," she said. "We tend to draw people for whom our mission resonates, and who care about public education."