Too Low to Be Competitive: Faculty Salaries at Baylor, 1951-1960

Too Low to Be Competitive: Faculty Salaries at Baylor, 1951-1960

By Megan Foo


Between 1951 and 1960, Baylor University’s administration struggled to address the issue of low faculty salaries.  As the administration and the rest of the university became aware of the fact that the salaries earned by Baylor’s faculty were much lower than the salaries offered by other institutions across the nation, they struggled to find ways to remedy the problem within the university’s financial constraints.  Over time, it became increasingly apparent that low salaries, which might have allowed Baylor to operate with a small budget, were not going to be sustainable in moving the university forward.

The issue gained momentum as the decade progressed, and it entered into the larger campus consciousness with different constituencies, including students, faculty members and trustees, calling for higher faculty salaries as a way to maintain Baylor’s status as a quality university.  Not only did the salaries offered by Baylor make it difficult for the university to attract new faculty, but they also put the university at risk of losing the faculty it already had.  As the decade wore on, some of Baylor’s faculty began resigning from their positions in order to pursue more lucrative jobs at other institutions or in industry.  Even though the administration attempted to raise faculty salaries, limited financial resources prevented the university from acting quickly enough to avoid some of the consequences of paying its faculty such low salaries.  In an increasingly competitive environment, Baylor had to answer a pressing question: How would the university remain competitive enough to attract well qualified faculty when the same faculty members could command higher salaries elsewhere?

John Dale Russell Surveys Baylor

In December 1953, President William Richardson White and Baylor’s Administrative Committee recruited educational consultant John Dale Russell to survey Baylor University.  Russell, who was the Chancellor and Executive Secretary of the Board of Educational Finance in New Mexico, was tasked with completing an external audit of Baylor by reviewing university documents and conducting on-campus visits (McKnight, 1953).  Russell’s “’physical checkup’ of the 109-year old Baptist institution” would provide the Administrative Committee with a comprehensive overview of where Baylor stood with regard to its academics, finances, administration and physical facilities (Bryant, 1953b; McKnight, 1953; Walker, 1953, p.1).

White and the Administrative Committee hoped that Russell’s survey would bring light to areas in which Baylor needed to improve.  White hoped to act on the results of the survey, and told The Lariat, “We ordered the survey by this expert because we wanted to know our weaknesses, so that we can do something about them” (Walker, 1953, p. 1).

Baylor’s Faculty Earn Low Salaries

Russell found that one of Baylor’s major weaknesses was the way it paid its faculty members.  In a preliminary report of his findings, Russell noted that Baylor’s academic programs had “abnormally low” operating costs, made possible by giving faculty low salaries and heavy teaching loads (White, 1954).  Russell concluded that although low salaries enabled a low operating budget, offering such low salaries to faculty members might be detrimental to the university’s future (Russell, 1954).  Even though faculty salaries were an issue across the nation, they were particularly problematic at Baylor (Geren, 1957).  “As low as faculty salaries are generally, those at Baylor are below the national average and are below those paid at other schools in the Southwest Conference” (Geren, 1957, p. 28).

Russell’s (1954) analysis considered Baylor faculty members’ salaries from the years 1951 through 1954.  He compared the salaries of Baylor’s faculty members to the salaries of faculty members at an unnamed, small state university in the Southwest, and to the average salaries of faculty members at six state-controlled institutions in New Mexico (Russell, 1954).  Russell (1954) found that Baylor’s faculty, which included professors, associate professors, assistant professors and instructors, consistently earned less over the 9-month academic year than their peers at the institutions Russell used in his comparison.  For example, during the 1952-1953 academic year, associate professors at Baylor earned an average of $4,135 per year, while associate professors at the small Southwestern state university and the New Mexico institutions earned an average of $5,420 and $5,144, respectively (Russell, 1954).  During the 1953-1954 academic year, professors at Baylor earned an average of $4,832, while professors at the small Southwestern state university and the New Mexico institutions earned an average of $6,914 and $6,544, respectively (Russell, 1954).

Russell (1954) found that the average salaries for Baylor’s faculty members at each rank were lower than the average salaries offered to faculty members at each rank at Russell’s comparison institutions.  He also noted that both the minimum and maximum salaries for Baylor’s faculty at each rank were “far below those in institutions with which Baylor must compete for faculty talents” (Russell, 1954, p. III-19).  Russell deemed the salaries offered by Baylor University as “far below the market for well-qualified faculty” (Russell, 1954, p. III-15).

In addition to offering lower salaries than other institutions, Baylor also increased its faculty salaries at a much slower rate than other institutions across the country. In fact, between 1951 and 1954, the average salaries of professors, assistant professors and instructors actually decreased.  The average salary of a Baylor professor in 1951 was $4,914, and by 1954, the average salary of a professor had decreased by $82, or 1.67%.  The average salaries for assistant professors and instructors between 1951 and 1954 decreased by 1.02%and 4.08%, respectively (Russell, 1954).  Despite the decreases in salaries among professors, assistant professors and instructors, the total average of all faculty members at Baylor increased by $6 or 0.14% between 1951 and 1954 (Russell, 1954).  When individual Baylor faculty members did receive raises, the raises they received were between $75 and $150 lower than the raises received by faculty at other institutions (Russell, 1954).

Russell (1954) did find one merit of Baylor’s system: faculty had the opportunity to earn extra pay for teaching during the summer session.  By teaching two classes, or doing the equivalent amount of work through research, Baylor’s faculty were eligible to receive pay for a six-week term at a rate equal to two times 75%of the monthly rate they earned during the academic year (Recommended Faculty Salary Distribution Plan, 1955).  This provision for summer instruction allowed faculty members to supplement their salaries.

Interestingly enough, Russell found that the low salaries at Baylor did not seem to impact faculty loyalty.  Ninety-one percent of the faculty members who had been teaching at the university in 1951 were still teaching in 1954 (Russell, 1954).  According to a speech published in The Baylor Line, “Baylor owes its continued existence through the Great Depression to certain older faculty members and we may all be grateful that they are wedded to the University” (Geren, 1957, p. 28).  Russell (1954) warned that even though loyalty appeared to be sufficient in retaining current faculty, it was not going to be helpful in recruiting new talent.  New faculty members would not have the same level of loyalty to Baylor, and were much more likely to teach at a university that offered better compensation (Geren, 1957).

Raise Salaries to Remain Competitive

In order to make Baylor more attractive to new faculty members and to increase the chances of retaining current faculty members, Russell (1954) made two recommendations with regard to Baylor’s faculty salaries.  First, he recommended that Baylor establish a minimum salary for each rank, with the caveat that if someone was not performing in such a way that justified the minimum salary for his or her current rank, he or she be offered a reduction in rank so that his or her compensation matched his or her contribution to the university (Russell, 1954).  Second, Russell (1954) suggested having funds available for faculty who were making outstanding contributions, thereby allowing salary increases based on merit.  Russell argued that since Baylor was dependent on these faculty members and their contributions, “they should be paid salaries high enough to insure their retention in the service of the University” (Russell, 1954, p. III-17).

In order to stay competitive in an environment of rapidly increasing faculty salaries across the nation, Baylor’s administration needed to answer the question raised by Russell’s report: How was Baylor University going to compete with other institutions offering higher salaries?

Baylor Reacts

Once Russell’s report was published, different constituencies on Baylor’s campus began wondering what action the university would take moving forward.  A few days after the results were announced, The Lariat ran a front-page article titled “Faculty Well Educated; Underpaid Says Report,” announcing Russell’s recommendations of giving faculty salaries top priority by Baylor’s administration (Walker, 1954, p. 1).  In the article, White is quoted as saying, “Now that we have his report, we hope to execute his suggestions as quickly as possible” (Walker, 1954, p. 1).  White expressed his desire to move quickly, but he also acknowledged that it might take several months or several years to complete all of Russell’s recommendations, especially the ones relating to finance (Walker, 1954, p. 1).

In the years following the publication of Russell’s report, Baylor’s administration attempted to address the issue of low faculty salaries in accordance with Russell’s recommendations while working within the confines of its financial resources.  In April 1955, The Lariat reported that members of the Administrative Committee were working on a formula to determine how to distribute salary increases using the limited resources available (Smith, A., 1955).  The new plan would give salary to faculty increases based on merit (Smith, A., 1955).  The notion of merit-based salary increases aligned with Russell’s second recommendation.

"Faculty To Get Salary Raise, Reveals White"
An article from the Baylor Lariat on April 14, 1955 announced that the administrative committee was working on a formula to raise faculty salaries following John Dale Russell’s report. Courtesy of the Texas Collection (Waco, TX)

Realization of the salary increase was contingent on the success of a fundraising effort that sought to raise $75,000 per year from local businesses and industry to supplement the Baylor Salary Fund (Smith, A., 1955).  In August 1956, The Lariat reported that Baylor had received a $1,000 grant to be applied to what was considered the “most critical aspect of the financial plight of privately-supported colleges and universities—the inadequate level of teachers’ salaries” (Harrell, 1956, p. 1).  Efforts were being made to accumulate the resources required to carry out Russell’s recommendations, but low faculty salaries remained a pressing issue.

Whisperings of faculty discontentment began to emerge as the administration worked to find the financial resources necessary for raising faculty salaries.  Russell’s report may have made Baylor’s faculty more aware of how low their salaries were in comparison to the salaries faculty members earned at other institutions.  W. R. Stephens, the head of the Chemistry Department wrote a letter to President White expressing his concerns.  He wrote, “It is, may I point out, becoming more difficult to hold our teachers at lower salaries than they can command elsewhere.  The shortage of science teachers is still more acute than ever before. I wish to suggest, and do so recommend, that some increase in salaries be allowed” (Stephens, 1956).

Graves Blanton, the editor of The Baylor Line also began calling for increased faculty salaries.  Blanton (1956) published an editorial that asked alumni to compare the financial benefits of teaching at Baylor with the costs required to earn the required credentials.  “Would you be a college professor who must spend on the average of four years of study after receiving your bachelor’s degree, and then receive $4,200 as compared to an interstate truck driver’s pay of $7,500?” (Blanton, 1956).  Blanton (1956) advocated for Baylor to “restore the dignity of teaching by raising educational salaries to acceptable figures” (p. 2).

1957: Things Go South

The conversation about faculty salaries reached a critical point in 1957 as people across the university began to realize that the current system was in need of reform if Baylor was to survive and thrive in the coming years.  Students, faculty, deans, the trustees and the Administrative Committee all wanted to increase faculty salaries as a means of retaining and attracting talented and well-qualified faculty members.

In February 1957, only a few months after writing to White about his concerns, Stephens wrote to the Administrative Committee regarding faculty salaries in the Chemistry Department.  Stephens (1957) warned that “there may soon arise a serious problem in the matter of science faculties” and emphasized that an increase in salary was a pressing need.  Stephens cited two reasons for increasing faculty salaries.  One reason was that undergraduate and graduate students were receiving job offers with starting salaries that were higher than their professors’ salaries (Stephens, 1957).  Stephens’ (1957) second reason for wanting to increase salaries was that faculty members were receiving job offers from other institutions and from the private sector with salaries that were up to 50% higher than what they were earning at Baylor.

One professor, Dr. William Boyd Cook, who was hired in August 1953 and had been the recipient of a $7,700 medical research grant in 1954, had already accepted employment elsewhere (Bryant, 1953a; Gilbreath, 1954; Stephens, 1957).  Stephens (1957) worried that another professor, Dr. Zwolinski was also preparing to leave Baylor.  Notes written at the bottom of Stephens’ (1957) letter, indicated that faculty members in the Chemistry department were all earning between $6,200 and $7,000 annually.  Stephens (1957) requested an additional $4,000 to be distributed among the seven remaining contract teachers in the Chemistry Department to incentivize these professors remaining at Baylor.  The warnings Russell had issued in his report about Baylor struggling to retain talented faculty who could command higher salaries elsewhere were beginning to come to fruition.

The 1957 Report of the Dean of Instruction to President White echoed the same sentiments that were found in Stephens’ letter.  George M. Smith, the Dean of Instruction, wrote that he felt “improvement [in faculty salaries] is noticeable, I believe, but not impressive” (Smith, 1957).  Smith (1957) advocated for increasing salaries, especially in departments whose faculty received salaries at the lower end of the spectrum, arguing that since most professors tended to have the same qualifications, there was no reason that faculty from one department should be earning significantly less than faculty in another department.  Smith (1957) also noted that the median and mean salaries for faculty at all ranks throughout the university, while higher than faculty salaries at other Baptist schools in Texas, were still lower than the national figures.  Baylor could not be nationally competitive if the salaries it offered its faculty were lower than the salaries offered by other schools in the United States.

Tuition Goes Up

Between 1945 and 1955, Baylor had only raised tuition by about 50%, while tuition at other institutions across the country had doubled (Committee on Enrollment Charges, 1955).  Tuition was often increased to accommodate raises for faculty, and when rates at which Baylor raised tuition are compared to the rates at which other institutions raised tuition, it is easy to see how Baylor’s salaries fell so far behind those at other institutions (Committee on Enrollment Charges, 1955).

In December 1957, The Lariat had a bold header at the top of its front page that read “TRUSTEES OKAY TUITION RAISE” (Bishop, 1957, p. 1).  An article on the front page titled, “Funds Tagged for Elevating Faculty Pay,” explained that the trustees had approved a $1.50 per-semester-hour tuition increase that would go into effect the following September (Bishop, 1957, p. 1).  The tuition increase meant that all students carrying a full-course load would be paying an additional $45 in tuition per semester (Blanton, 1958).  Revenue from the tuition increase would be directed toward increasing faculty salaries (Bishop, 1957, p. 1).  White was quoted as saying the tuition increase was “imperative if we are able to retain and attract capable faculties,” and that the increased costs would “be more than offset by the higher quality of instruction which the increase will help make possible” (Bishop, 1957, p. 1).

"Trustees Okay Tuition Raise"
The front page of The Baylor Lariat on December 18, 1957 announced that the Trustees had approved a tuition raise in order to raise funds for faculty salaries. Courtesy of the Texas Collection (Waco, TX)

An editorial in the same issue supported the tuition increase and argued that “costs not met by [student fees and tuition] must be paid in some other manner by the university.  It appears that the prevailing tendency in meeting the higher cost obligations of a university is to forego adequate faculty salaries” (Bishop, 1957, p. 2).  The author also argued that “Baylor cannot hope to attract and keep high quality professors under present conditions.  The administration has admitted that the competition we are facing for our teachers is ‘terrific’” (Bishop, 1957, p. 2).

Still Struggling as the Decade Ends

Despite raising tuition during the 1958-59 school year, Baylor was still struggling to bring its salary levels up to par with the salary levels at other institutions across the country in order to retain and attract faculty.

In the years following Russell’s 1954 report, the administration was able to increase faculty salaries “to a semi-respectable minimum” (Provence, 1959, p. 2).  However, there was still work to be done.  Professors at Baylor were still earning significantly less than they could have earned by teaching at a different institution.  Many of Baylor’s professors said that the salary they earned by teaching at Baylor would have been insufficient had they not had an additional source of income (Provence, 1959).  One professor who had been teaching at Baylor for 10 years noted, “As much as I like to teach at Baylor, I couldn’t stay here if my wife weren’t teaching in the public schools” (Provence, 1959, p. 3).

Baylor was experiencing “a most serious crisis with our salary situation” (White, 1960).  According to White (1960), within the span of a year, three of Baylor’s professors had been offered employment in industry, with salaries ranging from $14,000 per year to $25,000 per year.  One of Baylor’s top geology professors accepted a job in industry in which his salary would be $3,000 higher than his salary at Baylor (Provence, 1959).

The impact of low salaries on faculty recruitment became apparent as the geology department began searching for a replacement for the professor who had left.  The geology department’s chairman offered the position to a man from a smaller college in New Mexico and was turned down, because “the professor was already making $2,000 a year more than he was offered at Baylor” (Provence, 1959, p. 3).  This instance illustrates the problems that Baylor faced.  If Baylor was unable to match the current salaries of professors at other institutions, it was going to be difficult to persuade them to leave their currents positions in order to teach at Baylor.

In 1960, six years after Russell had published his report and made recommendations, faculty salaries were still considered one of Baylor’s greatest weaknesses (Survey Committee, 1960).  As had been the trend throughout the decade, Baylor continued to offer salaries that were higher than any other of the Baptists colleges in the state, but still lagged behind the national median by $400 to $1,400 (Survey Committee, 1960).


Low faculty salaries plagued Baylor during the latter half of the 1950s.  Even though plans were formulated to give salary increases based on merit, funds were solicited from the community and tuition went up, the salary increases that those measures enabled were still not sufficient to elevate faculty salaries at Baylor to a level that would be nationally competitive.

As Baylor faculty members began to accept employment with lucrative salaries at other institutions and in the private sector and prospective faculty members declined employment offers from Baylor, the administration realized that something had to be done if Baylor was going to be compete with other universities across the United States.  President White recognized that Baylor was in crisis, and warned that, “A first class University cannot exist long as a first class University with our salary scale” (White, 1960).


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