Those who call Georgia State home: While a student may spend four years at the university, some faculty may spend 40

Photo Courtesy from Jordan Rowland

A student’s time at Georgia State may be just a brief chapter in their lives, but some faculty members have called this university home for decades.

Over the years, they have watched the university evolve into an institution that offers an education to over 50,000 students, and carried with them the responsibility of teaching and moulding the next generations.

“Since 1990, when I first began Georgia State was a commuter school, there were no dorms, no Library South, no student center,” Lynda Goodfellow, professor of 28 years, said.

Georgia State grew rapidly around the time of her arrival. The Olympics were planning to be hosted in Atlanta, and the city was experiencing a period of growth and global attention.

“You can see the footprint of Georgia State getting larger, deeper, higher. It’s been a really good thing for me to be able to be a part of,” Goodfellow said.

Georgia State has expanded over the years, constructing new buildings and connecting different locations to form one university centralized in Atlanta, and some professors have witnessed the development first-hand.

“We started going to different locations, with a satellite in Alpharetta and in Henry County. Not only across Atlanta, but in the suburbs. Then of course, the consolidation with Perimeter College took place,” Goodfellow said.

Mary Radford was hired as a professor in 1984, when the College of Law was just celebrating its third birthday.

“At that point in time, we were little children, barely getting on our feet and learning to walk,” Radford said.

She said that when the law school was created, it was essentially unable to compete with other schools, and now it is among the top 50 in the U.S.

“It’s been quite a trip,” she said.

At the time, there was only one cafeteria at Georgia State, for both faculty and students.

“It would not be at all unusual to be at the same table as some of the top administrators from the school. Also, the legislators from the capitol would come down and eat there because it was one of the few cafeterias around,” Radford said.

She said that sometimes she misses the closeness and sense of community that Georgia State fostered back then.

“When I joined the university, it seemed like a large family. Everybody seemed to know everybody else,” Radford said.

Radford said that over time, in addition to the growth in number of students, faculty growth has steadily increased as well.

“We now have many more young, vibrant faculty, most of whom I don’t know. You’d think if you’ve been at a place for 34 years, you’d know a lot of people but it’s been the opposite because we’ve grown so much and so fast,” she said.

Across the nation and at Georgia State, some newly hired faculty receive higher pay than faculty that have been at the university for years do. This phenomenon is known as salary compression, a situation that occurs when there is only a small difference in pay between longtime and newly hired employees.

“Raises are few and far between at many public institutions. This has certainly been true at Georgia State. We live in a state that has cut funding to public institutions substantially since the 1990s,” Wendy Simonds, a sociology professor who has been at the university for 22 years, said.

She said that her salary is compressed and has increasingly compressed over time since she received tenure in 2002.

“Many years, we get very little in raises, one or two percent is common or even nothing at all. The administration creatively refers to no raise as a ‘zero percent raise,’” Simonds said.

The problem with compression is that it’s hard to identify and even harder to fix. Oftentimes, it’s not necessarily the institution’s fault, according to an article by Chronicle Vitae.

“Hiring is a matter of low supply and high demand, there are a lot of universities trying to hire but a limited number of people who are qualified. In order to compete, universities need to give them a higher starting rate, which is determined by the job market,” Barry Hirsch, professor of economics at Georgia State for 11 years, said.

James Cox, who has been at Georgia State for 13 years, experienced compression himself while teaching at the University of Arizona, and he said that he has colleagues at Georgia State who are currently victims to it as well.

“We have a faculty member who was hired in the past and stayed quite a few years and then a new assistant professor is hired and is getting paid more—quite a bit more,” Cox said.

The concept of compression isn’t a problem exclusive to Georgia State; rather, it permeates the field of higher education as a whole.

The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) annual report attempts to quantify the prevalence of compression. The average difference between associate and assistant professor salaries was $10,600 for 892 participating institutions in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Of these, 100 institutions have an average difference of $5,000 to $0, which can be representative of compression. Furthermore, 22 institutions pay their assistant professors more than associate professors on average, a clear indication of pay inversion.

“The university’s plan to address compression is inadequate,” Simonds said.

Solutions to this issue may be out of reach for now, but Jonathan Rees, the author of a Chronicle Vitae article about pay compression, encouraged institutions to work collaboratively to end this practice.

“As individuals, we will never make more than the labor market will allow, but together we can begin to design equitable solutions that cut across arbitrary and unfair employment categories,”
Rees said.