Skip to main content

Understanding a bit more about my father

My father died when I was 14. Among the things my mother discovered when he died was that he had been turning down raises for a number of years. He didn’t take merit raises. He didn’t take raises when he got promoted [1]. Mom was unhappy, not just because he hadn’t told her, but also because it affected how much we got from his pension [2].

She had an explanation at the time. He felt like he made enough, and so there was no need to take more. She also had a reaction to that approach. I wish he’d taken more; there are so many charities we could have donated it to.

I’ve accepted that explanation for the past forty years. However, I’ve recently been thinking about related issues, and I realized that there was likely more at play than I make enough. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on wage inequity and my own role in local wage inequities [3]. It’s a hard. One one hand, I think about what my salary should be in terms of what faculty make at similar colleges and in terms of what our students make [4]. And when I feel under-valued by the College, it seems reasonable to focus on salary, since that’s how the administration seems to mark value. But is it fair that I make significantly more than many people on campus who play incredibly important roles to the College?

It’s not just an individual issue. In trying to make Grinnell faculty salaries match those at our peer institutions, we’ve set moderately high raise percentages for faculty for a five year period. Those percentages are much higher than they are for staff. Given more general budget constraints, faculty percentages probably affect staff percentages. That seems unfair. But competitive salaries seem necessary to attract top faculty. I struggle with these competing perspectives.

Wage inequity is not unique to our institution or profession. The wage inequity present at Grinnell is much less extreme than the wage inequity present in most corporations in America.

What does that have to do with my father? As I reflect back on other things I know my father said and did, I’ve realized that it’s likely that he considered similar issues and made a much different decision than I make. I venture that he decided not just that I make enough but also that given what other employees make, it would be unjust for me to make more than I already make.

I guess you can take the boy out of the commune [4], but you can’t take the commune out of the boy.

Thanks dad, for setting a high moral example. Sorry that I’m not yet at the stage that I can follow it.

[1] To Vice President, if I remember correctly.

[2] We got along fine, but it did require her to refinance our house multiple times.

[3] I appreciate my colleagues who have been pushing me to think more carefully about that issue.

[4] I’ve accepted that I make less in academia than I’d make in industry. But I’d still like to make more than the starting salary of our graduates.

[5] Stelton, NJ.

Version 1.0 of 2017-11-03.