rant post (with a mandatory disclaimer at the end!) has been triggered by an Inside HigherEd article making the case for a higher salary for assistant professors than for 'full' professors:
Although it is far from the norm, a few colleges pay their assistant professors more on average than they do their tenured professors. Although such pay scales might harm the egos of tenured professors, they can benefit colleges. [...]
Assistant professors in many ways have harder jobs than tenured professors do. They have more pressure to publish. They usually spend more time on class preparation because they have taught their classes relatively few times. And, keeping in mind their looming tenure bids, they often feel compelled to be more deferential to their senior colleagues than they would prefer. Those who care about economic fairness consequently should support the idea of assistant professors making more than tenured professors. And those who care about markets should understand that the less pleasant the job, the higher salary you must pay to attract top talent.
Well, that's all in the American context, where the laws of supply and demand play a huge role in determining the salary. In Indian institutions, the salary structure is fixed by the government (even in many private institutions, the salaries tend to follow the 'UGC' scale); this leaves the 'other resources' up for grabs. I have been saying that giving these resources to young faculty is essential if we want to set them up for success:
... The long answer is here, but the short answer is that IITs should do better than what they have done to create conditions for setting up their junior faculty for professional success. In operational terms, this would translate to things like a 10 to 20 fold increase in start-up grants, generous travel grants (Rs. 1.5 lakhs a year, for example), a spiffy, individual lab for each faculty member, a world-class research infrastructure (no power cuts, for example), and a faculty-friendly administration. Taking additional steps to attract and retain excellent graduate students would also help!
If an age-wise resource audit is done in many of our institutions -- with the possible exceptions of resource-rich DAE institutions (such as TIFR and IMSc) -- I bet it will reveal that a huge fraction of the money is cornered by their senior faculty. What I'm talking about here is not external funding, but internal funds (left over after taking care of salaries, utilities, etc). IMHO, the bulk of these internal funds should flow to those who need it the most: junior faculty who are setting up their labs while waiting for their own external grants to come through -- a process that could take as much as three years or more.
BTW, it's not just the money; you take any other resource that would make a faculty member salivating profusely -- lab space, travel grants or endowed fellowships -- you would find senior faculty chewing on huge, juicy chunks of it.
In a cruel twist, the MHRD decided recently to hike the retirement age for faculty members to sixty five. I call it cruel because the justification for this move was that the senior faculty would help with teaching. If you talk to folks in our elite institutions, you would find that this justification is a sick joke: many senior faculty 'teach' seminar courses and highly specialized electives in small classes, while junior faculty are given required courses and large classes. Worse, not only do these biggies not carry their fair share of the teaching load, they get three more years to continue doing what they do best: hogging more and more of their institutions' resources.
[Instead of extending the tenure of all of them by three years, MHRD should have suggested using an existing mechanism: re-hiring of some of them on contract specifically for teaching. This would also have had the additional benefit of their lab spaces -- some of the most prime real estate! -- becoming available for re-allocation.]
Some committee or the other will adapt the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations for faculty salaries in our academic institutions. When its recommendations are made public, the press (and perhaps others too) will shed a lot of tears about how the poor academic salaries make it difficult to recruit bright young faculty; in doing so, they will ignore the real scandal: abysmal start-up grants and higher teaching loads that will greet a newly minted assistant professor.
[Disclaimer: I'm sure you'll find exceptional senior people -- who run their labs with external funding, and who do more than their fair share of teaching. I'm also sure some of you know of exceptionally great deal offered to a new faculty member. I just want to alert you that these are not the norm; the sad reality is that, on average, the junior faculty in our institutions get disproportionately low share of the resources and disproportionately large share of the teaching.]