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The Newest Civil Right

Europeans may not be adept at managing their finances, but at least they’re on the cutting edge of civil rights. On Tuesday a German high court ordered universities to raise salaries for beginning professors, claiming that a base salary roughly equivalent to $60,000 “violated the principle of appropriate pay for civil servants.”  The ruling comes on the heels of academic reforms that slashed teacher pay and supplemented it with performance-based bonuses (which were not factored into the $60,000 figure).

Last week we mocked the Times for complaining about our old-fashioned constitution’s failure to enumerate and secure every right imaginable. At the time, we were blissfully unaware that our Founding Fathers didn’t create a constitutional provision for academic salaries. Obviously this is a serious oversight. We should be eternally grateful to the Europeans for showing us the way.

Supporters of the ruling hope that it will lead to higher living standards for professors. Perhaps the real result will be massive waves of American academics seeking asylum in Germany.

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  • LarryD

    I guess the Germs will just have to rise taxes to cover it. 🙂 Just make sure the German judiciary gets bitten in the pocketbook.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “Perhaps the real result will be massive waves of American academics seeking asylum in Germany.”

    From your lips to God’s ear.

  • Andrew Allison

    In general, with exceptions such as our venerable blogger, the second outcome is devoutly to be wished for!

  • Mark Michael

    “Perhaps the real result will be massive waves of American academics seeking asylum in Germany.”

    I’m tempted to say, “Good riddance!” But then, wishing others badly is not a charitable way to think. I have nothing against the Germans. Of course, if they’re that stupid to put a minimum wage on professors….

    Hmm. Which profs would “seek asylum” in Germany? American schools have to pay good science, engineering and math profs more than $60,000 these days I suspect. So it’d be liberal arts professors mostly — some of the social sciences, perhaps. Living costs are higher in Germany than the US, so that $60,000 may not be as much as we think it is. (They have that VAT which makes buying stuff very expensive. The last time I was there, even a light lunch cost >$15; that was 2006. The euro is higher today.)

    Of course, FDR included in his 1944 Inaugural Address an economic “Second Bill of Rights” which he proposed would include such goodies as “The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; of every family to a decent home; to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;…” [Mark Levin quoted that in his latest book, “Ameritopia” I should note. Barack Obama cited FDR’s economic bill of rights in that famous NPR call-in show in Chicago recorded in the early 2000s while he was an Adjunct prof at U. of Chicago.]

    Gosh, FDR left out “and professors to make $60,000 a year in minimum salary!” How thoughtless of him. He does go on and say, Americans have the right “to a good education”. The teachers in those schools surely need $60,000 to be able to give that “good education” I’d think.

  • Kris

    “Perhaps the real result will be massive waves of American academics seeking asylum in Germany.”

    Tsk tsk, it is quite cruel of you to so excite the hopes of many of your readers!

  • Corlyss

    “We should be eternally grateful to the Europeans for showing us the way.”

    No doubt if a Hitler were to arise today, he would never be able to start a world war because the German High Court would outlaw war (like the Kellog-Briand pact attempted to do only now it would stick). The ruling would come down about a week before the modern Hitler would have the court rounded up and shot.

    The author of the funniest book ever written, Jerome K. Jerome, was a Germanophile until the outbreak of WW1. He wrote in his “3 Men on the Bummel,” about a bicycle tour he and his two pals took thru Germany in the latter days of Queen Victoria’s reign, about Germans’ love of rules and order. He noted that “keep off the grass” signs were obeyed religiously. If the Germans had to disobey such a sign in order to wage a war, he wrote, they’d abandon the war first. Apparently Germans love to be told what to do by authorities. I think the ones who questioned that trait must have immigrated to the new world.

  • Jim.

    @Mark Michael-

    I am appalled to report that not only do math, science, and engineering professors *not* get paid more than their counterparts, from time to time those counterparts *seriously propose* that those are not “real” university majors, but instead should be relegated to technical schools for lack of high-mindedness and intellectual rigor.

    I’m not kidding. I believe it was no less than the Dean of social sciences at my alma mater that first expressed that sentiment in my hearing, and since then I’ve heard similar sentiments from various members of the MSM.

  • Tom Holsinger


    During the Spartacist (Communist) uprising in Berlin in early 1919, the German commies ran through parks dodging machine gun fire while carefully obeying the Keep Off The Grass signs.

  • Corlyss


    Thanks for that choice factoid. It’s great.

  • Kris

    A passage from the leftist (!) Die Tageszeitung:

    The audacity of the ruling would be hard to beat. There’s no question that professors hired since 2005 should be earning more. But that’s not what this case is about.

    First, the professors have practically issued a ruling on themselves. After all, almost all Constitutional Court judges previously served as professors. The long overdue reform of professorships had long been a thorn in their sides. Now they had the opportunity to strike back. The German government is saturated and ruled by officials with law degrees who are now cementing their own power and ensuring that it will be preserved in the future. All you have to do is read the keywords in the ruling to know what is going on between the lines: ‘(…) performance-based salary in line with civil service law.’ The world is fast-changing and no one can hope to have the same job all their life. Everything is changing, but the professors are protecting themselves and the traditional civil-servant system from the unpleasant consequences of change.

    The ruling is a disaster for the area of public policy most in need of modernization: education. The court is sending out the unmistakable message that the civil-servant system at universities should remain just how it was when it was originally laid down by Frederick the Great (in the 18th century): lifelong and tied to the specific requirements of being present and loyal.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The labor market is the only entity qualified to set pay levels. Whenever Government or Judges try to pick winners and losers they always fail. As alternatives to overpriced University education become common place, this judge’s ruling will help put a nail in the coffin of the University system.

  • Eurydice

    @Jacksonian #11 – I suppose the question is who determines if the education is overpriced? Maybe someone else here has the details of how the German university system works, but I don’t think the students pay very much toward the cost of their education (perhaps an annual fee of some sort?). If individuals had to face the entire cost, they would be shopping around, but there’s no incentive if the cost is buried in their tax bills.

  • dearieme

    Having had a German friend describe to me his university education in maths, I don’t think I’d have been prepared to pay much for it. The most staggering feature was that as an undergraduate he never sat a “proper” exam – they were all oral. In maths!!! Dear God, it’s almost as bad as the mad American system of multiple choice exams.

  • Andrew White

    Most professors here, who train for well over a decade in most cases, earn a fraction of this “minimum” wage. The hostility to academics on this list is, well, just what you’d expect from people who have never tried it themselves.

    Because Universities are run like monopoly corporations, they only have money for sports stadiums and shiny new buildings. By the time they’ve paid for the cleaning and secretarial staff there’s no money for full-time professors. And they do NOT get $60,000. Adjuncts at “big name” universities pay upwards of $2,500 per course for a classroom filled with 40-100 students each. For that princely sum we are supposed to dedicate 4 months of professional effort, preparing lectures, exams, grading everything that comes across our desk, with no staff to help us whatsoever.

    Any of you anti-academic bigots care to try that line of work? I thought so …

  • Gene

    Andrew White: You are free to seek other employment.

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