Sunday, November 02, 2008

Salary Conundrum Continued: Wages

It has been a long time since I have updated any posts to this blog, but one subject matter that still seems to attract a great deal of attention is the one related to salary. Several people had questions related to salary and income, so I thought I'd try to answer some here.

Who should be responsible for making sure salaries are decent?
This is a tricky question to answer. Being that we live in a capitalistic economy and are subject to the laws of supply and demand, it is only logical that the more people there are wanting museum jobs, the less museums have to pay for qualified staff. And that is the basis of my feeling that surplus of museum studies programs around the country are actually doing a disservice to the field. Sure, they can tell a student that they are going to make very little money; however, most young students in graduate school don't really have a strong concept of how much income they require to survive until they are out of school and living in the real world. To many people, $25-35K is the most money they have ever made in their lives to that date and they are happy to make that income. As they get older, however, they realize that those wages aren't enough to pay rent, car payments, insurance, and other necessities. If programs truly cared about their students they would limit the numbers they accept and also perhaps only accept students into a graduate program who already have some sort of museum experience. Paying $50K or more for an education for which you have no real idea what you are getting yourself into is a difficult path to follow.

But, obviously, schools are not the only ones to blame. If we as employees are willing to accept the job when we are offered it, then we should accept the consequences of taking that position--and that often comes with the knowledge that your salary will probably not increase much over time. When you are at the point of accepting a new position, it is important that you as the perspective employee as about opportunities for advancement and how survey how seriously that institution values its staff and staff development.

Museums, in my mind, have an obligation to at least provide a salary range for posted positions. That kind of honesty in reporting not only makes the institutions stand by the meager salaries they offer, but it also can help weed out applicants who really require more money.

How can I help improve salaries?
This is also a difficult question to answer. If you are a manager or ever in the position to hire someone, encourage your institution to list a salary range. Perhaps with time this will become a common practice. Also, as an employee, make yourself as flexible as possible. Someone commented on here to ask your development staff to raise more money for your position. If you want to keep in the good graces of the finance team, this is probably not the best approach. Insead, prove your ability to earn cash. Seek out and find grant opportunities. Find new ways of charging for programs and educational activities that help underwrite your salary. Find ways for your department to save money. Always think of yourself as part of the development team. Encourage docents, visitors, and program attendees to become more involved and contribute more to your program area. Use your professional development time to learn a new skill such as fundraising.

Where can I find out more about salary bases?
Most regional museum associations conduct a biannual salary survey. You might have to pay for it, but it could be a good investment for job hunting. Get a friend to chip in with you. Also, find out when the next survey is happening and encourage your museum to participate. The more data that is gathered, the better and more accurate the results will be. When the time is right, approach your manager about better aligning your salary with those similar in your region. Also, don't assume that bigger cities pay better. In fact, from those I have met, I would opine that metropolitan areas such as New York City actually pay less than many other parts of the country and instead use the prestige of the city and institution as a reason to pay you less because they indoctrinate the idea that it is a priveledge to work there. If all else fails, do some reconnaisance and ask. If you are considering applying for a job somewhere, try to get some inside information on that institution and how they pay their staff.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Learning in Museums Seminar 2008: Technology, Interpretation and Learning in Museums

Last week I attended AAM's LiM seminar in Minneapolis. The two-day event was well worth it.

Topics explored included but not limited to, audio and cell phone tours, blogs, Web 2.0, interpretive planning, social networking and web-based communities for learning, digital learning games...etc.

I enjoyed the mix of participants, many of whom I've never met (not like I know everyone but when you go to conferences and workshops you end up seeing the usual suspects). I was surprised to see such a diverse age range represented, you could tell the age of participants by their questions and "cyberspace," who uses that anymore? - But more power to them for stepping out of their comfort zone to learn something new.

Listening to where other institutions are with technology and new media provided some perspective. Sometimes it is good to know we all struggle with the idea of giving up control when it comes to user-generated content.

If I could plug one book explored during the seminar it would be, The Digital Museum: A Think Guide, edited by Herminia Din and Phyllis Hecht. Many of the chapters' authors were part of the seminar, the content of the book is totally relevant to museums today.

Anyways, I should end this stream of conscience with questions... Did anyone attend LiM? If so, what are your thoughts? Where is your institution when it comes to technology? Are you meeting advancement with resistance from other colleagues?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Museums: A Hot Bed of Liberalism?

I am biased. I admit it. I voted in the Illinois primary for Obama and will most likely do it again in the general election this fall. While I don't think I fit the cookie cutter mold of a card-carrying liberal, I have to admit that I support most of the things the Democratic party stands for. I know that these points of view inform my decisions in both my personal and professional life. But, I also work for a museum that discusses freedom--an subject important to all people no matter their political persuasion, yet simultaneously fraught with political implications and biases. In everything we do at the museum--exhibits, programs, professional development for teachers--we are extra conscientious to make sure our content is accurate and politically balanced.

But, then today I read this article from the Weekly Standard that was forwarded to me: and I was both disgusted and intrigued by the author's critique of a new exhibit about the Ancient Americas at the Field Museum. The author PJ ORourke lambastes the exhibit and says, "The ancient Americans themselves are not portrayed as savage or barbarous. The savages and barbarians are the museum's curators. They plunder history, ravage archaeology, do violence to intelligence, and lay waste to wisdom, faith, and common sense."

The man clearly has not taken a museum studies course or an anthropology class in the past 30 years.

But, despite his rambling, ill-informed, and often tangential tirade, the message that I take away here is that he--indeed many people--are threatened by the forces of what has been dubbed "revisionism"--school of thought that reexamines past truths, questions the greatness of past leaders, give credence to unheard voices, and retells history itself. It is a force that logically started within universities and has made its way into museums. And while it has uncovered a trove of unrecognized history and elevated the stories of the marginalized, it has itself marginalized the mainstream and devalued or discredited the accomplishments of great leaders by pointing out their humanness and holding them to unachievable standards. Many conservative individuals are angered--perhaps rightly--about the short shrift given by historians and curators to the accomplishments of white people, while simultaneously think that the faults of traditionally the marginalized (indigenous peoples, slaves, etc) are downplayed and their accomplishments over hyped.

Unfortunately for people like me who wish to examine the legitimate concerns about the problems of revisionism, it is frequently difficult, if not impossible, to discern between the actual issue and the cloud of obvious racism, hatred, and ignorance with which the arguments are made. But, if we museum professionals truly wish to practice what we preach and live the lofty ideals of "Excellence and Equity" and other manifestos purporting the inclusiveness and welcoming of diverse viewpoints, should we not also include political affiliation as part of the diversity?

Vituperative attacks on museums such as Mr. O'Rourke's arise from a sense that those who hold conservative points of view are not valued as visitors and that their world views are not only out of style, but simply wrong. When museums don't at least address concerns such as these, it fuels the widely trumpeted notion that universities and museums are places run by the liberal elite. While I don't believe that it is necessary to validate wrongly held views, simply acknowledging points of view can help facilitate productive discussion and debate.

Do you know the political allegiances of the people in your museum? Have you conducted visitor studies asking about political affiliation? Should political balance be something that museums include in diversity initiatives?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Salary Conundrum

Well, now that the article in Museums came out this month and people are asking me about this blog, I have decided that I better get my butt back in gear and start contributing.

So, I just got back from AAM in Denver. Overall I would deem the conference OK. There were a few memorable sessions, but one that sticks in my mind that seems particularly relevant to young or emerging professionals was a session called "The Salary Conundrum." In it, the four panelists and one moderator spoke about--naturally--the fact that museum professionals are among the highest trained professionals and the lowest paid. Some of the facts that were cited were some dismal accounts from professionals in New York who were paid the meager salary of $23,000/annually (in Manhattan!). Needless to say, people were graduating from school, getting jobs, and dropping out of the profession like flies because they were simply not able to survive on such paltry earnings.

Some of the solutions that were offered were 1.) lobby AAM to shed further light on this issue and cajole museum directors and board members to take some action toward equity in pay; 2.) encourage greater salary research by region; 3.) start encouraging/forcing museums to disclose salary ranges for job opportunities; 4.) unionize.

I was also mildly castigated for daring to question whether or not university museum studies programs should carry some of the culpability for the low pay in museums--especially for educators and collections managers. At the session I learned that there are an upwards of 3000 museum studies programs in the United States turning out thousands of graduates each year. It seems, in my opinion, that museum studies programs have an obligation to inform their students about the lack of compensation in the field and to prepare people for how to survive after graduation. Are all of these programs necessary? Are they only fueling the problem by increasing the pool of cash-desperate grads?

So, I am interested in hearing from you. Do any of the above courses of action seem viable? Do museum studies programs share some of the blame for flooding the market with over-qualified, under-paid, and highly indebted new professionals? Do you feel you are being paid fairly? And if not, what recourse do you have?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Report on the next generation of nonprofit leaders

Courtesy of the AAM-EMP listserv:

Young Nonprofit Leaders Concerned About Pay, Work-Life Balance, Report Finds

Although a diverse pool of committed young people would like to be nonprofit executive directors in the future, many of them say there are significant barriers to realizing that ambition, a new report from the Meyer Foundation finds.

Based on a national survey of nearly six thousand "next generation" leaders -- the largest such survey to date -- the report, Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out (36 pages, PDF), found that young nonprofit staff are concerned that challenges such as work-life balance, insufficient lifelong earning potential, a lack of mentorship, and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities may prevent them from becoming nonprofit executives.

According to the study, which was conducted by the foundation in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and, 64 percent of respondents have financial concerns about committing to a career in the sector, while only one-third aspire to become executive directors. Of those with such aspirations, 40 percent said they are ready now or will be within five years to take on such responsibilities. The survey also found that only 4 percent of nonprofit staff are being groomed to become their organization's leader, and that women are less likely to be developed as leaders than are men.

Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service, told the Washington Post, "It's really a significant problem and one that is just so important to the future of the sector. Nonprofits are so focused on meeting their mission in the present tense, they don't think of succession planning for executive directors, they don't think of recruitment for future employees. It's just not on the agenda because they're under such pressure to deliver, especially during economic downturns like this."

"Young Leaders Concerned With Pay, Work-Life Balance, Report Says." Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation Press Release 3/03/08.

Rucker, Philip. "Crunch Predicted in Nonprofit Sector." Washington Post 3/03/08.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

No Child Left Behind-Museum Educator Survey

Dear Colleagues,

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, adopted by congress in 2001, was a federal response to lagging academic performance by American students. The legislation attempted to improve the quality of education for all children while simultaneously closing the achievement gap between lower and upper income students. Among other things, NCLB legislation imposed tighter academic standards and placed greater emphasis on standardized testing--specifically on math, science, and literacy skills. While the legislation has had some notable successes, it has also been met with widespread dissatisfaction. Although classroom teachers and school administrators have been most affected by NCLB, many museum educators have also reported changes both positively and negatively in museum visitation and program participation by schools as a direct result of the legislation. Seven years later, as Congress considers reauthorizing the bill, museums have yet to get a firm grasp on how they have been affected by this landmark legislation or how they might use the legislation to benefit their institutions and the communities they serve. To further the conversation about NCLB, the Midwest Region of EdCom in partnership with the Association of Midwest Museums is presenting a day long seminar called No Museum Left Behind: Museum Educators Respond to NCLB Legislation. The program will be held at the Loyola University Museum of Art on Friday, March 14, 2008. Participants in the program will leave the seminar with a firm understanding of NCLB legislation mandates, learn ways they can adapt existing programs to meet state and national standards, and discover ideas how to create new programming that fulfils NCLB requirements.

Because the conversation is still new, Midwest EdCom and the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum have prepared a short survey for museum educators about their experiences and attitudes toward NCLB. Please take a few moments to fill out this short survey and forward the link along to your fellow museum educators Results of the survey will be shared at the No Museum Left Behind seminar and then distributed publicly shortly thereafter.

Thank you for your time and help.

Kind regards,

Nathan Richie

Nathan Richie
Director of Exhibits and Programs
McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum
Chicago, IL
(312) 222-3211