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?