My name is Elicka Sparks, and I’m a professor at Appalachian State University. I’ve been at ASU for 17 years teaching criminal justice. I’ve always loved my job. I love my students and my research, which does some good in the world.

I’ve been the college’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year, I’ve written a couple of books and lots of articles in peer-reviewed journals, and I help my students academically and with tough personal problems they sometimes face. I volunteered to direct our departmental honors program for years, I’ve shown up at the hospital many times to visit sick and hurt students, and gone out in the middle of the night for students who’d been sexually assaulted or were suicidal.

I’ve done all of these things because I love my job and my students. I invite a class over to my house and make them a home-cooked meal every semester. When they graduate, I go to their weddings, baby showers, and just generally offer support and encouragement.

I still love my students, but I’ve stopped loving my job. It hurts my heart to have to write that, it’s hard to love your job when you’re taken for granted. They don’t care about what I offer our students, or about the research I do. I’m not special in this regard — they don’t care less about me than they do any other professor.

I woke up this morning and read about the football coach’s new contract. The list of compensation he’ll receive is mind-boggling. This year, he’ll receive a royalty of $145,000 a month, and that’s just to start, because he’ll get a raise of $25,000 every year. I’ll bet Coach Clark loves his job. I’ll bet he feels appreciated by ASU every single day. Most years, I don’t even get a raise.

I’m a full professor. But with nearly 20 years as a professor, and with an excellent record in teaching, research and service, embarrassingly, I make $75,768 a year.

Many of my students become police officers, and their average starting pay in North Carolina is almost exactly $25,000 less than my salary with a Ph.D, and almost exactly the same amount when you factor in my monthly $955 student loan payment.

Let that sink in for a minute. How much does ASU compensate me? As much as a young person with no experience and a newly minted bachelor’s degree. Can you imagine how that makes me feel? In a word — demoralized.

A small raise is being bandied about this year, but it won’t happen. We’ll get some new building, a new coach, a bunch of new administrators who make far more than we do, and heartfelt apologies because, they’ll tell us, the money just isn’t there. I’d like to make what people think professors make. I’d like to think that my hard work is valued. I’d like for someone — the board, our chancellor, the state legislature — to just care, because I’d really, really like to be able to say I love my job again.

Elicka Sparks


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(24) comments

"Let that sink in for a minute. How much does ASU compensate me? As much as a young person with no experience and a newly minted bachelor’s degree."

First of all, while I agree that sports coaches' salaries are ridiculous, your claim that recently graduated people make close to 75k a year is equally preposterous. Why don’t you create a website to advertise these jobs that supposedly pay so well?

"Many of my students become police officers, and their average starting pay in North Carolina is almost exactly $25,000 less than my salary with a Ph.D."

Now, consider the fact that police officers risk their lives. If that is not worth more money, I don’t know what is. It is deplorable that we live in a country where a professor of a human science, supposedly knowledgeable about the harms of a highly hierarchical society, believes that she deserves a better life than those who have fewer years of education. Well, doctor, not everyone can or wants to spend 10 years on a PhD. Workers should be paid for their time! Police officers, janitors, maids, nannies (and all those other invisible people doing the "menial" jobs) do not work less hard than you, and do not deserve not to be able to afford health and dental insurance any less than you.

If you want to make a ton of money and be above the masses, go be the CEO of some multinational corporation, so you can boss our government around and keep our society with its inequality in the sorry state is has forever been. Or you could be a sports coach!

I agree millions of dollars lost is unbelievable. We’d have to see a breakdown of expenditure in regards to football spending and a serious investigation should be launched assist in correcting this. I expect athletics to be rarely profitable, but that’s bad. Although college football is essentially ad spending (opinion) to attract students, the program should not be that far in the red. I could be wrong but I don’t feel the financial shot in the arm that App football brings into the town offsets that loss number. Although hopefully overall the university finances are in the black. I’m sorry that current climate has made faculty feel like the clothing department of a retail store (least profitable)

I agree there is a severe lack of human investment at all levels of education. Budget appropriation is severely misguided at nearly all levels. Human resource budget does seem to shrink as material budget increases. I’d take a creative chalk wielding, projector slide loading professor any day over all the nonsense gadgets and gizmos that many schools feels is essential to teach. The sports entertainment industry that ASU is building is disappointing and does not build long term sustainability.

I agree the coaches salary is high. One of the only arguments I can say playing devils advocate is the football team is the face of the university. Athletics are what brings brand recognition to schools which helps increase student enrollment. Student enrollment is what brings in initial money. Student ability and training to pay back loans is what brings institutional sustainability (which is where you all come in) which is sadly not factored in yet. Since college players are not paid then high salaries go to coaches. LeBron, Brady are all high performing players and their salaries command such. Again since ASU football is your mode of brand recognition that is where the salary goes.

Unfortunately for you all ASU football is the face of the university and is what drives brand recognition at this time. If you want to change that then you’re going to have to prove that academics can help with brand recognition. Find out what is it that drives students to come to you. Do students come for the football rep and for the tuition prices ? Does the college of whatever create high earners in their field? Exclusive networking options? What are the exclusive academic perks to the college ? Whatever those things are they have to be advertised. I don’t see any advertisement about anything you are doing academically in the community. If you want to be on the billboards along highways , you’re going to have to put yourself there. Let your department contributions be known. As a whole you’re going to have to coordinate with each other as well as those student athletes do on the field. You’re going to have to produce more with less if you have any hopes of getting some notoriety. These woe is me articles do nothing but paint a picture of lacking unity. Desperation breeds ingenuity. Combine your respective colleges, do something big that attracts community attention across counties. Make your students feel like they are making a difference in the world as early as freshman year. I know and you know that ASU is more than football. To put it simply the athletic department is losing money like a dollar menu loses money for fast food restaurants. That dollar menu is simply made with the hopes that customers will return to buy the more profitable items in the future. Now that the university has enrollment up, the spotlight should shift to academics. Can the academic departments attract attention like the football team did when they beat those power five teams? That’s great advertisement by the way because I’m not even sure who or what the power teams are.

jjtkanto, your ideas are great, but they could have easily been pointed to Athletics-- tell THEM to do more with less and to sell themselves as necessary to the University. Tell them to earn their keep. Academics require some kind of investment, just like they are investing in Athletics! And, with increased enrollments they are diminishing, not boosting, academics and their ability to provide the stellar undergraduate education App has long been known for. Tell the Chancellor and her well paid staff of publicity people to focus on the academic accomplishments for a change. (And yes, the PR/media people earn far more than most professors on the campus- you can look up their salaries online.) Faculty at App State DO provide the quality education that matters for students seeking degrees. That you don't hear about it should tell you something. Why doesn't the University tell you about the big research grants and big discoveries made by App State faculty? When they accomplish these things, they don't get $25,000 bonuses like the Athletic Director does. Could you imagine that a faculty member would get a bonus for every $1million grant they bring in? Or certain raises for every student who goes on to earn a law degree or PhD? Or for when their academic book wins the prize for best new book in their discipline nationally?! This is the pay structure they have just set up with the Athletic Director- see

You're change in tone is appreciated. If people knew the facts and the numbers, they would be outranged. Athletics loses over 20 million dollars every year. This annual loss was a fraction this amount just 10 years ago, and it is among the largest in the country. And during this time, the actual university business has been starved and faculty have seen salaries decline. The backward thinking is a travesty. Taxpayers would be disgusted if they knew universities were using their taxes to prop up the entertainment of fans. Students and parents would be furious if they knew they were borrowing money to pay for the bloated salaries of coaches and athletic directors and three versions of uniforms. Fortunately, faculty are saying ‘enough’. They are smart people that want the university to get back to its mission. The extreme misallocation of public and university and student monies has been a dirty secret, and people are finally saying ‘enough’.

Let me correct a few of your comments. It is not the faculty's job to tout the value of their work. If it needs touting, that is the administration’s job. The administration also should simply value what the faculty do because the work of the faculty is the work of the university, not athletics. So, does Apple not invest in its programmers because they public isn’t capable of understanding what they do? No, they invest in hiring and supporting the best programmers because they are the core of what they produce. What would happen to Apple if its leadership increasingly shifted more and more money to weekend parties, and paid for it by dramatically lowering the salaries and support for their programmers? Clearly, Apple would go in decline, and their leadership would be fired. New leadership would be brought in to turn it around (hopefully before it’s too late). The point is that faculty are telling us that they are seeing a decline with this current path.

If football is used to create a brand for a university, then (beyond being an idiotic idea) it is the most expensive and least effective ad campaign ever. Not only does it suck money away from the actual work, just think what could be done with 20-30 million dollars per year. Amazing learning. Top notch faculty. Up to date technology. Better prepared students. And there would be plenty left over for a continuous state-wide ad campaign touting the university's academics and amenities. There are plenty of academic ‘branding’ activities that would set Appalachian apart from its peers, which would attract students for the right reasons. Just look at the brands of Harvard, William & Mary, Elon, Dartmouth, Amherst, etc. Clearly they have much better than the brands of Troy, Arkansas Little Rock, Louisiana Monroe.

It is a myth to think enrollment has increased due to football. Universities without football have grown, and Appalachian grew at a similar rate well before this administration began preferring football over academics. Plus, quality should be priority over quantity. For the 20+ million dollars that athletics loses every year, there are plenty of ways to more effectively attract students that doesn’t entail starving the funding for the actual work of the university. There is no excuse for athletics to lose more money than the university spends on student support. No matter how fun it is to tailgate, it is simply misappropriation of taxpayer and student funds.

Seriously, you didn't get into teaching for the money, did you??


What does that have to do with anything? (Beyond representing the attitude of a severely sick society...)

I doubt the housekeeping staff has $100K+ in student loans to pay back. But like most people already said in the comments, how the professor uses her salary is not the point of her letter.

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Ms. Sparks, I do not believe you love your job. True love is given without a quid pro quo monetary reciprocal intent. Instead, your lamentations seems to derive from some illogical jealousy. 75K is nothing to disparage, and with tenure your job security gives you the ability to overtly criticize what those in the “evil overpaid” administration have to juggle. It is quite unfortunate that you cannot be expeditiously relieved of your duties, because of tenure, since you might find a better fit at a smaller, say private liberal arts, college that doesn’t have a football team.


Nice try, troll. Better luck next time. Go crawl back under your rock.

Why do you distract from the point with a ridiculous comment. $75k is something to disparage when it is less than you made 10 years ago due to the administration's lack of interest in academics and faculty and student learning. Study for 10+ years to get a PhD and conduct research and educate thousands only to see your students earn more than you upon graduation. And what a ridiculous argument to tell people to go work somewhere else. Should they not care that the administration is making bad decisions? Should they not care about the quality of education of their students? Should they not care that students are being forced to pay for most of the cost of fans' entertainment when they are borrowing money and face food insecurity? Maybe you are passive and don't care, but thankfully the professors do care.

And the point is that athletics is losing more than twenty million dollars per year.

And that is paid by taxpayers and students, and it is taken out of teaching and research, which is the actual point of the university. They are not leading this university in an appropriate direction. Athletics is on the upswing but academics is collapsing. The university is suppose to be doing the latter. The former should be self-sufficient and not rely on spending other people's money.

Oh yeah, the football coach said he loved his new job, so he shouldn't need the ridiculous contract that is funded by a public institution. If you and others knew the facts, you would be even more irate than the professors.

If you can’t make ends meet with 75k a year, then you are living above your means. If you have a spouse that boosts your family income to >100k a year then that’s even worse. Review your finances and make cuts where needed. Netflix and high speed internet (not broadband) are a luxury if your finances are that bad. Remember keep putting at least 10% of earnings towards your retirement. Increase percentage of savings as debt is paid down. If you have car payments and can’t afford them then get cheaper cars. Keep track of monthly expenditure with a spreadsheet and update graphs to see improvement in spending. Know there are harder ways to make money. Be thankful for heat and air conditioning at your work place. Be thankful for electricity at your workplace. Be thankful for clean water at your workplace.

Wow,! I have never thought of all this. After studying poverty and growing up poor, I would have never thought to save money and cut expenses. THIS IS THE ANSWER!

Really? This "blaming the victim" rhetoric is the same thing that the wealthy and our government attempt to shove down our throats for decades. "All you got to do is watch your spending, and you will be as rich as Bill Gates!" As research suggests (which may not matter since it seems as though opinion and experience is the only thing that counts nowadays) that this only deals with temporary moments of poverty and income inequality. It doesn't address the long-term issues created by economic forces that drive inflation, cost of living, and continued debt accumulation that stretches over generations.

As the first in my family to go to college, I, too, was deluded in thinking it would lead to a chance of social mobility greater than my family's. However, after working three jobs trying to pay for college out of my pocket, I turned to loans that created substantial debt. So, I continue to pay my debt faithfully while also attempting to do all the tricks of saving you suggested. I guess your next reply that I should move to a cheaper place or apply for a better job? I tried, and the market was too tight, and expenses are only lower in impoverished communities that offer no opportunities for my family. I also assume I shouldn't have had children or purchased house and should have continued to live in an apartment that charges $1,000 a bed? I guess you are right, but I'm pretty sure this is no way to live. And, if it were as simple as saving money, then wouldn't we have fewer issues of income inequality? Are your solutions what explains why the wealth gap grows starker every year because Trump, Gates, and Buffet "save 10%?" Or, is it possible that they earn so much capital (not just pay) they can't spend it all and all of their debt in the past was excused through dirty economic policies and handouts from their affluent families? Do you know that if I served as head coach for App for one year that my debt would be totally erased, and I could retire at 43? Do you understand that one of the coaches bonuses for his team getting good grades would make it possible for me to send at least one of my children to one year of college at App? Maybe this is how you see $75,000 but it just isn't enough in this economy if you want to provide for your family and know that they prosper, but maybe that is not important to you.

While I get that personal finance is a component of surviving, it doesn't help with thriving in a place that continues to dump more work on its employees for less than they are worth, and this includes our overworked and woefully underpaid staff who work just as hard to make sure Appalachian runs smoothly and efficiently. I think a wise man best said it in this situation. You should stop living in a false conscious state of economic potential in which you believe that your finances will somehow overcome the inequalities generated by this BS rhetoric played up by the wealthy. Instead, you should wake up and join us to keep organizations and groups from abusing us and our abilities. You and I shouldn't have to survive; we should be allowed to thrive since we ARE the reason the wealthy have their wealth, power, and privilege. Stop giving them the power and start standing up for the rest of the workers who do all the things you suggested and can't get ahead while others get bonuses, free parking, car allowance, housing, and all the football tickets they could scalp! And by the way, faculty and staff do not get any of these perks even though the students playing football wouldn't be there without us!!

If you can’t raise a family on 75k then you are doing something terribly wrong. If anyone needs a monetary raise at the university it’s the housekeeping staff, maintenance crew, janitors, dietary workers etc. Hourly wage workers that are clearly not being represented in this first world problem comment section.

I’ve raised my family on far less than you are making. My young children are fed and happy. My older children went to community college because that’s all they could afford, but they have great careers making equal to your salary without debt.

I was never disillusioned into thinking money was what would make my family prosper. Instead it was time and love that fostered their growth. Time is something that you should have plenty of with all the holidays off and nonsense seasonal breaks you have.

As I said earlier there are much harder ways for you to make money. Perhaps you should look at your desk and swivel chair with a sunnier disposition. Perhaps you should look at your overpriced smart boards with gratefulness. I assure there are teachers out there that can do your job for far less and be substantially more grateful.

If you can't run a football program without losing more than twenty million every year, you should be fired not given a huge raise.

jjtkanto: What is your point? Professor Sparks did not ever say anything about not being able to make ends meet. Is your point that football coaches, whose role is entirely peripheral to the mission of the university, should be paid million dollar salaries but professors, who had to prove themselves through years and years of costly higher education and eventually quality research contributions, only deserve enough to "be able to make ends meet"? Is that what you think your physician should earn after investing years in medical school--enough to "make ends meet"? And then on what basis do you think the University should invest its limited funds in a football program that runs a deficit of millions of dollars a year? Maybe you should be directing the Athletics program and the University to start cutting back on THEIR irresponsible spending. A professor might be able to save a bit by getting out luxuries like Netflix. And if so, then please direct your financial advice to Athletics-- they could cut out costly tailgate parties, the cost of cleaning up all the trash and vomit after the tailgaters have left, the cost of recruiting athletes, the cost of luxury residence halls that help recruit athletes, and on and on. They don't have to regrade Miller Hill by the football stadium-- that will cost more than 10,000 annual Netflix subscriptions.

Athletics is living above its means. To the tune of spending twenty million more than they generate in revenue every year and growing. And that is the issue jjkanto. Athletics should live within their means and let the twenty million go to the actual business of the university, which has been underfunded for more than a decade now.


Well said !! All programs of Academics, Arts, Music as well as the departments of dietary, housekeeping, maintenance, police/security and all those others who actually make the University run are the ones who need the money/raises...not the Athletic/ jock department.

Well said!!! This is the sentiment across campus, and it's worse than most imagine. The coach's contract contains ridiculous money and perks when football is not even a part of the purpose of this taxpayer supported public institution, but the really disgusting thing is that athletics can't come close to paying for their extravagant existence. Athletics LOSES OVER $25 million every year, and the annual losses have tripled since moving to the Sun Belt and are among the largest in the country. Their revenue only covers a third of their expenses! So if athletics isn't paying for their royal lifestyles and facilities, who is? Glad you asked. It is students, parents and taxpayers. They bail out athletics in the form of university funds and student fees.

This is a problem because there are severe shortages and needs across many areas that are central to the purpose of the university. The administration chooses to use fee revenue to support athletics instead of addressing the severe shortages in student services, classroom space, etc. The point of a university is student learning and research. Faculty are not complaining. They are pointing out that the administration is failing to carry out the university’s purpose. Don’t believe it? Well, athletic related fees are by far higher than student and academic fees. The administration spends twice as much on subsidizing athletics than it spends on student services or the library. The athletics budget has increased five times more than the academic budget. For over a year, the administration and BOT can't find $5 million to begin to address the faculty salary problem, but they quickly found $5 million to cover the cost overruns of an athletic facility. And then they found another $2.5 million to move dirt in the stadium, only for aesthetic reasons (while academic spaces are in disrepair). So actually, you could say academics bails out athletics every year. And I must say that, while spending like a drunken sailor, they argue that enrollment must go up (and quality must go down) to come up with more money (for athletics of course).

Don't miss the point. Athletics is great, but it should pay for itself. It should NOT rely on university funds and student fees to pay for most of its spending, especially when there are severe shortages and needs in core areas like student support and academic needs. The degree that athletics operates beyond its means is obscene, and that is because the administration willingly passes the bill to students, parents and taxpayers, and the budgets of the core areas of the campus. Sadly, students not only pay in ever-increasing athletic related fees, but they also pay in lower quality faculty, support and education that result from lack of funds going to academics.

We are a university. We should start acting like one. Give faculty a fraction of the raise the coach has received in recent years. Build much needed classrooms instead of locker rooms. Think of students as students instead of revenue. Increase department budgets half as much as athletics budgets. Build much needed science labs instead of club seating. Fund faculty research travel instead of coaches recruiting travel. Fix broken elevators and leaking ceilings in academic buildings instead of moving the track and regrading Miller Hill. Care about our current students more than increasing future enrollment. Focus on the work of the university instead of the tailgating. We are a university and we need leadership that actually cares about the work of the university.

I'm retired and spent many decades on that campus, and I've never seen such misguided leadership. I've never seen a Chancellor and BOT so blatantly ignore, with deeds and funding, the academic mission of the university and so blatantly ignore, with deeds and funding, the faculty that directly work on the mission of the university. They openly show and even express disgust at faculty because the faculty point out real and serious problems. Instead of hearing the feedback from people with much more insights and experience, they dismiss the concerns as complaining. This is because they clearly are not concerned about the mission of the university. This is not surprising because they have little to no experience in or expertise in higher education. Using a misplaced a business model, they view "students are customers and a revenue stream". They think budget size and enrollment numbers matter more than academic quality and integrity. They sure care about getting a good coach or keeping a good athletics director, but they don’t care about getting or keeping good faculty. The backward thinking is unbelievable. Why do employers hire graduates and why does the state support Appalachian? Not because the football team won 13 games and not to prop up an overextended football program. Taxpayers and the state should be furious at the mismanagement of such a special and important public university. And just to be clear, Athletics is pushing for growth as much as anyone because more students means more money from student fees. It’s not just the pay gap. The backward priorities are creating problems far beyond demoralizing faculty. And again, it gets back to the Chancellor and most of the BOT do not care much about the actual mission of the university. And it goes without saying that they do NOT care about this town, which is forced to deal with the fallout of their bad decisions.


Also well stated. Help our students, faculty, academics and academic facilities instead of having Athletics stuck up your butt.

Dr. Sparks speaks of a demoralized faculty. Despite faculty speaking out about this for at least a year and a half now (see Watauga Democrat's coverage here ), nothing concrete has been done, making the faculty even more demoralized than before. Faculty were promised a modest pay raise, which would not even make up for real salary decline over the past decade, and still have yet to see a dime. Regarding all the non-tenured instructors who, even when full-time at App, are working 2nd and 3rd jobs, and the underpaid tenured professors doing the same: Students and taxpayers would be wise to remember the old saying that you get what you pay for. These are faculty members who will NOT be inclined to work with students who need or want an incomplete because of some personal crisis that made it tough for them to finish out the semester (shoot, they won't even be around campus as they're at their other jobs!), and instructors who will not give meaningful feedback on students' papers, projects and tests. These instructors will not have time to keep up with the current research in the field (remember, professors have to teach the current research, and the ones on a tenure-track with a research assignment have to generate that research as well!). Sadly, we have strung-out faculty members doing less with less. And this means that every student's degree from Appalachian State is worth less.

Dr. Sparks, I hear you, agree and sympathize. I am also a full professor at Appalachian in the Department of Sociology. I also grew up here and received my undergraduate degree from App State, which I thought would garner some respect from our university but alas, it means nothing. I returned in 2007 and after 13 years of service to our university and its thousands of students, I, too, feel your demoralization. The only way I was able to increase my pay after 12 years of no substantial pay raises was for my wife and me to take on several other part-time jobs to cover the cost of living here in Boone. I also only received a pay raise equal to our profession after I took on the chair position in my department, which finally put me in a pay bracket similar to other peer institutions. However, as you probably know, I took on more work yet again, being on call for every little bureaucratic, faculty, or student whim.

My contract states that I am a 9-month employee with 12 months of responsibility. Indeed, the recent announcement that our newest football coach would earn more than anyone else on this campus (excluding his bonuses) was disheartening for me as well.

Moreover, what hurt was that he would get bonuses (as every other coach has) for the academic achievements of his players that are actually due to our hard work and not his. These bonuses would also be more than some of my lecturers earn a year. It is funny that our university pays some folks like it is a business with bonuses while the rest of us are asked to work harder for less. I have faculty members who live far away to afford working here. They also work two or three jobs to make ends meet and to support their families. Maybe enough of us say something here, people will listen. However, I don't think they care because we continue as faculty and staff to do more with less because we can't afford to lose our jobs and be thrown into the world of anti-intellectualism and tight labor markets. This is mainly a problem since most universities want to hire a cheaper labor source of non-PhDs to cover what they say is most important, and that is increasing enrollments despite the evidence that this is not a sound move. In short, we are caught up in an America that first doesn't care what happens to academics because they all agree we are worthless in this anti-intellectual world driven by screams of "fake news" and that we are too liberal. I hear you and wish we could do more to stop what is coming. Appalachian will soon become a paper mill for students who will suffer in the long run from losing dedicated professors like you to a better job or because we have finally beat down you enough to give up and give out As or teach everything online to make sure students, parents, and the administration are happy. Dr. Sparks, maybe one day we will be respected again for our expertise and service, and I appreciate you speaking out.


Also well said and sad that Athletics at ASU are ruining it for our students in all the other fields.

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