Says Elizabeth Warren "was paid $400,000 to teach one class."

Bloggers on Monday, September 16th, 2019 in a viral meme

Did Elizabeth Warren get $400,000 for teaching one class at Harvard?

A screenshot of the meme circulating on social media that quotes Townhall.com editor Katie Pavlich saying Sen. Elizabeth Warren was paid $400,000 to teach a single class at Harvard Law School

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has vowed to tackle the college affordability crisis if elected president by forgiving student loan debts and making tuition-free college a reality.

But a misleading image circulating social media seems to suggest that Warren is partially responsible for the soaring college prices she’s pledging to trim down.

The image, which we found online and on Twitter and Facebook, shows a quote attributed to Katie Pavlich, editor of Townhall.com, a conservative news website. 

The quote reads: "As Elizabeth Warren closes the night with complaints about cost of college for students, just remember she was paid $400,000 to teach one class."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We traced the quote back to Pavlich, who tweeted it on July 30 during the Democratic primary debates in Detroit. But we wondered whether the substance of her claim was accurate.

In short, we found that Warren did make more than $400,000 for her work at Harvard Law School over a two-year span. But it’s wrong to suggest that all she did was teach one class, and the claim leaves out important context about the other work Warren was doing at that time.

Warren’s time at Harvard

Pavlich did not respond to a request for comment, but a quick Google search turned up a handful of news reports from 2012 detailing the financial disclosure forms Warren released as part of her first bid for the Senate in Massachusetts.

According to those filings, Warren earned $429,981 in salary from Harvard during 2010 and 2011. She also made money from book royalties and consulting fees.

Warren spent roughly two decades lecturing at Harvard Law School, where students recognized her with multiple teaching awards, according to the university’s faculty directory. She taught commercial law as a visiting professor for a year before accepting a tenured position in 1995.

Generally speaking, university professors — especially at major research institutions like Harvard — are hired not only to teach, but also to do research and be campus leaders. 

In fact, a 2017 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that, for university professors, "salaries are determined principally by research output and associated reputation," rather than the number of students the professor teaches.

Harvard Law School declined to comment, but the university pays professors more than most research universities, with the average salary for full-time professors being $226,394 in 2017, $203,699 in 2011 and $194,136 in 2010, per the Chronicle of Higher Education. Recent tax filings show that Warren’s husband, also a Harvard law professor, earned $402,897 in 2018.

According to an archived version of Harvard Law School’s course catalog, Warren taught one class on empirical analysis during the 2010 spring semester, and local and university news reports indicate that she also taught another class on contracts during the 2011 fall semester. 

In September 2010, former President Barack Obama tapped Warren to temporarily oversee the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency set up in the wake of the financial crisis to protect consumers from financial tricks. 

Warren left Harvard to fill this role and did not return to campus until July 2011, meaning she was unavailable to teach during the 2010 fall and 2011 spring semesters. 

In a statement to PolitiFact, the Warren campaign noted how Warren taught multiple classes during most other semesters. For example, she taught four classes during the 2006-07 academic year, three in 2007-08, and three in 2008-09

But even if Warren taught fewer classes than usual in 2010 and 2011, saying she "was paid $400,000 to teach one class" discounts the research she produced that year and in years previous. In 2010, for example, she contributed a chapter to a book on government regulation.

It also ignores the fact that Warren stepped aside from teaching for the entire 2010-11 academic year to advise the Obama administration as an expert on bankruptcy.

Our ruling

A viral image said Warren "was paid $400,000 to teach one class."

Warren earned more than $400,000 for her work as a Harvard Law School professor in 2010 and 2011. Across those two years, she taught two classes, not one. She also left Harvard during the 2010-2011 academic year to advise the government.

Plus, her $400,000 salary would have reflected not only her work in the classroom, but also her reputation, her contributions to Harvard as a researcher and her many years at the university.

We rate this statement Half True.