The whole kerfuffle about the University of Waterloo’s Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, Dr. Donna Strickland, being “only” an Associate Professor is ridiculous. She has tenure at a fairly major Canadian university, can do her work, and has pay equity. Lots of academics don’t attempt to advance to Full Professorship, because the amount of administrivia, committee work, etc. one then gets stuck with is prodigious. The university’s President basically implied that it would be a walk in the park for her to get that, but she still might not want it.
A much more important issue is that 80-82% of Ph.D.s (e.g., in the humanities, in which alternative career paths barely exist) end up outside of full-time, tenure-stream academia. For example, tens of thousands of adjunct instructors do the same work as faculty-member professors for less than half the pay, usually with no benefits or conference travel grants, generally without unionization, sometimes without even having an office (or, say, having to share a photocopier room with dozens of others as an “office,” as I once did), and they also often do the paid part of their work only on a part-time basis. Some of us basically have to give up after years of that kind of abuse. Now THAT is an actual problem.