Faculty senate takes initial look at salary gaps among genders

According to a study released by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), advancements in gender equality are progressing at disappointingly slow pace.

Vice Provost Dwayne Smith presented his evaluation of the report to the faculty senate on Thursday in hopes of starting a constructive dialogue that might help to solve the gender salary gap at USF.

Smith’s analysis ranked USF in a number of categories regarding the number of female faculty employed by peer institutions and their average pay rates. USF’s peer institutions were split into two groups: its national peers, as defined by the Carnegie Institution, and Florida research universities.

In both groups, USF ranks first in the percentage of full-time female faculty it employs, at 42 percent. However, USF ranks sixth among national peers and fifth among Florida research universities in the percentage of women’s salary as compared to the male average, at 79.1 percent.

“We were surprised and pleased to find that we have the highest representation of women – the highest percentage of our faculty force in women than any of the other comparative universities,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the gap in pay is due in large part to the number of women employed in lesser-paying fields, such as foreign language, which pays an average national salary of $63,597. At USF, women comprise 61 percent of the total full-time ranked faculty in the department of foreign language.

This stands in contrast to the field of engineering, in which faculty members earn an average salary of $99,259 nationally. Only 12 percent of the full-time faculty in USF’s engineering department is female.

“The disciplines that are fairly high paying are disproportionately male, and the disciplines that are disproportionately female tend to be lower paying. Therefore, if you split those two numbers and throw them into one pot, you get those numbers,” Smith said.

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” and allows for multiple exceptions that do not apply to this case.

The AAUP study, titled “AAUP Faculty Gender Equity Indicators 2006,” finds the progress made in gender equity since 1972 disappointing.

“Women hold only 24 percent of full professor positions in the U.S., despite the overwhelming presence of women students on campus for the past 25 years,” the report stated. “Women are obtaining doctoral degrees at record rates, but their representation in the ranks of tenured faculty remains below expectations, particularly at research universities.”

A separate table released by the American Sociological Association reflects an average jump of 33 percent in the percentage of women earning doctoral degrees in seven fields of study between the years 1966 and 2004. Women earning doctoral degrees in the field of psychology represented the largest jump, from 21.3 percent to 68.2 percent of total degrees awarded. The physical sciences contained the smallest improvement, beginning at 5.2 percent and reaching 26.7 percent in 2004.

The AAUP report states that as of 2004, women accounted for 48 percent of total doctorates awarded. However, the gender equity levels remain, on average, below this level.

According to Smith there are some cultural conditions that may contribute to this gap.

“Family is one of the major concerns,” Smith said. “Now, in fairness I think that, probably, as part of the greater revolution of society, that’s an increasing concern for men as well. … Often times, the burden of childcare and child rearing seems to fall disproportionately on women.”

Smith cited a case in Arizona, where 40 white male professors alleged that North Arizona University had discriminated against them by attempting to remedy payroll equity gaps. He said that the University would have to proceed with extreme caution when trying to equalize any pay deficiencies. In the Arizona case – as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education – the plaintiffs sought and won $1.4 million in back pay after the University allegedly gave raises of $3,000 to female and minority professors.

To avoid a situation such as this, Smith said that a large amount of thought would have to go into any strategy employed to improve equity.

Smith suggested that vigorous recruitment of female professors in departments such as engineering and the physical sciences might help eliminate some of the disparity. He also said vigorous appraisals of faculty pay rates might reveal inconsistency in the pay rates of similarly qualified faculty members, which could then be remedied legally to improve equality.

“We’ve really felt compelled to do much more aggressive recruiting of women into these high paying disciplines, where women have typically been in short supply,” Smith said. “There are all sorts of things that go into determining how much merit one gets every year. So, what the courts have insisted on is that if you are going to try to raise the salary of a woman or a minority, it needs to be on the basis of a fairly complex set of performance factors.”

Though recognizing that there is still a gender-equity income gap, Smith remains optimistic, pointing to figures he released at the faculty senate meeting.

These newer figures, which reflect the overall percentage of female faculty and their percentage of the average male salary, show an improvement across the board. Smith highlighted the entry-level rank of assistant professor, which boasts 47.3 percent female inclusion and a 94.1 percent salary percentage. According to Smith, this is a tangible sign of improvement at USF.