Written by Joshua A. Hughes
Last year The Chronicle of Higher Education, a daily publication targeted at college staff and administrators across the country, conducted a study that found that there was a nationwide discrepancy between the pay of male and female professors. This information prompted Southwestern to undertake a nuanced survey of its own on the subject. The major disparity found was that there is a difference of over $3,300 between the salaries of full-time male and female professors at SU.
Dr. Alicia Betsinger, SU’s director of institutional research, and Dr. Dirk Early, a professor of economics and an assistant dean at SU, were in charge of the study. Betsinger said that the survey used a formula that accounted different factors that predict salary so that they could isolate what role gender played. These factors included what division the professors taught in, if they held an endowed chair, what rank they held, how long they had held that rank and how long they had been at SU. The study also took into account if the professor was in a premium field, which Betsinger said included business, computer science or economics. This formula showed that while there was what Betsinger called a statistically trivial difference in pay between genders at the assistant and associate levels, $223 more and $712 less for women respectively, the difference was significant at the full level. Upon establishing a database of salaries to feed into this formula, it was also found that the median salary at the full professor level was over $10,000 more for men than women (the smaller difference was found once the other factors besides gender were taken into account).
The survey also reported an uneven number of male and female professors holding the rank of full professor. It found that while there are 24 women to eight men at the assistant level, there are 21 women to 25 men at the associate level and 11 women to 24 men at the full level.
These results were not wholly unexpected, however. Betsinger said that the Chronicle of Higher Education’s nationwide survey found that there was a $9,700 difference at the full professor level and $6,300 at the associate’s. Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and philosophy, said that she was surprised that the disparity was only at one level.
The news of this inequity has members of the faculty calling for changes.
“I was appalled and demoralized,” Helene Meyers, professor of English, said on hearing the results. “The numbers turned out the way they did because gender inequity still manifests itself in many ways, even in institutions that proclaim a commitment to the ‘worth and dignity of all persons.’ The gendered salary disparity needs to be rectified immediately.”
Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster, a full professor in the religion and philosophy department, wants to see salaries equalized between genders, but said that tough economic times might make it difficult to achieve that goal right away. She did advocate placing more females in endowed chairs, however, a step that she described as “the easiest and most immediate way to start.”
These endowed chairs are positions given to professors to further their scholarship and include funds to conduct research, an important step to advancing through the ranks as a professor. Betsinger and Early’s study found that only two women, compared to 11 men, held these endowed chairs. The highest paid of these positions are the six Brown chairs, only one of which is held by a woman:Hobgood-Oster. Four of these Brown chairs are permanent, awarded to a professor to hold as long they are at SU, and the other two rotate between faculty members every five years. The other five chairs, some of which are associated with academic departments, pay less than the Brown chairs.
Hobgood-Oster also said that a large part of the unequal number of male and female full professors is that the total number of women who are professors has only recently become comparable to men, and the rank takes a long period of time to earn.
Dr. Jim Hunt, Southwestern’s provost, explained that when a professor is hired for a tenure track position, he or she is usually made an assistant professor. Normally, professors are evaluated in their second and fourth year on their teaching effectiveness, personal growth and contributions to the university.
In their sixth year at SU, they are either awarded tenure or do not continue at SU. If they are given tenure, they are also usually promoted to the rank of associate professor. Anytime after a professor has been at this level for four years, he or she may apply for the position of full professor, being evaluated on the same criteria as before. A pay raise usually accompanies each of these promotions.
Both Hobgood-Oster and Hunt expect the number of male and female full professors to pull closer together in the near future as a swell of women move through the professor ranks.
“That’s more of what I would call a historical artifact.” Hunt said of the current ratio at full professor. “If you think about 15 years ago for example, the majority of our assistant professors were male, and that follows through. I think what you’re seeing at the full professor rank is not so much that women have been denied promotion to full professor as much as more of our women being more junior.”
President Jake Schrum has also been active in trying to address this issue. He said that he had recently met with Southwestern’s Executive Committee to discuss it, and wants to find a solution as soon as possible.
Hunt said that he is still unsure of why the disparity exists. He suggested that it might be because of starting salaries or male professors being promoted and given raises at times when non-promoted professors are being paid less.
He gave the example of a professor who gets promoted and receives a 10-percent raise in a year when non-promoted professors receive only a two-percent raise. This will cause a larger disparity between this professor and non-promoted professor than if the professor had received a 10-percent raise when the rest of the staff received a six-percent raise. Because of the complexity of these variables that the study did not even cover, Hunt said that the issue will need to be studied further.
“I think that we’re actually going to have to go person by person to find out what may or may not be going on,” Hunt said.
Hunt said that he hopes to remedy these inequities as soon as possible – but understands the obstacles that the school faces in doing this.
“I think it’s even different than it was four months ago, the economy keeps being a greater and greater challenge in terms of what we can do with any salary increases,” Hunt said. “With the endowed chairs, when those become vacant, we will be looking to make headway into appointing women. My hope is that this turn into a two to three, no longer than a five, year process.”