Report exposes power gap at US universities

According to a study by the Eos Foundation, women make up only 24% of all top income earners in American universities. This study, conducted in collaboration with the Washington DC-based American Association of University Women, found that highly compensated women are rare, especially at the tenure and tenure-track faculty levels.

Although some female faculty members receive salaries in excess of US $ 1 million per year, they are the exception. Among faculty members, the top-grossing men outnumber women by nine to 1.

Employees collected salary data for employees – including academic, sports, and medical-school faculty and staff members – from 93 public and 37 private research-intensive American universities. Where possible, researchers identified the top ten earners in each institution.

Although most public US universities are required to publish their staff salaries, private universities have no such obligation, so the data for those institutions are largely incomplete.

Still, the gender gap at the top is undeniable and wide, says co-author Andrea Silbert, president of the philanthropic EOS Foundation in Harvick Port, Massachusetts.

Women accounted for 60% of all employees, but only 24% of those with the highest earnings. “We have to address the assumptions that are entitled to top pay,” says Silbert. “We are educating people who reinforce gender bias.”

Of the universities where the top ten earners can be identified, only one – University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) – had more women than men (six to four). UNLV President Keith Whitfield says the university is committed to equity in its hiring and promotion practices. “We are proud of the contribution of women to leadership positions at UNLV,” he says.

Ten universities had an equal division of men and women in their top ten applications. These include Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, as well as public universities California, Santa Cruz, and Minnesota Twin City University.

There are no women among the top ten earners in six universities, including the private Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Public University of Florida in Gainesville and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Data gap

Data on ethnicity were less complete and more opaque than gender, but the disparity was still evident.

Of the top earners whose ethnicity can be determined, just over 4% were African American, and less than 1% were African American women. The report stated that “women of color are almost none of the top earners”.

The investigation found that nearly a fifth of the top earners were faculty members, not provosts, chancellors, or other university leaders.

These faculty members have a long history of grants, patents and winning public attention, Silbert says. And, in this study, 90% of them were male. “I call them ‘faculty celebrity faculty’,” says Silbert. “If you want to address the gender gap between the top earners, you have to figure out a way to get more female faculty at the top.”

Silbert says the general lack of transparency in private institutions has complicated the investigation. Some private institutions provided information, and some top earners could be identified through publicly available filings for the US Internal Revenue Service. But for the most part, the gender balance of the top earners in private American universities is still a mystery.

“Transparency is fundamental to solving the problem,” Silbert says. She notes that private institutions receive substantial US federal funding, which, in their view, should mean that their pay is subject to public scrutiny.

Faculty members can use the public pay report to their advantage, says Joyce Chen, an economist at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. Chen says she negotiated a 20% salary increase in 2017 after a check of salary data revealed that she was not paid as much as the male colleagues of her department. The experience prompted him to take a closer look at salaries at his institute.

She co-authored the 2019 paper, which showed that male tenure track faculty members at the university earned 11% more than their female counterparts even after controlling for factors such as experience and department 2.

System change

Chen, who is currently president of OSU and president-elect of the Provost Council on Women, does not know if gender was a factor of his low pay.

This issue certainly did not come up during the salary review, when he had to justify the salary increase based on his experience and qualifications.

She says universities can be proactive about pay discrepancies. “Whoever is making a salary decision must justify every case where there is more than 5% disparity between people of comparable rank,” she says.

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