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Study finds no unexplained pay gap among MU faculty

Six columns stand outside of Jessie Hall at the University of Missouri. It is dark outside so the columns are lit up by lights on the ground.
Austin Anderson
On average, tenure-eligible male faculty members make 14% more than their female peers; white and Asian tenure-eligible faculty make 14% more than their minority counterparts. That’s about $18,000 on average.

A recent study shows a 14% pay gap among women and minorities in MU’s tenured and tenure track faculty, which officials say can be explained by a variety of factors. The gap has changed little in the nine years since the university last conducted such a study.

The study found no statistically significant gaps in the non-tenure track faculty. It also found no evidence of salary compression, which occurs when junior faculty are paid almost as much as their more senior peers.

On average, tenure-eligible male faculty members make 14% more than their female peers; white and Asian tenure-eligible faculty make 14% more than their minority counterparts. That’s about $18,000 on average. Those differences can be explained by such factors as years of experience, rank, length of service and administrative assignments, officials say.

“We currently do not have a pay gap in faculty across the university for any reason that can’t be explained,” Christian Basi, university spokesperson, said. “By that, they mean, do we have individuals who have less years of experience? Do we have individuals who have different credentials? Those salaries are justified at the experience and skill set that they are currently at.”

The study, released April 15, was conducted by an independent researcher, Robert K. Toutkoushian of the University of Georgia. He took “personal and work-related characteristics that are normally associated with salary” into account in the analysis. When the researcher controlled for these variables, he found no “unexplained” difference in favor of male or non-minority faculty members.

The same study conducted in 2015 showed a 15% difference, also due to explainable factors.

“What stuck out most, if for good reasons and bad, was how similar the results were. So in nine years, we haven’t changed much,” said Tom Warhover, chair of the Faculty Council on University Policy. “Now, that could be read two ways.”

The Status of Women Committee and the Faculty Council on University Policy started conversations about another study in the fall of 2022.

Now, both organizations are collaborating to gather information and compare the two reports. Taira Meadowcroft, the co-chair of the Status of Women Committee, said the groups want to be able to respond to the report in an informed way that can hold the university accountable but also provide support.

“Numbers are great. But you want to be able to help tell that story with the numbers,” Meadowcroft said.

Warhover said the lack of a statistically significant unexplained pay gap is the good news.

“The interesting part, though, is, well, what does ‘unexplained’ mean? And, so, looking at some of the explanations show that there are kind of systematic things that get figured into the analysis, right?” Warhover said. Looking into the next level is crucial, he said.

“There are more male full professors earning more money; the gap is larger there. That’s consistent with other universities. But is that OK?” Warhover said.

Many factors that drive the wage gap can be influenced by historic discrimination based on gender and race or ethnicity, according to the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan policy institute. Because women and minority faculty have traditionally faced greater barriers to entry into academia, they are starting from a different place than white male counterparts.

As of 2020, the American Association of University Professors reports that nationwide, 32.5% of full professors are women. Underrepresented minorities make up 32.6% of the population from ages 24 to 64, but account for 12.9% of full time faculty.

The AAUP classifies different universities based on the type and the number of degrees awarded. MU is classified as a public doctoral institution. Throughout all universities in this category, female faculty on average are paid $21,959, or 18%, less than their male counterparts.

That means that MU’s overall pay gap is smaller than its peers. To Charlie Nilon, the Black faculty and staff representative on the Faculty Council, this gap is hard to judge.

“I don’t think that there are very many faculty on campus who have huge, huge salaries … compared to, say, other faculties. So I think that accounts for some of this,” Nilon said.

“It was a little difficult for me to understand how the data were being used in the report,” Nilon said. “I recognize that when you look at the status of women and the status of faculty of color, and so on, that you’re often dealing with very small numbers.”

The report analyzed data in the academic year 2022-2023 on all full-time faculty members who were employed at MU, excluding the School of Medicine.

The measures considered in the study include: gender; race; age; years employed by MU; years within current rank; highest degree; whether the individual holds an administrative position; academic rank (full, associate, assistant, curator’s distinguished professor); department/collegiate affiliation (56 categories); and research productivity (for tenure-eligible faculty).

“These surveys have a lot of value for us. We have a lot of different processes in place, systems in place, to ensure that we are paying people equitably,” Basi said. “And those systems are set up so that they are not looking at specific demographics.”

The report also recommended continuing to re-examine salary equity on a periodic basis. The faculty council and the status of women committee plan to continue unpacking the report.

“The provost said, and I think others in the administration have said that you know, this is not an endorsement to say, ‘well, there’s no inequity at the University of Missouri,’” Warhover said. “It is a positive sign, by all means, but there’s still work to be done.”

Laine Cibulskis is a second-year student at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics with an emphasis on data and investigative reporting.