Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: The quest for equality

Like most colleges and universities, Boston University has been operating with decades-old, gender-based salary inequalities for its full professors. Unlike most other institutions, BU’s male-female full professor salary gap was twice that of the national average in 2005. Under the direction of President Robert Brown and University Provost David Campbell, the gap has narrowed since then, but the university shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations about a complicated issue that may be best solved with time.

Under John Silber’s administration from the 1970s to the 1990s, gender salary equality was not an issue that was addressed by the university. Despite claims of administrative sexism by the faculty, the question of pay scale equality remained unanswered until recently.

Partly due to this long period of ignoring the issue, a male-dominated faculty was built and has achieved seniority over women ‘-‘- some of whom felt uncomfortable working under Silber. When a group of professors filed sexual discrimination case against BU in 1986, faculty members testified that Silber referred to the English department as ‘a damn matriarchy,’ according to a Sept. 29, 2005 Boston Globe article.

The longer-tenured, more senior male faculty were naturally given higher salaries than their female subordinates. Now, partly because of this situation, BU appears to be paying its male professors more than its female professors on average.

By conducting wide merit-based searches for new teaching candidates and even explicitly addressing individual pay inequality cases, BU has already done much to close the gender gap in terms of average professor salary. The overall gap for 2008 was much closer to that of the national average. The salary gap for associate or assistant professors, which are more often new hires, is actually more narrow than the national average.

But for many of the highest-paid male full professors on BU’s faculty, there is little the administration can do to adjust the existing gap. Until these men retire or move on to other institutions, the numbers for BU will likely be skewed in the direction of inequality.

BU should certainly push for equality in its professors’ salaries, but it should hold no illusions for what can actually be done to change things. More subtle details, such as the maternity leave policy and difficulties in contract negotiations continue to hold female faculty members back, and should be addressed. Several institutions have found success in introducing a paternity leave policy. Salary negotiations should be handled in a more objective manner.

Until these issues are addressed, either by the university or through natural changes in faculty compensation with the passage of time, BU ‘-‘- not to mention other universities ‘-‘- cannot have totally equal salaries for men and women. It may take some time for schools to live down their gender-biased pasts, but it will happen eventually.

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