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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Addressing the faculty pay gap at UNC


DTH Photo Illustration.

We live in a disappointing, yet unsurprising reality where not even higher education is immune to salary inequities across the payment of faculty and staff — our university included.

To put it plainly in the words of Misha Becker, “male faculty earn more on average than female faculty,” and “white faculty earn more on average than faculty who identify as African American, Latinx, American Indian or another racial category.” 

Disappointing, yet unsurprising.

Becker may have brought salary equity into the light during a Faculty Council meeting on March 11. Studies show this has been a consistent issue at our institution — one that has been building for years.

In the Permanent Employee Characteristics report from fall 2021, we see who makes up the faculty body here at UNC.

  • 66.7 percent of faculty and staff are white.
  • 11.8 percent are Black or African American.
  • 8.6 percent Asian, 4.9 percent Hispanic, .5 percent American Indian, Alaskan or Pacific Islander.
  • 2 percent are two or more races, and 5.5 percent are non-resident aliens or unknown. 
  • 41.9 percent are male and 58.1 percent are female. 

UNC ranks 45th in faculty average salary for professors, 62nd for associates and 39th for assistants.

Both UNC's Committee on the Status of Women and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment have composed thorough studies on salary equity. The results of both illuminate where UNC is lacking, and what the troubling outcomes of continued inequality would be. 

COSOW found that from 2014 to 2017, men on UNC faculty earn 28 percent more than women. This is visible when compared to male faculty, we see female faculty are more likely to have a fixed term appointment, hold an academic rank of assistant professor or instructor, not hold a distinguished title, have spent fewer years in their current rank and specialize in a lower-paying disciplines. 

Faculty members in other racial and ethnic groups are more likely to be on tenure track but not yet be tenured, hold an academic rank below full professor and also have spent fewer years in their current rank. 

Following Nikole Hannah-Jones' tenure case, many faculty of color at UNC expressed exhaustion, overburdened and left without support in their work. Salary inequity has exacerbated this issue. 

Minorities in faculty and staff positions on our campus have significantly become underrepresented in specific fields and discussion.

The truth is undeniable and disheartening, but the results of these studies put UNC in a position to become a change maker, locally and nationally.

COSOW partnered with the Fixed Term Faculty Committee and the Faculty Welfare Committee to come up with solutions focused on three areas: attention, analysis and accountability. This includes sustained attention from top University leaders and faculty, consistent salary studies and both internal and external accountability measures.

The wage gap is prevalent across all sectors, and higher education is not excluded. But now we have been made aware of the extent of salary inequity, change can be made. Along with attention, analysis and accountability, COSOW composed the four R’s: recognition, research and transparency, retain and review, and repair. In their words, the problem can only be addressed once we recognize that there is one.

What we can do now is ask for more from our university. COSOW proposed a “chancellor's task force,” or a group that will continue to research salary equity and serve as a source of accountability. Further research studying gender, racial and pay inequity at UNC must be funded.

In addition, by creating policies of pay transparency and pay equity between various fields of research, disparities between race and gender can begin to be diminished. This is imperative, given that Black, Indigenous and other faculty of color are more likely to work and research in the humanities, which generally see lower salaries and less funding than STEM departments.

This, in turn, can help recruit and retain diverse people and groups in campus faculty and staff. Departments on our campus can only do so much, but if we join them in asking for recognition and support from those in power positions at our university, we might begin to see slow but steady change around us.


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