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Research shows significant inequities in UNC faculty salaries

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Over a nine-month period, a female faculty member will make a salary about $27,000 less than that of a male faculty member.

And over a nine-month period, a Black faculty member will make a salary of approximately $21,000 less than that of a white faculty member.

These statistics were presented by Misha Becker, a UNC professor and chairperson of the linguistics department, during the March 11 Faculty Council meeting. Becker recently led a detailed research report examining salary equities at the University.

"It's not enough to just talk about it, we have to really do the work, too," she said.

When Becker became the linguistics chairperson in 2018, she began to hear from other faculty members about their unhappiness with salary equity in the University.

After looking at salaries within her own department, she started to find inequities throughout multiple departments and schools.

These findings are what inspired her research, which has been presented to various meetings on campus over the past two months.

"There have to be contributions to that effort from all corners of our campus, and from all levels of the administration leadership," Becker said.

Becker and her team’s research is primarily based on data from the 2020 Office of Institutional Research and Assessment study. Using the OIRA data, the team studied the difference in faculty salaries, as well as distribution of distinguished professorships — with a focus on race and gender.

They found that there are significant racial- and gender-based inequities within faculty salaries at the University.

"In a public university where all salaries are public, you know what the person next door or how much your boss is making," Deb Aikat, journalism associate professor, said. "Salary inequities sap the person's motivation to give them the best, or to work. How would you feel if you realized that you are doing the same work as a colleague, and you are getting almost 20 percent less?"

Gender disparities

Along with a difference in salaries, research also shows that distinguished professorships are less common for female faculty members.

In academic affairs, 20 percent of male faculty hold a distinguished title, while less than eight percent of female faculty do, Becker said.

"There's this barrier that we're not supposed to talk about money and talk about salaries," Sue Estroff, a social medicine professor, said. "And in some ways, I think we've gotten inured to seeing these differences on graphs."

In addition to the information from the OIRA study, Becker also shared a 2019 study from UNC's Committee on the Status of Women.

The study found that gender-based salary disparities exist in every UNC school, with the exception of the School of Nursing and the then-School of Media and Journalism.

The largest gap between male and female salaries was found in the School of Medicine — at 39 percent.

When inclusively reviewed, all of the schools have a combined percent disparity of nearly 30 percent between male and female faculty salaries.

"We are a research University," Ariana Vigil, a women’s and gender studies professor, said. "We study these things. I talk about these things with my students, and I would like us to be able to address them and respond to the research."

Racial disparities

When average salaries were compared across race, faculty who are Hispanic, Native American, or of two or more races were found to make $30,754 less than white faculty members, and $43,235 less than Asian faculty members, Becker said at the Faculty Council meeting.

Additionally, about 18 percent of white faculty hold distinguished professorships in comparison to five percent of Black faculty and just above five percent of faculty who are Hispanic, Native American or two or more races.

“One cannot claim ignorance of the issue, right?” Vigil said. “There have been several reports over the past decade — more — documenting this issue, so we know that it exists. And now we need action.”

Racial disparities at UNC transcend faculty salaries. After the UNC Board of Trustees' initial failure to grant tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, many faculty of color decided to leave the University, citing problems with treatment, retention and representation.

Provost Chris Clemens said in a statement via Media Relations that one of his top priorities is addressing support, promotion and retention for UNC faculty.

“A large part of that is examining our structures for promotion and for recognitions and nominations," Clemens said. "Different perspectives, backgrounds and beliefs are critical in building a vibrant community where we can teach and learn together.”

University leaders and faculty have held discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion strategies throughout past open meetings, including recent Faculty Executive Committee and Faculty Council meetings.

“I think it's just really important for UNC, if we are going to claim to care about DEI and building our community together, that's one of the pillars of our strategic plan,” Becker said. "If we're going to claim to do that, we really have to do the work of enacting these measures that will bring about equity.”

'Attention. Analysis. Accountability.'

To begin making faculty salaries more equitable at the University, Becker suggests that the University focus on three priorities: attention, analysis and accountability.

Estroff echoed Becker’s suggestion that all levels of UNC faculty members should be educated on this matter and pay continuous attention to finding solutions.

“You can’t wait for the deans and the other people, this is on all of us,” she said. “So in every department, if every faculty member at a faculty meeting said, ‘How are we doing salaries in this department? And who gets to decide? And what kind of process do we have? And what kind of process should we have?’ That will change it.”

Along with the collaboration at all levels of faculty, Becker suggests implementing a committee that is dedicated to accomplishing both short and long-term goals.

These goals, she said, can be achieved through reviewing annual salary equity analyses, investigating salaries within specific departments, updating the University on any progress and more.

The dedication to attention and analysis should also be met with internal and external accountability, Becker told the Faculty Council.

“Department chairs have to be accountable to their deans, and deans have to be accountable to the provost and to the chancellor,” she said. “So, there has to be sort of a way of holding people accountable who make decisions about salary and raises — really at all levels, and throughout the University.

To help address faculty salary inequities at UNC, the Faculty Council recently adopted a resolution put forth by COSOW, the Faculty Welfare Committee and the Committee on Fixed-Term Faculty.

Components of the resolution included annual reports on salary equity, the implementation of a faculty salary oversight committee and the creation of a publicly available dashboard to track salary data.

Becker's presentation on faculty salary equity is available to the public and has been shared with current faculty during meetings over the past two months.

“You have to realize that the situation is bad when a faculty committee has to point this out in a public space,” Aikat said. “I mean this is terrible.”

@livvreilly

university@dailytarheel.com | elevate@dailytarheel.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated a quote from Sue Estroff, a social medicine professor. In her quote, she said inured, not innerve. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.  

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