A 2010 study revealed significant disparities in the pay of female, non-resident alien, and Asian researchers at Columbia—but administrators now consider the data to be outdated and have said that they will conduct a follow-up study.
The report was commissioned in 2006, but it was not published until 2010. As early as 2009, critics had voiced concerns that the administration was stalling on addressing inequity issues, but even after the study was published, it was unclear whether administrators would take any action.
Now, they’ve decided to do a new study. The purpose of the proposed follow-up is to investigate the existence of salary inequalities with newer data and provide more reliable results before modifying existing conditions, Vice Provost for Academic Administration Stephen Rittenberg said.
The Senate Research Officers Committee stated in its 2011-2012 report that it “has little sense of whether the report’s recommendations have been implemented throughout the University,” even after repeated meetings with administrators.
“They’ve been unable to report to us how many salaries have been adjusted, or if there have been any changes in hiring practices,” Daniel Savin, Columbia senior research scientist and chairman of the ROC, said. “From our perspective, it doesn’t seem as if the executive VPs and deans have acted on this report.”
Rittenberg said that there is a University-wide standard minimum salary established for post-doctoral fellows, but not as a result of the salary equity review. In an interview, he was unable to recall any changes stemming from the results of the previous study.
Rittenberg wrote off the delay in progress as “an ongoing process of evaluation with no one study being the final word.” He added that analysis of the results from the study is complicated by the confounding variables associated with officers of research, including variation in rules, funding sources, and titles.
Proposed in 2006, the original study was the first at Columbia to analyze the salaries of research officers specifically. The study was published in 2010 but analyzed data from 2005, and showed disparities between researchers’ salaries with respect to sex, race, nationality, and time spent at Columbia.
“Officers of research are very disparate in the kinds of things that they do,” Lucy Drotning, associate provost for planning and institutional research, said. “We’re looking for systematic differences, trying to control for everything we can measure.”
Salary structures change naturally over time, Rittenberg said, and administrators are examining “whether those changes eliminate any statistically significant results we saw or create new ones.”
Savin said that he is pleased the University is taking the matter seriously enough to propose another study, but he still has some reservations.
“The provost’s office is taking a more passive approach of conducting a study to see if changes have been implemented,” he said. “But there should also be reports from the executive VPs and the deans as to what they have done in their schools to address this issue.”
Still, Savin said that he has “total confidence in Stephen Rittenberg’s ability to push this through.”
“I just hope he finishes it faster than the last time,” Savin said.
Drotning said that the new study will likely use the same methodology as the previous one and that now, with a better understanding of the study’s limitations and proxies, it is reasonable to expect faster results. Rittenberg said that the new study’s findings are projected to come out at the end of the spring semester.