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University stalling on salary gender gap

The University administration has yet to take action in response to a report published two years ago finding gender inequalities among Columbia researchers.

Commissioned by the University Senate, the report found that female officers of research­ make less money and fill lower ranking positions than their male counterparts.

Officers of research are academic scholars funded by the University to perform independent scientific research, write grants, and, depending on rank, assist other officers in their research projects.

The report, which took four years to complete, was finished in May 2010, and since then, the research committee investigating the salary inequity was disbanded, regrouped, and reorganized several times.

“This is an issue that has fallen between the cracks. Administratively, people have been reluctant to take ownership of this study, to implement the results, and that’s very frustrating,” said Columbia Senior Research Scientist Daniel Savin, chair of the Research Officers Committee and a University Senator.

On average, the study found that there are more male officers of research than female, and men outnumber women in these positions by a significant margin—particularly as researchers, the highest paying position for officers of research.

The report also showed that male officers of research have higher starting salaries than women and earn on average $4,626 more than female officers of research. Salaries for the position are not uniformly determined, but are decided either by the National Institutes of Health or set by the Principal Investigators Association.

Savin said that the University took too long in both completing the study and taking action due to the meaningful results.

While Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, who is in charge of responding to the results of the study, acknowledged that there were differences between the salaries for men and women, he said that this did not necessarily represent an inequality.

“This is a statistically significant result that may or may not be the result of an inequality,” he said. “All we know is that there’s something there that needs attention.”

The Research Officers Committee, under the governance of the University Senate, along with the Commission on the Status of Women, began the salary equity study in 2006, after a preliminary study drew inconclusive evidence concerning salary inequity for men and women.

“We had gotten anecdotal reporting from people complaining about salaries,” Savin said. “From our anecdotal evidence, it seemed to disproportionately affect women, which is why we teamed up with the Commission on the Status of Women to request this study.”

English professor Jenny Davidson, who became co-chair on the Commission on the Status of Women at the beginning of this academic year, said that she has not seen the study but is familiar with the preliminary study that came out a decade ago.

Salary inequity between men and women, she said, may be largely due to the fact that the sciences have typically been a male-dominated field, although Savin pointed out that the male to female ratio of officers of research is more equally distributed than it is for the faculty at Columbia.

“The imbalance is actually less in the research officer track than it is in the faculty track. If the University is aiming to increase diversity in the faculty ranks, one potential source of faculty would be to look at research officers, where we have a higher female to male ratio than they have in the faculty,” Savin said.

Davidson said that the reasons for salary inequity at Columbia could also be rooted in Columbia’s days as a males-only school. Columbia College began admitting women in the 1983-1984 academic year.

“Because Columbia was such a male dominated institution in the ’70’s, it will inevitably take a while for the gender balance to shift,” she said.

Heben Nigatu, CC ’13 and founder of Radical College Undergraduates Not Tolerating Sexism, a student feminist group that began earlier this year, said that salary inequity is common throughout the United States, and it is unrealistic to think that Columbia would be an exception to this trend.

“I don’t think Columbia is any different from the rest of the world. There’s a lot of unique things that happen in this space, but it’s really like a microcosm for the gender discrimination that happens on a larger scale in the U.S.,” Nigatu said.

In response to the findings in the study, Rittenberg plans to bring together a new group of researchers to conduct a follow-up study using different methodology and examining more recent data. He said he hopes the follow-up study will find that there is no longer an inequity of salaries among officers of research, noting that the University recently created a set of salary guidelines for officers of research.

“We’ve put in place a process which reduced the number of exceptions or requests for exceptions to the guidelines. There’s been a tightening up of the salary administration,” he said.

Lucy Drotning, the associate provost for planning and institutional research, who conducted the research from the last study, said that this was the first time officers of research had been the focus of a study, so the new group will “make sure we were on the right track last time.”

Savin said that he thinks the University is dragging its feet. While he said he’d like to see another study conducted, the University should start to changes it policies and see what effects those changes have.

“Delaying implementing those changes by carrying out yet another study is really unfair to all of the people whose livelihoods are being affected by this,” Savin said. “Every year that goes by is x number of thousands of dollars that these employees are potentially losing because they haven’t been hired at a salary level that their peers are being hired at.”

Savin said he would like to see adjustments in starting salaries immediately to eliminate this salary inequity.

“I and the rest of the Research Officers Committee are not going to be satisfied until we actually see action being done, whether it’s starting salary changes, whether it’s salary adjustments for current research officers,” Savin said.

“These are people’s livelihoods that we’re talking about. This is potential discrimination that we’re talking about,” Savin said. “We’re very upset at the University for basically burying this study.”

emma.goss@columbiaspectator.com

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