The University of Dallas' Hard Glass Ceiling

In April, Pope Francis continued his run of saying pleasantly non-regressive things by declaring that men and women deserve equal pay for doing equal work. He called the fact that women are often paid less a "pure scandal" at odds with the Christian notion of radical equality. But here he was hardly bucking papal tradition. Two decades earlier, in his "Letter to Women" ("I greet you all most cordially,
women throughout the world!"), Pope John Paul II said much the same thing, declaring "an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State."

The University of Dallas, a small Catholic school in Irving, is not, at the moment, living up to that ideal. Not that UD is unique in that regard. Gender disparities, both in pay and in representation in top professorships and administrative positions, are widespread in academia as elsewhere and it is a subject of much debate. But according to a study recently completed by the university's "Presidential Commission on Workplace Fairness, Equity and Respect," the disparity at UD is significantly starker.

This gap at UD isn't new. According to a female former employee of the university, women at the university have long chafed at a university culture that seemed to favor men, a perception reinforced by the lack of women in top leadership positions. But it wasn't until the spring of 2014, when female faculty began complaining on a campus-wide faculty listserv that they were being paid less than similarly situated male colleagues, that UD President Thomas Keefe formed the equity commission and promised to study it.

The commission spent the next year analyzing hiring and promotion data, gathering results from a climate survey to determine how employees felt about their work environment, conducting exit surveys to figure out why former employees had left and performing compensation analyses. The review was both quantitative (determining the percentage of full professors who were women and comparing this with other institutions) and qualitative (finding out how women feel about working at UD).

On questions of pay, which prompted the review in the first place, the results are somewhat muddy. A consultant hired by the commission performed a statistical analysis of UD salary data that looked at a variety of factors that might influence pay, including age, rank, tenure status, years with the university and, of course, gender. The consultant found that only two variables predicted the salaries of UD faculty: the reference pay published by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources and whether the faculty member had previously served as an administrator. On average, there was no evidence that gender had any influence on salary.

The commission greeted the results with a raised eyebrow and performed its own computations, jettisoning the consultant's multiple regression analysis and instead just calculating averages. That revealed that the average female faculty member was paid $2,857 less per year than the average male faculty member, with variations in that number based on rank (assistant professor, associate professor or full professor) and academic unit, with the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business operating with an average salary gap of just more than $5,000.

More striking is scarcity of women in tenure/tenure-track faculty jobs and top administrative positions. Women account for slightly less than a third of all tenure-track faculty (the national average of religious colleges and universities is about 45 percent). The percentage of women is lower as one moves up the food chain. Women at UD make up less than a quarter of tenured professors and less than a fifth of full professors, both lower than national averages. The only faculty classification in which women outnumber men at UD and in which UD outpaces the national average is "full-time, non-tenure track," which is basically the lowest rung on the academic totem pole; women fill about 55 percent of those positions. The story is similar for administrators, with fewer women higher up the ladder. Women accounted for 37 percent of administrator-years (i.e., one person serving one year at a given position) at the lower administrative rungs since the 1999-2000 school year. That drops to 9 percent for director/chairmanships and 7 percent for deanships, where women served just five out of 71 total administrator-years.

Nor are the qualitative assessments much better. The commission noted that the climate survey of current faculty revealed a "remarkably high number of comments" on gender discrimination. "Several commenters reported inappropriate comments toward women, a feeling of women being left out of departmental activities, and the perceived lack of advancement opportunities or committee appointments for women." The former staffer we spoke with said these issues were hard to get addressed because the university had no well-established channel in which she and female colleagues felt comfortable reporting inappropriate behavior or similar problems.

Keefe, the university's president, wasn't available for an interview. Instead, a UD spokesman provided the four-page written response Keefe distributed to faculty last month. He portrays the commission as motivated by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church (as opposed to being motivated by complaints on a faculty listserv) and stresses that he is already working to improve conditions at the university and right the gender imbalance. In four of the past five years, the number of women hired for tenure-track positions has been double that of men, and the past two years has seen an "improvement in the tenure award for female professors," suggesting that the university has begun to offer better opportunities for career advancement. That said, Keefe pledges to take a number of steps to further improve conditions, by establishing equity and diversity and "Great Place to Work" committees and reinforcing a commitment to diversity in hiring and promotions.

Even if the school does follow through, it will take a while to rebuild trust with those who feel they've gotten a raw deal. That process wasn't helped by the school's sudden failure, right after the commission finished analyzing university-provided salary data, to report salary data to the American Association of University Professors, as basically every respectable college and university does.