Closing The Gap

Princeton agrees to pay over $1 million to female professors after federal review finds pay gaps

Students walking to classes at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Barry Winiker | Getty Images

Princeton University has entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to pay $925,000 in back pay and at least $250,000 in future salary adjustments to female professors who earned less money than their male peers.

The agreement follows a review by OFCCP that found between 2012 and 2014, 106 female professors at Princeton received less pay than male professors.

Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said in a statement last week that the school contested the allegations because they were based on a "flawed statistical model that grouped all full professors together regardless of department" and it did not reflect how the university hires and compensates its staff.

People walk on the Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey.
Craig Warga | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"In other words, a professor of English cannot perform the duties of a professor in the Physics department, and vice versa," he said, while adding that the university did its own statistical analysis of pay data between 2012 and 2014 and found no disparities.

But, despite the university's confidence in their pay practice, Chang said "Princeton agreed to resolve the dispute to avoid lengthy and costly litigation."

Craig E. Leen, director at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said he's "satisfied" with the university's decision to pursue an "early resolution conciliation agreement" and address the pay issues the Labor Department found in its review.

"Early resolution conciliation agreements are an effective tool for contractors to ensure equitable pay to employees, enhance internal salary equity reviews, and proactively correct disparities uncovered," Leen said in a statement.

In addition to paying nearly $1.2 million in back pay and salary adjustments, Princeton has agreed to conduct pay equity training for all individuals involved in the compensation process and will take steps to conduct statistical analysis to ensure that pay disparities don't exist among male and female professors.

In 2018, the most recent year for which The Chronicle of Higher Education offers salary data, women professors at Princeton earned an average of $234,593 per year, compared to male professors earning an average of $252,805 per year. At four-year nonprofit colleges, senior-level male professors across the U.S. earned an average of $18,200 more per year than senior-level female professors, according to a 2017 study released by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 2019, Ohio State University professor Joyce Chen released a report to show just how common these pay disparities are in academia after finding that tenured women professors at Ohio State University earn 11% less than male tenured professors.

Many of these pay gaps, Chen explained in a statement, exist between academic departments, with many male-dominated fields offering higher salaries.

"Economists make more than those working in humanities in part because economists can leave and go work at a financial firm or a think tank," she said. "But, fundamentally, do the tasks performed by professors in different departments differ enough to justify these wage gaps?"

Chen said she hopes that her report on pay disparities in academia will help "refute the many justifications put forth to explain the gender pay gap" because "many of these justifications may themselves be the result of implicit or explicit bias."

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