A recently released salary survey highlights an ongoing gender pay gap issue within the realm of full-time faculty positions.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which conducted the analysis using data from over 375,000 full-time faculty members spanning 900 institutions, revealed that male faculty members earned an average annual salary of more than $117,000, which was approximately $20,800 more than their female counterparts.
When the focus shifted solely to full-time, full professors (excluding assistant and associate professors), male faculty members earned an average of $156,700, a substantial $20,300 more than female full professors. Notably, a majority of those occupying these higher-compensated positions were men, making up 65 percent of the total.
This discrepancy in faculty salaries is not a recent development. AAUP’s trend graphs, which trace back to 2016, demonstrate that the gender pay gap among male and female full professors has actually widened since then, growing from the $17,100 difference observed in 2016.
Alarmingly, even institutions with predominantly female histories, such as Vassar College, have not been immune to this problem.
A lawsuit filed on August 30 highlights the persistence of these gender pay inequities at Vassar College, one of the Seven Sisters, a group of prestigious historically women-only colleges in the Northeastern United States.
The lawsuit, initiated by five female full professors at Vassar, alleges that these faculty members had previously reported concerns about unequal pay as far back as 2008.
Vassar College, although historically a women’s institution, became coeducational in 1969. The plaintiffs’ legal team is pushing for the case to be granted class-action status, representing all current and former female full professors at Vassar from May 2015 onwards.
The expected monetary damages from this lawsuit will be determined through expert analysis, and the class could potentially include at least 65 individuals.
Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization focusing on legal, legislative, and advocacy work, is also supporting the lawsuit.
They presented a letter, signed by 36 female full professors or professors emeritae at Vassar, endorsing the legal action.
These signatories emphasized the severe impact that Vassar’s failure to address the gender wage gap has had on the affected faculty members, both financially and professionally. They argue that it represents a fundamental betrayal by the institution.
According to the lawsuit, pay disparities at Vassar are more pronounced among female full professors with extended tenures. In 2020–21, Vassar’s own study found that the gender pay gap was most significant among long-serving women, with a median annual salary difference of approximately $30,000.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, demands monetary damages, equal pay for female full professors performing substantially similar work to their male counterparts, and an end to discriminatory promotion and evaluation practices at Vassar.
This lawsuit not only highlights the persistent gender pay gap within academia but also underscores the importance of addressing this issue even at institutions with strong historical ties to gender equality.
While Vassar has publicly emphasized its commitment to gender equality, the lawsuit reveals a stark contrast between this commitment and the reality of pay disparities within the institution.
This case serves as a reminder that progress toward gender pay equity within academia and other sectors is still far from complete.