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Despite Improvements in Gender Equity at University of Tennessee, Women Still Lag


Full-time women faculty members at the University of Tennessee only make three-quarters what their male counterparts make, an annual faculty salary shows.

More than 80 percent of full professors at UT and just more than 75 percent of tenured faculty members are men.

“This is not any big secret,” said Dr. Mary Papke, an English professor and vice chair of UT’s Commission for Women. “As long as there is that kind of inequity, women are perceived as somehow inferior, as not deserving the same that men get in the university.”

Vice Provost Anne Mayhew, UT’s top academic administrator, said that while the current culture for female faculty members is far better than it was 50 years ago, women still lag.

“ UT’s Knoxville campus has been studying whether women faculty members are being paid comparably to similarly situated men since 1971.

      In the most recent study, full-time male faculty members overall had an average salary of $74,529, while the women averaged $55,811 — a difference of $18,718.

Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree said one of his top priorities is to have gender equity in terms of salaries.

The annual study easily records the gap but doesn’t explain it.

“That’s a complicated question, and there’s no simple answer to it,” Crabtree said.

Administrators and faculty said several factors are responsible.

They said women didn’t start graduate school in large numbers until the mid-1980s and are only now beginning to work their way into high-level positions. Also, women historically were hired at lower salaries than men.

Family responsibilities tend to fall more heavily on women and result in employment gaps that hold down salaries.

Men dominated the fields of business, engineering and the natural sciences, Crabtree said.

“Those are higher-paying disciplines than say, child and family studies would be, or English or history,” he said. “So if you are looking at gross numbers, that’s going to skew it pretty substantially,” Crabtree said.

UT administrators say they want to hire more women in the sciences.

In UT’s 2003-04 Faculty Salary Study, male faculty outnumbered women 161-31 in the natural science departments and the currently outnumber them 113 to 7 in the College of Engineering.

“I think there is (competition for qualified women) and what comes into play is money,” said Christine Boake, head of UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Another university may have a way to accommodate a spouse or may be able to get a much fancier piece of equipment than we can afford.”

Even though more women are entering graduate programs in science-related disciplines than in years past, the number of women professors in those fields remains small.

“We have only three because it is very difficult to find women in this field,” said Soren Sorensen, head of UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Despite attempts by university leaders to encourage qualified women to apply for jobs in those fields, he said sometimes the only qualified applicants are males.

“People try,” said Dr. Claudia Mora, head of UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “I mean UT, I’ve watched them run some searches in biology where they find very good women and they try very hard, but they aren’t able to hire them because someone else makes them a better offer.”

Associated Press

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