Vassar College is being sued for gender-based wage inequality. Yes, you read that correctly. This historically women’s college, an institution that prides itself on diversity, equity and inclusion, is being sued for not paying its women professors at a comparable rate to their masculine-inclined counterparts. There are several things I would like to say about this topic, which I will cover more in depth later in my article, but here is the summary. First, I am not surprised. Women across almost every industry have been saying for decades that they are underpaid, so while upsetting, this is just further evidence that women’s voices are not heard without a litigation megaphone. Second, I love this school and its community, so I am hopeful that the Board of Trustees will get its act together and correct this problem. If they do not, I certainly hope that the students, faculty, staff and alumnae/i community will make their opinions heard. Third, if our professors are facing wage discrimination and being underpaid, what does that mean for everyone else who works on this campus? How does pay compare in every other aspect of the campus? Fourth and finally, this is not only a Vassar College issue. This is a product of a society that undervalues women and penalizes us for being mothers and workers while simultaneously demanding every inch of our labor with a smile, including in higher education. This is a systemic problem that is on the Vassar news cycle now but could move anywhere in the country next. To prevent this from continuing, it is going to take more than Vassar fixing its pay scales. But Vassar is as good a place to start as any.
When I said I was not surprised, here is why. According to Pew Research, the gender pay gap in the United States is barely closing. In 2022, women still earned on average 82 cents to every dollar earned by men. When compared to the 80 cents in 2002, that shows an increase of a mere two cents. I do not believe one tenth of a cent per year qualifies as progress. Women are shown to begin their careers closer to wage equity with men, but that minimal pay gap increases as they age and progress through the workforce. This pay gap remains even though women today are more likely than men to be college-educated. In fact, education means almost nothing when the pay gap between college-educated women and men is no smaller than the one between women and men who do not have a college education.
In higher education, the pay gap continues to match the national average, with women professors earning roughly 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, according to the American Association of University Professors’ annual faculty compensation survey. In fact, the average salary for full-time women faculty at higher education institutions in 2021-2022 was $92,787, while the average salary for men in this field was $113,331. Women are also consistently underrepresented in authority positions in higher education. Only one out of three college presidents is female, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. Vassar has a woman as President of the College, so go us. A little more than one third of college governing board members nationwide are women, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges has found. By the way, ten of the current 21 members of the Vassar Board of Trustees are women, so we are doing well, comparatively speaking. And a quarter of women working for colleges say their gender has hurt their career progression, according to Gallup research.
I could go on for pages and pages about this. We could discuss the societal reality that as women become mothers, they are more likely to be passed over for raises, promotions and workplace responsibilities while the opposite is true for fathers. In fact, fathers work more hours than their child-free counterparts. You can look it up. According to Pew Research, it is called the Fatherhood Wage Premium, a very real reality that fathers make more money than both mothers and child-free women in the workforce. We could discuss how child care is astronomically expensive, often forcing the parent with the lowest salary to work less or not at all under the guise of saving money, thus continuing the cycle of undervaluing women and their labor. According to the American Association of University Women this phenomenon is called the motherhood penalty. We could consider that if the majority of the women faculty are supporting the members of the lawsuit, they are probably not the only ones being underpaid and undervalued on this campus. Like I said, pages of this.
I am not sure what is going to happen in this lawsuit. Frankly, I hope the plaintiffs win or Vassar corrects the issue out of court. Though I know that if they do, Vassar will have to figure out where the money will come from, and it will probably be from us. But I do think we should all be asking, if this is how my professors are being treated now, at this historic institution of higher education, then how will I be treated in the future workforce? This lawsuit is about our futures as much as it is about the women faculty of this College. If we do not demand better now, if we do not support and fight and protest for change now, then 25 years from now, we will be the ones suing.