Below are statements from some of the plaintiffs appearing at the October 15 press conference:
Professor of Journalism and Media Students, School of Communication and Information, 16 years at Rutgers University
My name is Deepa Kumar, and I am a professor of Media Studies at the School of Communication and Information, or SCI. I was promoted to full professor this past June. I am also the immediate past president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.
I was asked to say a little about my credentials, so here goes: I am a scholar of gender, race, and class with an expertise in Islamophobia. I have over 75 publications, which include books, journal articles, book chapters, and articles in mainstream and independent media. I have won several national and Rutgers awards for my scholarship and service. My work has been translated into eight languages and is read around the world. I have also been sought out as an expert and given over 200 news media interviews for global and national outlets from the BBC, to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, and NPR.
I joined Rutgers in 2004 as an assistant professor. I was part of cohort of five colleagues, all white women and men except for me, who were hired around the same time at SCI. I started with a good salary, higher than several of these colleagues, because I had four years seniority, having taught at Wake Forest University before coming to Rutgers. However, in slightly over a decade, I had fallen to the lowest paid. My salary was on average $13,500 less than the other members of the cohort. This is despite the fact that my accomplishments matched and, in several cases, exceeded those of my peers.
During this time, SCI also lost a number of faculty of color. SCI has what is called a “revolving door” with faculty of color. For instance in 2012, there were six tenured and tenure track faculty of color at SCI. By 2020, five of those faculty had left. We have since hired new faculty of color. However, out of a total of 42 tenured and tenure track faculty at SCI, there are only two tenured faculty of color: one associate professor and one full professor (me). In fact, I am the first person of color to be promoted to full professor in the entire history of the School of Communication and Information. With such a climate, it has been hard to win pay equity.
When I first approached my dean after I got tenure back in 2010 to ask for a salary adjustment, I was told that would only be possible if I got a job offer from another university; then, as part of a retention offer, my salary could be increased. It is well documented that women are not as mobile as men, because they have husbands/partners who cannot move or family members who require care, such as elderly parents or young children. So when this is presented as the only mechanism by which women can achieve salary parity they lose out. Also, this is a game that many of us are unwilling to play. Unless we are serious about moving, we do not want to waste our time as well as the time of colleagues at other schools applying for jobs we don’t intend to take just to get an equity correction to our salaries. Further, we believe that loyalty should be rewarded.
In 2018, Cambridge University approached me to apply for a full professor position. I was honored that I had come to the attention of one of the leading universities in the world and was part of a handful of scholars who were invited to apply. Last year, another university offered me an endowed chair position, which is a prestigious distinction. Yet I was given a $6,000 salary increase as part of a retention offer. This stands in stark contrast to a white male in my cohort who was offered slightly over $22,000 over a decade ago for an assistant professor position. Also, other white faculty at my rank in the last four years have received at least $14,500 in salary increases in their retention offers, and none of these were for endowed chair positions. My colleagues are excellent scholars and teachers and deserve every penny they have earned. My point is, so do I. This is a fundamental question of equity: equal pay for equal work.
Let me explain concretely what pay inequity means over the course of a career. In the last twelve years, I would estimate that I have lost over $300,000 in earnings because I wasn’t paid what I should have been. This has real consequences for my social security, pensions, and savings. It has an impact on the rate at which I pay my loans, when I am able to retire, and how much I am able to support members of my family.
I am a plaintiff in this lawsuit because I don’t want to see others go through what I have gone through.
In my time as an officer of this union, I have attempted to help many colleagues, not so coincidentally all women, with similar pay equity struggles. And I can speak both for them and myself when I say that it is distressing, humiliating, and frustrating to be paid and valued less because of gender or a combination of race and gender factors. I wanted to say this even though I am more comfortable talking about intellectual matters, about research and statistics rather than emotions. The point is that there are real human beings behind these statistics, and it is important to know their stories and the pain that they have felt at not being treated equally.
This is why I spearheaded and led a program of gender and race equity as president of the AAUP-AFT. There were many dimensions to this program, and salary equity was one key part. To make our case for salary equity, I asked Professor Mark Killingsworth, an economics professor trained at the University of Oxford, to study gender inequities. Professor Killingsworth found that there were systematic pay differences between male and female faculty. We presented this hard data at the bargaining table, but to no avail. As David Hughes, the chair of our bargaining committee, put it, “Management refused to accept that there were structural problems. They even argued that there are cases where women should earn less because they have less accomplishments than their male counterparts.”
But our faculty wouldn’t have this. They were ready to go on strike for this and other issues, and on the brink of a strike last year, we achieved an historic agreement. The pay equity part of our contract is truly significant for two reasons. First, I don’t believe that any other institution of higher education has such protections. So this sets a precedent that could strike a blow against pay inequity at universities across this country. Second, it creates a mechanism whereby faculty can achieve pay equity within 90 working days. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and other protected categories, and New Jersey has some of the best protections in the country, thanks to Governor Murphy’s 2018 Pay Equity Law. However, most people do not have the time, energy, or, most importantly, money to participate in a long, drawn-out legal battle. Our contract saves them this hardship and makes the law concrete and available to all faculty—not just in the protected classes I just mentioned but to everyone who is paid less for substantially similar work. This is what unions do: take a law that has a largely abstract existence for most people and make it concrete and realizable for their members in a process that is neither time-consuming nor expensive.
Unfortunately, the University has failed to honor this agreement. Since our contract was ratified and went into effect on July 1, 2019, not one single case has been settled, and some faculty have been waiting over a year. I will use the words of the Rev Martin Luther King, who said, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I am deeply grateful to our current union leadership for their commitment to continuing this struggle and for their commitment to gender and race equity. They have been working over the last 15 months with management to try to get this program off the ground. Unfortunately, they have not found willing partners on the other side with Barchi-era administration officials.
This is why the five of us who are plaintiffs have come forward to be part of a lawsuit that can win economic justice, not just for us but, through our example, for all faculty. We are fighting not because we are the most discriminated against or because our salaries are the lowest. We are all senior professors with job security at a unionized university. And we are speaking out and telling our stories because so many others cannot, others who are in far worse situations than us and are more vulnerable. For example, there are non-tenured track faculty who are paid low wages for a very heavy workload. Our union believes in the principle of protecting the most vulnerable, and what that means is that those of us who have seniority and job security are willing to step forward to advance the collective good.
Over half a century ago, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her female colleagues at Rutgers-Newark filed a class action lawsuit and won. The arc of history bends towards justice, and I believe that we will prevail.
I am also optimistic because last week I spoke to our new President, Dr. Jonathan Holloway, in my capacity as the co-chair of the university committee on diversity, race, and gender. President Holloway has laid out a bold new vision of inclusion, diversity, and equity for Rutgers. And in my conversation with him I came to see that he is deeply committed to this vision and to equity. I am hopeful that this will translate in a rapid way and with urgency into a real shift in the institutional culture at Rutgers, which for too long has sidelined these issues. As a distinguished historian, Dr. Holloway knows better than I do that justice delayed is justice denied.
Let me end by making something clear: I love my job, and I have great students, wonderful colleagues, and an amazing union. My colleagues and several people in the dean’s office at SCI, the new Vice President for Equity Dr. Anna Branch, and others are working to change the climate for people of color. But real equity is possible only if the institution as a whole is committed to it. That is why the plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit—to redress unlawful pay practices at Rutgers. Every faculty member deserves to be valued for the sum total of their contributions—research, teaching, and service—and to be paid equally for substantially equal work. Nothing less than that will do.
Distinguished Professor, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy; Director, Bloustein Center for Survey Research; 29 years at Rutgers University
My name is Nancy Wolff, and I am a distinguished professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. For nearly 30 years, I have been advancing the interests and values of Rutgers University through exemplary teaching, research, and service. But during that time, Rutgers did not safeguard my economic interests by paying me fairly. For at least 15 years, I have been consistently paid less than my male faculty counterparts who are doing substantially similar work. While I am focusing on the past 15 years, it is important to note that it could be longer, but I don’t have good data for the earlier years. Over these 15 years, I have pursued remedy for this inequality with some modest success, but the equity program negotiated by the AAUP-AFT union last year offered me hope to finally be paid equal to by male-equivalents at Rutgers.
In good faith, nearly 10 months ago, I submitted an application to the pay equity program but have yet received a response to my application. My understanding of the planned response by the University Compensation Service, the group reviewing the applications, is wholly inadequate because it continues the normalization of unequal pay between female and male faculty who are doing substantially similar work. The solution is not to lessen the pay inequity but to ensure pay equity between female and male faculty equivalents. By continuing to pay me unequally, I am being asked to continue to subsidize the university’s active practice of unequal pay between female and male faculty. Conservatively estimated, I have already foregone over a half a million dollars in wages over the past 15 years. That translates into a $500,000 subsidy to Rutgers that has been used by Rutgers to pay my male faculty equivalents more. According to the New Jersey Equal Pay Act, this hidden subsidy scheme is illegal.
I joined this lawsuit with four similarly aggrieved Rutgers female faculty to reveal this scheme and to require that Rutgers administration practice the values that we as faculty uphold in our classrooms and through our research and service, by paying female faculty fairly for their consistently outstanding contributions to the mission, success, and reputation of Rutgers. We as a university cannot stand for social justice when we do not practice social and economic justice within our own community. While Rutgers has been willing to acknowledge my contributions to the research and service mission of the university through promotions and service awards, it has been unwilling to pay me the salary that those same promotions and awards have yielded my male counterparts. Pay equity should be the new normal at Rutgers. It is my hope that economic justice will prevail through our lawsuit and that our success will change what is normal in terms of pay equity at Rutgers moving forward.
E.M. Forster is quoted as saying, “How do I know who I am until I see what I do?” Over the past 30 years as a Rutgers faculty member, I have shown who I am in part through my scholarship that includes over 100 peer-reviewed articles, several books, and dozens of chapters and reports; I have also shown it through the quality of my teaching and through the over $25 million in grants and contracts awarded to me as principal investigator. I’ve also shown who I am through my service work inside New Jersey and Pennsylvania prisons that has received numerous awards, including the Rutgers Class of ’62 President’s Public Service Award, for which, for the first time in its history, the selection committee doubled the monetary award to honor the quality of my service. That service, which spanned over a decade, included spearheading the establishment and management of peer-run community centers inside prisons, a monthly newsletter written by female residents, programs to help women and men heal from trauma while incarcerated, book clubs, yoga, and meditation programs, a weight loss program, and a reentry readiness course, all of which were externally funded. At one point and for many years, I directed a federally funded advance research center, while also doing over 20 hours of service work inside New Jersey and Pennsylvania prisons each week.
But who I am is not defined simply by what I do but by the values that inspire the effort. I am motivated by the pursuit of excellence, the integrity of character, and the fair and just treatment of all people. Rutgers has given me the opportunity for 30 years to prove who I am through what I have accomplished. For this I am very grateful. Over the years, I have chosen to stay at Rutgers even after receiving several unsolicited competitive job offers, including an endowed chair at another university. I did not use these offers to leverage a merit raise because I firmly believe that merit can be measured reliably and accurately and compensated accordingly without outside offers. This is what the union’s pay equity process sets out to do. Moreover, like Deepa, I believe that gaming the system should not be the way to achieve salary equity with our male peers. More to this point, I have remained loyal to Rutgers over the years in part because I value my students and colleagues here, the research environment, my connections to the community, and the staff of the research centers that I have directed. I have served Rutgers proudly and earnestly during my tenure, even when I knew that my contributions were undervalued and ignored.
Please know that today is not one of my proudest days at Rutgers. I am deeply saddened that I have been compelled to seek legal remedy against my beloved University. But my loyalty will always weigh heaviest for values that adhere to principles of fair treatment. And because I am a senior, tenured, accomplished, and principled faculty member, I have a duty to stand up and speak up when I see wrongdoing. I am a party to this lawsuit because there is wrongdoing here. I have not, nor have the other four principled and accomplished colleagues who are also parties to this lawsuit, received fair compensation relative to our male counterparts. We have individually and consistently shown who we are to our students, colleagues, staff, deans, and chancellors through our accomplishments and commitment to excellence for decades. Who we are is as clear as the wrongdoing. Who Rutgers University is will be apparent by what it does and does not do in response to the evidence of wrongdoing. All I know for sure is: this is not how we treat women in a just and fair community or in a beloved community. I am hopeful that Rutgers administration will rise up by lifting up the economic welfare of female faculty in parity with their male counterparts by adopting a zero tolerance for pay inequity in both word and action.
Distinguished Professor, Nutritional Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, 28 years at Rutgers University
I’m Judy Storch, Distinguished Professor in the Nutritional Sciences Department at Rutgers New Brunswick. My laboratory, which has trained dozens of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral researchers, can be broadly classified as a Biomedical Sciences research lab. I have been funded continuously as a Principal Investigator by the National Institutes of Health for the entire time that I’ve been a faculty member at Rutgers. I have been invited to give over 150 research talks in the United States and abroad. I am Editor in Chief of a highly respected scientific journal in my field, which is cell and molecular lipid (or fat) biology. Recently, I was elected as a Fellow of the American Society for Nutrition, the highest honor bestowed by the society. In teaching and in service, my contributions to the University and to my profession have been abundant, recognized, and rewarded.
I am deeply appreciative of Professors Deepa Kumar and Nancy Wolff for so eloquently communicating the clear rationale behind our participation in this legal action. I concur fully with their statements. I will add just a few points to their narratives.
I’ll start with a quote from my mother, who said the following to me when I called to tell her that I’d been promoted to Full Professor: That’s great Judy. But if you knew you were going to work this hard, why didn’t you become a REAL doctor?
What I’ve tried to let my mother know, over the years, is how thoroughly I enjoy being a “PhD-doctor,” as she calls it: a professor and especially a research-active professor. That I have the most wonderful colleagues, that my students invigorate and challenge me, that I have the opportunity to explore and exchange ideas with brilliant people. And to do work that contributes to our collective health and well-being. The composite of my work—in research, teaching, and service—means that yes, I do work hard.
So much so that I admittedly did not even open the emails from the union about the Pay Equity Program, needing to fend off the never-ending email avalanche and focus on the many items on my to-do list. But then a colleague said to me: you ought to take a look at this program, I bet you’ll find it enlightening. So one weekend I decided to open the emails and have a look at the comparative salary data that had been compiled. It’s safe to say that I was stunned. Floored, astounded at how much less I was being paid than the average of my largely male counterparts, namely Distinguished Professors in the Biomedical Sciences. And then I looked further and saw that in virtually every category, for every rank in every department or program, women were being paid less than men. This struck me as clearly unjust and unfair.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue” is a central tenet that I was raised with and that informs my thinking and, I believe, my actions as an individual. I am not a litigious person—to put it mildly—and in fact, this is all very new and frankly uncomfortable to me. I nevertheless have come forward because I believe that this is the right thing to do. I am deeply committed to my work at Rutgers, and as I said, I truly honor and admire my colleagues here. I really like the deans of my school. In fact, I believe that my male colleagues are supportive of the just concept of equal pay for substantially similar work, and that they too would be dismayed to see the structural pay inequities that exist at our university.
My hope is that by speaking out along with my sister plaintiffs, I might help bring to light the problem of pay inequity at Rutgers. I sincerely hope that the university will do the right thing, not just by the five of us but for everyone who is paid less for doing substantially similar work as their peers. It is truly disturbing that marked pay inequities still remain at the university, even 50-plus years after Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her female colleagues at Rutgers filed a lawsuit and won.