Union Leaders Say Salary Equity Program Was “Manipulated” to “Pay as Little as Possible”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Initial decisions released in salary equity cases at Rutgers University show the administration shortchanged 103 faculty members by at least $750,000 and probably close to $1 million in all, say faculty experts after analyzing the first round of decisions.
Top administrators manipulated the groundbreaking program to address salary inequity to pay out as little as possible, according to Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty, grad workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors. “This is the opposite of equity,” said union president Rebecca Givan. “It is the perpetuation of inequality for some of our colleagues who’ve been underpaid for years.”
In announcing last week that the university would release decisions in a first group of pay equity cases—nearly two years after they were supposed to under the union contract—Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said the total awards would be over $1 million. But the union’s analysis of the initial decisions, conducted by a team that includes nationally known experts in pay equity, showed that the administration reduced the awards by nearly that amount, Givan said.
“‘One million dollars’ sounded like a lot when President Holloway said it at the University Senate meeting last week, but that works out to less than $10,000 per person for these faculty members, some of whom were underpaid by that much each year while at Rutgers,” Givan said. “And our analysis shows the initial awards would have been twice as high if the administration stuck to the program we negotiated.”
Faculty salary inequities at Rutgers got national attention last year when five women professors sued the university under New Jersey’s Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, citing evidence uncovered by the program. The five won strong support from state political figures, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the prime sponsor of the equal pay law, who spoke alongside several of the plaintiffs at a virtual press conference last December.
The program allows faculty to apply for a salary adjustment in cases of pay discrimination based on race, gender, and other categories, as well as inequities across Rutgers’ three campuses—Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick. Hundreds of faculty have applied since the program went into effect in July 2019. Their deans reviewed the applications and generally greenlighted pay equity corrections, but the process stalled among top administrators.
Until this week, the administration had not issued a decision in a single case, said Haydee Herrera-Guzman, an associate professor of Mathematics on the Camden campus and one of the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “I’m disappointed that it has taken almost two years for the university to deliver the first batch of decisions,” she said. “Camden campus faculty have been particularly affected by this delay, since over half of the applications came from our faculty.”
Herrera-Guzman and Givan said the program negotiated with the union was improperly manipulated in two main ways to lower the first set of salary adjustments in many cases.
Each applicant chose faculty peers (called “comparators”) to show that they were underpaid. In the early stages of the process, these comparators were reviewed, and in many instances endorsed, by deans. But in a majority of cases for which the union has full information, the comparators endorsed by deans were later switched, resulting in a reduction in the final salary adjustments for many of those applicants.
“If you take out, for example, male comparators and replace them with lower-paid female comparators, you’re simply compounding the problem of gender pay inequity,” said Deepa Kumar, a professor of Journalism and Media Studies and another of the five plaintiffs.
In addition, Kumar and Givan said, the administration used a mathematical “regression analysis” formula—provided by a consultant from the anti-labor law firm Jackson Lewis, the union learned—to calculate the final adjustments, which also typically reduced what applicants received, sometimes to zero. The regression analysis alone reduced the initial awards by more than half a million dollars, according to the union’s analysis.
“What they did by changing comparators and using a regression analysis was to bake in salary inequity,” Givan said. “A program that was supposed to bring underpaid faculty members up to equal pay for equal work is consigning them to being underpaid into the indefinite future. We think this is a clear violation of the program we negotiated in our contract, particularly when it comes to inequity by campus.”
Jim Brown, president of the Camden chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said the way the administration handled the salary equity program is stoking long-simmering discontent about mistreatment of the Camden campus—the smallest of Rutgers’ three main campuses, but one recently cited by US News and World Report for its success in serving a disproportionately non-wealthy and people of color student body.
Not only did a disproportionate number of pay equity applications come from Camden faculty, Brown said, but the reductions in salary corrections hit far harder among his colleagues. The union’s study of the initial decisions showed that Camden faculty got the lowest average salary adjustments, even though they have the greatest need for pay awards to achieve equity within Rutgers.
Brown said this is another insult heaped on top of many previous ones. “Camden is repeatedly either denied resources or forced to beg for them,” Brown said. “At one point last year, any non-grant purchase greater than $500 required direct approval from the Chief Financial Officer of the university. The College of Arts and Sciences in Camden recently learned that its enrollment is down by a few hundred students, which will result in budget reductions of millions of dollars. Enrollment dips in New Brunswick and Newark won’t hit their budgets as hard. We’re constantly told by President Holloway that we’re a ‘beloved community.’ So why isn’t there an effort to share costs across all campuses? Instead, the Camden campus is left to solve this problem on its own.”
“The answer from the administration seems to be to either increase enrollments or cut the budget,” Brown continued. “This will have massive impacts on the ability to hire faculty and staff as well as to support students. At every turn, Camden students, staff, and faculty are treated differently from our counterparts at the other campuses.”
“This has been a long fight,” said Kumar, the former president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT when the union won the salary equity program in its contract. “We began this struggle for pay equity back in 2017, and in 2019 our members voted to go on strike around this and other demands. These first awards show Rutgers refuses to recognize the importance of pay equity, not simply as a legal right but also as an issue of morale and a feeling that we are all equally valued members of the Rutgers community.”
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