Vassar College, one of the first institutions of higher education for women in the United States, is proud to be a pioneer in women’s education and deeply committed to equality between the sexes.
And yet Vassar, a liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, where tuition this year is $67,000, has consistently paid its female professors less than their male counterparts for the past two decades, according to a recent study . federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed last month by five current or former tenured professors, has rocked the left-leaning campus with accusations of unequal pay, delays in promotions for female professors and a discriminatory performance evaluation system.
Hundreds of students demonstrated outside a teachers’ meeting last week to demand that female teachers receive the same salary as men. On a campus where the promise of gender equality attracts students seeking a university culture full of diversity and equityMany students interviewed said that the issues raised by the lawsuit had made them feel betrayed.
Solaar KirkDacker, a senior who helped organize the protest, said she was “furious” about the accusations.
“They really capitalize on this idea of promoting the advancement of women in higher education, and that was something that really appealed to me,” she said. “I felt very cheated by Vassar.”
Adopting the university’s current fundraising motto, “Fearless and consistent,” several students said they had decided to be “fearlessly transcendent” in standing up for the values Vassar claims to uphold.
“It feels like the culmination of my education here,” said recent graduate and rally organizer Charlie Kanner. “Being able to use all the skills our teachers have given us to support them feels really special.”
In a show of solidarity, dozens of teachers dressed in white at the teachers’ meeting. As students cheered outside, some educators arriving for the meeting became visibly emotional. About 35 tenured and retired Vassar professors have signed a letter in support of the lawsuit.
Officials at Vassar, which became coeducational in 1969, have issued several statements defending the university but have declined interview requests.
“Vassar College has been working diligently and continuously on the issue of pay equity with a group of faculty since January 2019,” wrote Anthony J. Friscia, president of the board of trustees, in a statement posted on the school’s website . website after the lawsuit was filed. “Vassar believes that he pays his teachers fairly and equitably and has complied with the law, and would like to resolve this issue.”
Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley said in a letter to the editor published in the student newspaper The Miscellany News that he knew the accusations could “leave many people in the community feeling confused, angry or hurt.”
However, he wrote, “the faculty members who brought this lawsuit have a different understanding of the relevant facts and law at stake in this dispute.”
Last week, Bradley said in a statement to the New York Times that Vassar had agreed to allow a faculty committee to hire an independent compensation analysis firm to examine salaries and would act on the findings.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit cite publicly released salary data from the university, which they say shows Vassar administrators have known about the pay gap for years.
In the 2003-04 academic year, female tenured professors earned about 7 percent, or $7,770, less on average than their male counterparts, according to data published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The gap has widened since then, the data shows. During the 2021-2022 academic year, full professors earned $153,238 on average, about 10 percent, or $13,900, more than women of the same academic rank.
Because women are typically hired at lower salaries and raises are typically given as a percentage increase, the disparity has been more pronounced among teachers with longer service, the lawsuit says.
Vassar officials have not disputed the data, but say the disparities are tied to differences in seniority, academic discipline and peer evaluations.
Not all Vassar professors are protesting. Sarah Pearlman, an economics professor who teaches about gender issues, said she wanted more information about salaries before drawing conclusions.
“I would really like that information,” he said, “and unfortunately I have a feeling we can’t get it.”
Other universities have come under scrutiny over pay gaps in recent years. PrincetonFor example, it agreed to pay nearly $1 million to 106 female teachers in 2020 after a federal investigation into pay equity.
Gender pay gap at Vassar is smaller than average in academia: Female professors in the United States earn 17.7 percent less than their male peersaccording to data published by the American Association of University Professors.
Jessica Stender, Deputy Chief Legal Officer of Defenders of equal rights and an attorney for the Vassar plaintiffs, said she was surprised the university had not done more to address the pay gap given its status as a standard-bearer for women’s education and one of the seven sisters consortium of historically female schools.
That such problems could exist at Vassar, he said, “is really indicative of how deep and pervasive the problems of pay discrimination are in our society.”