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Creating Disparity to Achieve Equity

December 6, 2011

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

Administrators seldom discuss the questionable practice of creating disparity to achieve equity at an institution that believes in diversity but has not sufficiently granted raises to its faculty.

Since 2008, many journalism schools have had budgets cut. New professor lines this year finally were granted at many institutions, including mine. However, some assistant professors hired in 2009 have seen little, if any, increase in their pay. If their base salary was $52,000 when they were hired, and at the same rate today, do you use that figure as the base for the new hire … or create disparity by setting a higher starting salary of $54,000-$56,000?

There are consequences to either of those decisions, and that is what I am contemplating today.

If you set the proposed salary at $52,000, you avoid offending continuing assistant professors. But you might miss out on the best hires.

If you set the proposed salary higher, you may be able to recruit your best applicants, but you also may be creating “salary compression,” essentially paying newer employees more than existing ones. Continue that practice over a period of years, and soon new assistant professors will be earning the same pay as some associate professors.

Iowa State University has not increased salaries sufficiently since the 2008 economic collapse. Budgets have been cut. We even had “furloughs,” a polite way of instituting a temporary salary cut.

Nonetheless, there have been equity-based and merit raises, and many supervisors, including me, took advantage of that in the interest of fostering inclusivity and diversity. So some professors have received fair and even generous raises during the economic downturn.

ISU, like many institutions, also has a commitment to diversity.

Leadership requires situational ethics at times, and this is one of them. Administrators have to rely on a diversity commitment if they create disparity to secure the best hires. Then the responsibility falls on those same administrators to advocate for equity raises for continuing professors.

If your institution only pays lip-service to diversity, then don’t create disparity. If your institution has a commitment to diversity, as mine does, then leadership requires you to advocate for higher pay for those professors whose salaries are compressed.

I am ready to take that risk. There is a fair chance that my superiors will acknowledge that the Greenlee School acted in the interest of students in hiring the best available applicants and in the interest of the institution in advocating for higher pay for others to achieve equity.

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