Updates and Reflections from SU ADVANCE

January 2021

Lighthouse and cliffs

As we write this, a page of history is being turned in the United States. We have a new President who, in his first hours in office, has already issued sweeping executive orders aimed at addressing centuries of institutional prejudice and discrimination.

In that spirit, we invite you to consider a recent analysis by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) of data compiled by the US Department of Education on the composition and salaries of full-time (FT) faculty members in higher education as of Fall 2018.[i] Despite decades of legislation to address income disparities among women faculty, these new data reveal that disparities persist even though there has been a significant increase in in the overall proportion of women faculty in higher education (46.7% of FT faculty members in 2018 compared to 31.6% in 1991). A primary reason for these continued disparities, according to the AAUP analysis, is that women are still less likely than men to “move up the ranks.” Overall, women remain overrepresented in non-tenure track positions (53.9% of FT faculty) at universities, compared to tenured and tenure-track positions (where they are 42.5% of all FT faculty). Moreover, women comprise 50% of faculty at the Assistant Professor level, 45% of faculty at the Associate Professor level, and only 32.5% of Full Professors.[ii]

The underrepresentation of women in tenure-track and tenured positions is one cause of the large salary inequities experienced by FT women faculty who, on average, earn approximately 81% of what men faculty earn ($79,368 versus $97,738, respectively). Because women move up to higher ranks at lower rates than men, gender pay gaps at individual academic ranks are compounded. However, even among Full Professors, women who have achieved the rank of Full Professor still earn only approximately 85% of what men at the rank of Full Professor earn.  

The AAUP analysis also highlighted disparities in the proportion of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty in institutions of higher education.[iii] As noted in the analysis, the proportion of URM individuals in FT faculty positions (12.9%) does not mirror the broader U.S. adult population (where 32.6% of the population is categorized as URM). Underrepresentation of URM faculty was particularly pronounced with respect to faculty identifying as Black and Hispanic, especially at higher academic ranks.

The AAUP report concludes that women and faculty of color continue to experience opportunity and pay gaps in academia. While it is tempting to attribute these gaps to the overrepresentation of women and faculty of color in lower-paying disciplines and academic ranks, the report emphasizes that other factors are important, including “biases in hiring and promotion practices, lack of institutional resources and support, and caregiving responsibilities.” Closing these gaps requires broad-scale, sustained institutional transformation across higher education.

Institutional transformation to address these disparities is the central aim of SU ADVANCE. In our work, we have identified a cultural trend that amplifies structural inequities: the ongoing undervaluation of a board range of faculty activities that directly support the university mission. As a comprehensive, mission-oriented university, our success is rooted in student-centered, inclusive, community-oriented activities. Historically, women and faculty of color are more likely to center these activities in their own professional development. They are also more likely to be “over-asked” to do this kind of work by their departments and colleges. Our research over the past five years indicates that much of the lag in advancement among these faculty members is due to institutional practices that don’t recognize, value or count these activities.  Although central to the university mission and its organizational success, the work remains hidden.

When we submitted our proposal to the NSF Institutional Transformation program in 2016, we highlighted the high proportion of women in most of the STEM and SBE disciplines at Seattle University, including in leadership positions, relative to our peer institutions. We also noted that women faculty (along with faculty of color and LGBTQ faculty) at the rank of associate professor were disproportionately involved in administrative leadership and mission-related activities. We argued that these faculty members were at risk for not advancing apace with their colleagues (men and women) who emphasized individual research programs as central to their professional development.

As we all consider the shifting national context, one piece of good news from Seattle University is that in the past five years, we are beginning to see cultural shifts among SU faculty, and university administrative leadership across all levels. One indication of this shift is a significant increase over the past three years in the number of women submitting applications for promotion to Full Professor.[iv] Over the previous two decades, we saw an average of three to four petitions for promotion to Full Professor per year, and only a handful of those were women. This rate increased overall to seven petitions (two of whom were women) in 2019; twelve petitions (four of whom were women) in 2020; and eleven petitions (nine of whom were women!) in 2021.

We are encouraged by these data from our own institution and we read this is as a sign that more women and faculty of color are gaining confidence that our institutional practices are shifting to include a broader vision for holistic faculty careers. With the anticipated adoption of the Revised Guidelines for Promotion to Full Professor over the course of the coming year (see our “Program Updates” section for more details) and the accompanying rollout of a formal mentoring and evaluation program for deans, chairs, and evaluation committees, SU ADVANCE is on-track to meet our goals of institutional transformation and sustained structural and cultural change.

As noted in the AAUP report and in our own research, the COVID-19 Pandemic is exacerbating the disparities faced by women and faculty of color, especially those in lower rank and non-tenure-track positions who experience lower pay and less job security.  Our own ongoing research into SU faculty experiences during this time (see our “Program Updates” section for more details) indicates that now, more than ever, faculty are stepping up to sustain students and maintain the university mission, while also juggling unprecedented personal and family demands. SU ADVANCE has a well-established infrastructure for contributing to ongoing conversations about faculty equity and more recently to discussions about accommodations for faculty during the pandemic. We are especially prepared and eager to lead discussions about highlighting, recognizing, and valuing the impressive work faculty are doing to maintain an equitable, vibrant university.

Jodi O’Brien - Professor of Sociology and Director of SU ADVANCE; 

Jean JacobyProfessor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, SU ADVANCE Co-Director


[i] Colby, Glenn and Chelsea Fowler. 2020. Data Snapshot: IPEDS Data on Full-Time Women Faculty and Faculty of Color. American Association of University Professors. December 2020. Available at https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Dec-2020_Data_Snapshot_Women_and_Faculty_of_Color.pdf

[ii] The AAUP analysis draws upon data from the provisional release of the Fall 2018 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

[iii] The term underrepresented minority encompasses the IPEDS categories of Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Two or More Races.

[iv] The size of our tenured faculty population at SU has been relatively stable with a slight decline in the past decade so these increases do not solely reflect maturation of a relatively larger faculty cohort moving through the ranks.