Diversity lags, gender pay gaps persist among USC faculty

White men comprise the largest portion of tenured faculty at USC, according to a 2021 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System disclosure. Nearly three-fourths of tenured faculty are men, 72% of whom are white. Most tenured women faculty are white, too. 

Faculty, as a whole, fall behind the University’s student population in terms of diversity of ethnicity. Twenty-seven percent of the student body is white and non-international, compared to 63% of full-time faculty members.

The breakdown into several other ethnic categories shows a similar trend: While only 6% of full-time faculty are Hispanic or Latine, 16% of students are. Fourteen percent of full-time faculty are Asian, compared to 19% of students. 

The gap in diversity between faculty and student populations is reflective of a national trend. In fall 2017, about three-quarters of postsecondary faculty members in the country and 55% of undergraduates were white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“[A big] problem is getting minorities, persons of color into academia,” said Rebecca Lonergan, a professor of law and former faculty president of the Academic Senate. “The University has put millions of dollars into that — Provost [Charles] Zukoski put forth a whole bunch of money specifically targeted at luring in, recruiting faculty of color. There’s a ton of competition for them.”

The University has, indeed, taken steps to increase the number of diverse faculty members: USC hired Christopher Manning as its first chief inclusion and diversity officer two years ago and invested $50 million into matching salaries to encourage the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty in 2018. The University has made more than 180 offers to diverse job candidates over the last four years, of which nearly two-thirds were accepted. 

“The initial $50 million has already been fully allocated, with most of the schools having received support for both new hires and retentions, and President [Carol] Folt just announced replenishment of the fund,” the University wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan, affirming that increasing the diversity of tenured faculty is a University priority. 

Despite the “genuine effort” she’s seen from University leadership in recruiting faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, Lonergan said she’s disappointed that USC’s student body is much more diverse than its faculty. Both Folt and Zukoski had “personally expressed … a desire to increase the number of tenured faculty” to her, but composition remains a controversial issue among faculty, she said.

Turnover among tenured professors — who often hold lifetime positions from their appointment — is lower than that of non-tenured academic staff, meaning ethnic composition among tenured faculty changes more slowly, Lonergan said. 

Diversity among tenure-track faculty — who were hired, on average, in the last two to three years — is showing a more promising upward trend, said T.J. McCarthy, an associate teaching professor of public policy and the co-chair of the Compensation & Benefits Committee of the Academic Senate. Fifty-six percent of tenure-track faculty are men and 35% are white. 

“I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s so much more diversity among the tenure-track faculty, because that’s what’s being added into that tenure group however many decades down the line,” McCarthy said, adding that tenured faculty composition is a slow-moving average of decades of hiring decisions.  

Another issue within faculty diversity is that of a lack of school-by-school reporting: Schools hold a great deal of independence on hiring matters, Lonergan said, and certain schools have defined faculty composition as a greater priority than others. The Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences are among the few schools that publish their own demographic information.

A separate, notable trend in faculty composition at USC and nationwide, Lonergan said, is the shrinking of the percentage of tenured faculty compared to non-tenured faculty. Only 22% of full-time faculty at the University are tenured, she said, which is explained, in part, by the declining number of scholars pursuing purely academic careers from the get-go. 

Tenure grants faculty increased job security, which lends itself to greater academic freedom. A tenured professor can more assuredly explore an area of research that the University does not approve of without fear of retaliation or dismissal. In light of a decrease in tenured faculty, Lonergan said USC has begun providing longer contracts to non-tenured faculty as a way of ensuring employment stability.

Tenure also necessitates careful review of faculty before they’re hired: The University Committee on Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure grants tenure to faculty recommended from individual schools. The University does, however, put “enormous effort” into thoroughly reviewing non-tenure-track faculty members’ qualifications upon hiring, Lonergan said.

“We can try and continue increasing the tenure, but, if we’re struggling to do that, we can take other steps to meet the same goals,” she said.

Pay equity among faculty is another metric that, on its surface, appears to represent a demographic disparity between men and women faculty members, but there’s more to the gap than meets the eye. 

According to IPEDS data, the average equated nine-month salary for men professors — both tenured and not — at USC amounts to just over $196,000, while the salary for women professors for the same period is just under $170,000.

While she agrees that a gender pay gap certainly exists in higher education, Lonergan said the aggregate data, which isn’t split by school, can be “somewhat deceptive.” Interim Provost Elizabeth Graddy, she said, conducted a salary equity review a few years ago to examine pay gaps, but a lack of uniformity in titles among schools makes comparing pay difficult. 

Faculty salaries are market-based, meaning faculty with similar titles may have significantly different pay: Professors in the Gould School of Law and the Marshall School of Business, Lonergan said, have higher salaries than many Dornsife professors of similar rank. The highest salaries, she said, are paid to clinical professors at the Keck School of Medicine, who are paid from their clinical practice and not the University’s funds.

Some of the disparity, Lonergan said, can be attributed to the fact that the hiring of non-men in greater numbers and higher percentages is recent. Seniority, she said, factors significantly in salaries.

“You can be a professor who reached full professor two years ago, and you can be a professor who reached full professor 20 years ago, and the one who’s been a full professor for 20 years is probably gonna have a higher salary than the one who has been a full professor for two years,” Lonergan said.

There is a higher percentage of women in non-tenured positions than tenured, according to IPEDS data. Lonergan said that differences in gender distribution across disciplines could contribute to this disparity. Certain non-tenured positions at Gould — such as legal writing teaching and positions in the Academic Support Program — tend to attract more women candidates, she said. 

“The counter response to that is, ‘Why are there these differences in distribution? Is this a preference or is it that the higher paying distributions are historically more hostile to women, which can be fairly applied to a lot of STEM disciplines?’” McCarthy said. 

Annenberg publishes a report to its faculty about pay distribution, including differences in pay between men and women, something unique to the school, McCarthy said. Annenberg’s data shows very little disparities, he said, which might explain why it’s one of the only schools at the University to publish faculty demographic data — and other schools should follow suit. 

“USC has this unifying value of open communication — here’s something we can communicate more openly about, and so we have thoughts on how to do that,” McCarthy said.

As co-chair of the Research, Teaching, Practitioner, & Clinical-Track Committee, McCarthy focused on salary benchmarking, or comparing USC’s faculty compensation to that of peer institutions. In a 2019 report, the committee compiled salary data from the California State University and UC systems, and performed a series of statistical analyses for part-time and tenure-track faculty within each university’s English departments. The committee hoped that having a collection of these salaries would serve as a baseline for comparison of USC’s salaries. 

“The central administration’s take on [salary benchmarking] was, ‘Oh, it can’t be done, the data aren’t out there and there’s really no way to know how your school is paid,’” McCarthy said. “And, so, we just went ahead and did it for the entire UC system.”

The committee recommended that, if schools at USC were to adopt a similar method, they should make the results of the analysis available to all faculty within the school. RTPC also proposed the use of salaries paid to faculty with similar backgrounds housed in other schools as a reference, just as McCarthy and his team did with writing program faculty who were not English professors. 

“Failure to adequately compensate faculty also imposes significant costs from the University’s perspective by detrimentally impacting faculty morale, increasing the risk of losing current faculty to competitors, and making it more difficult to attract highly qualified new faculty,” the report read. “It is therefore in the interest of both faculty and administration to diligently monitor the competitiveness of faculty compensation.”

While faculty composition and pay equity have been on the University and the Academic Senate’s agendas for some time, action on both died down, Lonergan said, amid leadership’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and other institutional issues in the past few years. 

“The University should turn back, now that we’re basically through COVID, and we are basically through that series of bad scandals that we experienced, which distract people,” Lonergan said.

In light of the California State Senate passing Bill 1162 last September — which requires any employer with more than 100 staff to disclose pay ranges for all of its open positions — McCarthy said he hopes the University feels a push to adopt more pay distribution transparency moving forward. 

Though he’s disappointed by the fact that salary benchmarking isn’t yet standard practice, McCarthy has hope that his work on faculty committees will yield results.

“I’m still involved because I’m optimistic,” McCarthy said. “If it didn’t matter and I was just kind of banging my head against the wall and nothing was happening, I wouldn’t use my time on it and continue to be involved.”