More than five years after initiating a review of faculty compensation at the University of New Mexico’s campuses, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a vague letter last month that claimed UNM is paying its male professors more than its female professors in four departments.
However, the Oct. 28 letter was sorely lacking in details about what led the commission to reach that conclusion as well as one that the university had failed to remedy the situation after a 2007 UNM report had indicated female and minority faculty members earned less on average than white male faculty members.
The agency launched its investigation in August of 2011. It looked at pay issues going back to Jan. 1, 2008. But UNM administrators say the EEOC’s conclusion relates only to about 40 full professors, including just 24 who are currently employed, in four departments – economics, English, linguistics and marketing. There are about 220 full professors at UNM out of roughly 1,000 professors the university employs.
The letter did not say how wide the statistical disparities were, a puzzling omission given that the agency took more than five years to study volumes of documents the university provided, most recently 551 pages in 2016.
Surely there was plenty of data that led to the sweeping conclusion that the university was in violation of the Equal Pay Act and the threat that it might be sued by the commission and the aggrieved parties.
But it would appear that one arm of the federal bureaucracy doesn’t know what the other is doing. In 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice had started its own investigation and concluded in April 2012 that the university had made good faith efforts to address faculty pay disparities. In fact, the DOJ credited UNM for its efforts and closed its investigation, according to a university response to the EEOC letter.
The university’s response also says UNM has never denied there are some faculty pay differences at the main campus, but contends it “has repeatedly sought to show evidence that market forces, credentials, field of study, promotion in rank, years of service and performance are the primary drivers of pay differences.” Meanwhile, the university has stopped its longtime practice of allowing faculty members who go back into the teaching ranks after serving as dean or chair to keep their pay differentials.
The EEOC rejected the arguments, saying UNM had failed to provide sufficient evidence that any pay disparities were not gender based.
Meanwhile, UNM says it has made several rounds of pay adjustments at the main campus where warranted and revenues permitting. In a four-year period, UNM spent $2 million on pay adjustments to address possible inequities based on gender, race or ethnicity, and $4.7 million on merit raises.
That’s hardly chump change, but apparently it’s not enough effort for this federal agency, which, according to its letter, gave the university 10 days from its date of issue to seek conciliation and discuss a settlement.
UNM President Bob Frank has said UNM is willing to enter talks, but it will not waive its rights on the statute of limitations defense.
EEOC’s policy is neither to confirm nor deny the existence of “charge filings, investigations or administrative resolutions,” but apparently the agency can make allegations – without giving specifics – and make threatening demands, all while leaving the public in the dark. The Journal had to file an Inspection of Public Records Act request to get the letter from UNM.
So in a time of severe revenue constraints – where hiring and pay have been frozen and the university is having to trim 5 percent from its budget per the Legislature’s direction – the commission is threatening to sue.
What the EEOC should do is put its cards on the table so that UNM and the public can decide whether any of the agency’s claims have merit.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.