Higher education

University of Northern Iowa corrects faculty salary inequities

51 faculty members to get increases under agreement

A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (The Gazette/Jim Slosiarek)

After two years of discussions, the University of Northern Iowa faculty union and administration have reached a deal to rectify salary inequities that “unjustly held down the wages of dozens of faculty members.”

The agreement, which the two sides announced Friday, will boost the annual salaries of 51 faculty members represented by the union’s bargaining unit by a total $155,064. That averages to $3,040 per person.

Of those 51 employees, 36 — or 70 percent — are women. Of the 15 men, four are racial or ethnic minorities. That means 78 percent of the adjustments correct inequities for women or minority faculty members.

Additionally, the deal landed a total $13,428 in annual salary increases for four faculty department heads — an average of $3,357 each.

“Outside of contract negotiations, this is the most important labor-management agreement in the history of UNI,” said Joe Gorton, president of United Faculty, the bargaining agent for UNI professors.

United Faculty and UNI administrators convened a salary equity committee in fall 2014 in response to concerns about possible salary inequities.

“When we heard of the issues, we were concerned the disparities could be gender-based,” Gorton said. “As in there could be legal claims, vis-à-vis a lawsuit.”


The group, according to a news release, “conducted a regression analysis to identify faculty who may not be paid equitably based upon such factors as years of service, rank, years at rank, discipline, gender, and service as department head.”

Carissa Froyum, professor of sociology, and associate provost Nancy Cobb spearheaded the analysis.

Froyum said they initially flagged 86 professors and narrowed that down to 51 faculty who were not being paid like the majority of their counterparts in similar positions with similar qualifications.

Froyum said the inequities probably began in starting salary negotiations between new hires and department heads.

“If people aren’t familiar with markets and how salaries are comparing currently … they can act inconsistently with offering initial salaries,” Froyum said.

She credited the root of the inequities to individual discretion — seeing qualifications on two similar resumes differently, or a lack of departmental knowledge on what was offered to candidates in the past.

UNI’s merit system — the ability of departments to award salary increases based on perceived performance — also could be to blame, she said.

Asked why the inequities affected women and minorities most, Froyum wouldn’t call it deliberate discrimination.

“People bring assumptions about groups of people to the table, certainly,” Froyum said. “And their perspectives are shaped by what they see.”


People have internalized biases, she said, and the by-product in this case disproportionately affected women and minority faculty members.

Subsequent percentage-based raises would have exacerbated the problem, Gorton said.

The agreement, he said, is a result of “years of trust-building between faculty and the administration” since the closing of Price Lab school.

The settlement cost could have been higher if the parties took the issue to court, he said. Gorton said the union filed a grievance on the matter but always expected to reach a resultion with the administration.

Last month, the Board of Regents approved a tuition increase for students at all levels at all three of its public universities aimed at providing more revenue to meet faculty salary demands and support teaching and student needs.

Gorton said he doesn’t know if the $5.6 million revenue bump UNI got from the tuition hike can be tied to the union-administration agreement.

In a news release Friday, Interim UNI President Jim Wohlpart said, “Faculty care deeply for our students and for the university and local community and are at the heart of our institution. We are deeply appreciative of the collaboration with United Faculty to investigate and resolve an important issue.”

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