University of Maine system officials soon expect a monetary settlement to resolve a system-wide gender equity problem. However, a settlement is unlikely to end the university system’s troubles, according to members of the faculty union who represent female professors.
A study released in November by the Joint Gender Equity Committee representing UMS and Associated Faculties of the University of Maine system found that women are being discriminated against with regard to pay at colleges throughout UMS. In certain departments throughout the system, the committee found that men make approximately $2,000 more than women.
On Friday, a meetingwas held between the faculty union and the administration. Though Don Anspach, president of the Faculties Union at USM and vice president of the statewide union, said some progress was made, a settlement has yet to be reached.
The expected settlement is an attempt to correct the current pay difference but will do little to make up for past disparities.
Female professors who feel they have been discriminated against for years may have to seek legal action, according to Anspach.
“If the women don’t get what is their due, I fully anticipate a class action lawsuit,” said Anspach.
The remedies proposed by the Joint Gender Equity Committee will do little to address years of discrimination, according to Flynn Ross, assistant professor in the College of Education & Human Development at USM. Ross’ is believed to be the only USM department where a gender equity problem was found.
“They’re going to try to compensate retroactively a little bit, but it’s not getting to the heart of the problem,” said Ross. “It’s not going to make up for 20 years not invested [in a retirement account].”
Anspach shares Ross’ concerns.
“The administration says, `We’ll give you the money to bring you up to equal,'” said Anspach. “What we’re saying is, `what about the past?'”
A proposed longevity adjustment included in a possible settlement is insufficient, according to Anspach. The adjustment would give somewhat larger settlements to women who have been employed by UMS longer. However, Anspach claimed that just reparations would include a fully retroactive salary adjustment as well as compensation for funds that could have been used by women for retirement accounts and other investments.
“The University has huge stockpiles of money. They can afford it,” said Anspach.
Tracy Bigney, executive director of Human Resources for UMS, claimed that making reparations for past injustices would be difficult. Bigney pointed out that the gender equity study was based on salaries in 1999 only.
“There is some uncertainty about how to apply the findings back 20 years,” said Bigney.
Women who feel they have been discriminated against in the past may have to look beyond the expected settlement for justice, she said.
“People in that situation would have to assess their situation and assess what legal action to take,” said Bigney.
With litigation a possibility, UMS has retained the services of Richard Crockett, an attorney from the Minnesota law firm Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty, and Bennett, who is “well known in higher education circles,” according to UMS general counsel Kelley Wiltbank.
Anspach expressed his view that the University’s consultation with the Minnesota law firm will unnecessarily complicate the process.
“I believe that when you get lawyers involved in negotiations that you’re escalating things,” said Anspach.
However, the release of the gender equity study and a possible settlement are important first steps, according to Anspach.
“The big thing that’s happened is that the University of Maine system has admitted to discrimination,” he said.
Staff Writer John McCarthy can be contacted at: [email protected].