Equity for Tenure-Stream Women at UIUC: A Union Can Help

In February this year, 148 female tenured and tenure-track faculty gathered at a university-sponsored event to discuss the major challenges in their professional lives [1].  Many saw the greatest challenge as “equity.”  They reported that some departments and colleges still have very few women faculty, they viewed the campus climate as “gendered” in ways that adversely affect them, and noted that no clear procedures existed to deal with sex discrimination from colleagues or students.  Some women believed that they had been unfairly evaluated for awards, raises, and endowed positions, with the result that their salaries were lower than those of male colleagues. Concrete evidence exists to validate many of these concerns.

 Hiring and retention. Our campus ranks near the bottom of its peer group in terms of representation of women among full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty [2]. While recent hires have brought the percentage of female assistant professors up to 42.3%­–slightly better than average for our peer group–the number of women who have received tenure is still disturbingly low (only 27.2% of all tenured faculty at UIUC are female), and the number of women who have risen to the rank of full professor is even lower.  Women represent only one fifth (20.3%) of full professors on this campus, which places UIUC 18th out of 20 peer institutions [3].  Of particular concern here is the rate of attrition: women leave the UIUC faculty ranks at a much higher rate than men. We know that women are capable of performing at the level expected for tenure and promotion on this campus. Why, then, do women not rise through the ranks at the same rate as men?

Climate issues.  One important factor is campus climate.  That women experience the UIUC campus as being less welcoming than men do is evident from the 2011 university-wide climate survey [4].  Female faculty rated the campus lower than male faculty on every measure; particularly wide gaps between female and male views were evident in the areas of “diversity” and “workload and balance.”  Some climate issues directly affect the success of female faculty: unclear expectations for tenure and promotion, vague or nonexistent grievance procedures for dealing with inequities, inadequate mentoring (which limits awareness of the “unwritten rules” of professional life), and unfriendliness and exclusion from networks of colleagues (which limit opportunities for research collaboration). Other climate issues disproportionately increase the stress placed on female faculty, thereby hindering productivity. These issues include lack of female role models, concerns about physical safety on campus, overt hostility and bullying, sexual harassment, and repeated “microaggressions” from both colleagues and students, often reflecting implicit bias [5]. The negative impact of such stressors on women faculty at other institutions has been well documented, and the climate survey suggests that these are matters for serious concern here as well.

Work-life balance. This issue is difficult for both male and female faculty at an institution like UIUC, which is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as having “very high research activity”. Promotion and professional success demand long work hours, which put a strain on family life at the best of times, and sometimes create unresolvable conflicts between professional and familial obligations [6].  The expectation–implicit or openly voiced–that “serious” faculty members always put work first creates significant stress around ordinary family activities, and sometimes intolerable stress around family emergencies. Research has consistently shown that women spend more time than men on childcare, eldercare and household matters than men, even in theoretically “egalitarian” households [7].  This discrepancy, of course, contributes still further to stress on women faculty and can lower research productivity.  Moreover, the very visibility of women’s household obligations can lead to the perception that they are less “serious” than their male colleagues—even when their work hours are actually equivalent.  And this, in turn, can have deleterious effects on their careers.

The Salary Gap. Women are rightly concerned about salary equity at UIUC, and about the possibility that their work is being unfairly evaluated. On this campus, female assistant professors earn 9.4% less than male assistant professors; female associate professors 6.4% less than their male colleagues; and female full professors 10.3% less, on average (see [3]). Some of this disparity can be accounted for by the larger number of women in departments with lower salaries overall.  However, many of our peer institutions with major STEM programs are doing better than we are. For example, the salary gap for full professors is significantly smaller at UC Berkeley, USC, Yale, Duke and Brown. It is not possible to determine the extent to which discrimination against women plays a role in keeping women’s salaries low at UIUC.  We simply draw attention here to the growing body of scholarly literature confirming the effects of gender bias (which can be implicit as well as explicit) on the evaluation of scholarly excellence within academia as a whole [8].

What Can a Union Achieve? 

A recent study of women faculty at public research universities found that the proportion of women faculty is higher at unionized than at non-unionized campuses, even when factors such as size of endowment, presence of female administrative leaders, and proportion of STEM faculty are controlled for [9].  The higher proportion of women on unionized campuses does not reflect an increase in the hiring of female assistant professors, but rather an increase in the number of women gaining tenure and then promotion to full professor.  The authors of this study posit that unions increase women’s chances of tenure and promotion in two ways:  by formalizing and clarifying tenure and promotion procedures, and by providing faculty with greater opportunities to pursue promotion and salary grievances. A “best practices” manual by one of the leaders in higher education union organizing, the American Federation of Teachers, lists many other ways in which unions can help improve the lot of women faculty [10]. These practices may include instituting educational programs for faculty and administrators on hiring, climate, work-life and other issues related to gender equity, as well as providing help for individual union members involved in negotiations over tenure roll-backs, salaries or promotion to full professor.  However, they may also include matters than can be the subject of legally binding contract negotiations.  Many faculty unions have bargained collectively for:

  • Stronger and more effective diversity structures;
  • Clear and transparent procedures for hiring, determining compensation packages, tenure and promotion;
  • Better and more effectively publicized grievance procedures;
  • Specific family-friendly policies, such as standardized parental leaves across campus, on-campus day-care, support for faculty who need to take children with them to conferences, and the creation of clean and pleasant sites for breast-feeding.

Finally, faculty on unionized campuses often fare much better than those at UIUC  in terms of parental leave, sick leave, and modified duties to deal with with family obligations [11].

We can do more to advance gender equity by working together.  If you care about this issue and want to join the campaign for a faculty union, then drop us a line today at <campusfacultyassoc@gmail.com>.


[1] “Moving Forward: Advancing the Future of Women Faculty at Illinois.  Report from Small Discussions.” The meeting report was available on the UIUC website until late November, 2013. It is no longer there, but CFA has a print-out available at its office for interested readers.

[2] http://www.aaup.org/our-work/research, research into 2012-2013 faculty demographics and salaries by the AAUP. For analysis of UIUC, see [3] below.

[3] All data is for the 2012-13 academic year (the most recent available) and comes from the AAUP Research Program. Data includes the peer group except Johns Hopkins (not available). Detailed analysis in these links:

aaup-salary full profs simplifiedaaup-salary associate profs simplified; aaup-salary assistant profs simplifiedWomen as Percent of Tenured Fac; AAUP number assoc profs simplified; aaup number assist profs simplified;

[4] Linda Owens, Sommya Anand, Lisa Kelly-Wilson, “University-Wide Climate Survey:  Final Analytical Report, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

[5] It is important to note here that faculty of color face similar challenges—multiplied if they are female.  See Theodora Regina Berry and Nathalie D. Mizelle, eds., From Oppression to Grace: Women of Color and Their Dilemmas within the Academy (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2006).

[6] Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger and Marc Goulden, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower (New Brunswick:  Rutgers University Press, 2013).

[7] In a recent study of faculty in the University of California system, the combined university and household workload of male science faculty averaged 86 hours/week, while the workload for female science faculty averaged 100 hours:  Marc Goulden, Karle Frasch, and Mary Ann Mason, “Staying Competitive:  Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences,”  Report, University of California, Berkeley (2009), p. 30.

[8] R.E. Steinpreis, K.A. Anders,and D. Ritzke, D. (1999), “The Impact of Gender on the Review of the Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study,” Sex Roles 41 (1999): 509-528; L. Bornmann, R. Mutz and H.D. Daniel, “Gender Differences in Grant Peer Review:  A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Infometrics 1 (2007):  226-38;  A.E. Lincoln, S. Pincus, J.B. Koster, and P.S. Leboy, “The Matilda Effect in Science: Awards and Prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s,” Social Studies of Science,42 (2012), 307-320; Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Carroll J. Glynn, and Michael Huge, “The Matilda Effect in Science Communication:  An Experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest,” Science Communication 35 (2013): 603-25

[9] Ann Mari May, Elizabeth A. Moorhouse, and Jennifer A. Bossard, “Representation of Women Faculty at Public Research Universities,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 63: 4 (July, 2010):  699-718.

[10] “Promoting Gender Diversity in the Faculty:  What Higher Education Unions Can Do”: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/genderdiversity0511.pdf

[11] “Family & Medical Leave Benefits:  A Union Does Make a Difference”:  https://cfaillinois.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/fml_onepage.pdf