Second in a two part series.
What’s worth more, a nursing or business professor?
Women professors at the University of Memphis earn 86 cents for every dollar a man makes—a difference of about $15,000 less a year, according to an analysis by The Daily Helmsman. Female professor pay has remained the same for five years, while men saw their salaries increase by more than $10,000 during that same time.
But is this pay gap because women choose academic fields that pay less? Or does academia value women less?
Suppy and Demand
Economics professors come cheap—compared to professors in other departments in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics. That’s what William Smith, chair of U of M’s Department of Economics, will tell you.
“I think the starting salary for an assistant professor in finance is $140,000,” he said. “The entry-level professorship at the Economics department is about $110,000. Economics is cheap—relatively.”
While there are no assistant professors in Fogelman’s Finance Department, the lowest paid associate professor earns $188,000. Market forces dictate the salary, even within the business school.
The reason behind this, Smith said, was that the University “has to pay what the market demands of each discipline.”
The average professor salary at all ranks in Fogelman is $125,000, which is higher than all other colleges at the U of M. More than 80 percent of the professors are men.
At the same time, the average salary for professors at all ranks in U of M’s nursing school, which is 97 percent women, is $68,376—and nursing educators are in high demand.
The “Market’s” disconnect
In universities across the country, the highest paid professors are often in college of business, explained Tom Nenon, former University interim provost who is now chair of College of Arts and Sciences.
“Part of it is that the University is competing with non-academic institutions,” he said. “The Fogelman faculty will point out that they could make a lot more money in business or in the field. So, typically, the business faculties at a University are the highest paid.”
U of M Provost Karen Weddle-West was not able to comment for this story.
While The Daily Helmsman's analysis found women full professors at Fogelman appeared to have higher average salaries than their male peers, only three of the colleges’ 28 full professors were women. The dean of the College of Business, Rajiv Grover, was not available to comment on this story.
However, while the market seems to raise salaries in the male-dominated business school, it seems to do little for the Loewenberg School of Nursing, said Lin Zhan, dean of nursing at the U of M.
“My question is, why can’t we pay market value for nursing?” Lin Zhan, dean the U of M’s Loewenberg School of Nursing.
While the ability to make more money outside of academia pushes up the salaries in the business school, the market seems to have failed nursing, Zhan said.
“For example, our clinical faculty, who are nurse practitioners, can go out to practice and likely earn a six-figure salary,” she said.
It’s difficult to attract nurses into teaching when they can make more in the field, Zhan said. As a result, the University has lost nursing faculty to hospitals that offered them more money.
“We need educators to prepare the next generation of nurses,” Zhan said. “Nationwide, there is a shortage of nursing educators. It is a real crisis.”
Faculty shortages forced nursing colleges across the country to reject nearly 80,000 eligible candidates for graduate and bachelor programs in 2013, according to surveys of nursing schools by the American Association of College of Nursing.
The median salary for an advanced practice registered nurse was $101,990 for those who worked at a state or private hospital, according to the Department of Labor’s website. Those nurses earned a median wage of $97,600 in a doctor’s office and $92,270 in outpatient care centers.
“My question is, why can’t we pay market value for nursing?” Zhan said.
This graph shows the 2014 salaries for the Lowenberg School of Nursing (Left) and Fogelman School of Business (Right). Blue bars are men and red bars are women.
This is one of the questions that sociologists have examined, said Dana M. Britton, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University and director of its Center for Women and Work.
“The proportion of females in an occupation is related to lower wages in the job,” Britton said. “Even after you control for education and experience, when women touch it, the job loses value. These are conversations I have with my class. Why are truck drivers paid more than kindergarten teachers? You need a formal education for one and not so much for the other, but when you compare the wages you’ll see a difference.”
When Zhan accepted the deanship of the Loewenberg School of Nursing in 2010, she said she did it under the condition that the college would follow healthcare market values for nurses with credentials and experience.
“When I interviewed for the job, I told the provost [Ralph Faudree], that the faculty salary was too low,” Zhan said.
Clinical assistant nursing professors earned only $56,887 in 2010. That’s more than $6,000 below the AACN’s recommendation.
University officials agreed with Zhan. She used what little merit money was available at that time to bring the salaries of top performers up to standard. Zhan also made sure all future professors hired would no longer have a starting salary in low $50,000 range.
“Even after you control for education and experience, when women touch it, the job loses value.” Dana M. Britton, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University and director of its Center for Women and Work.
In 2014, the average clinical assistant nursing professor at the U of M earned $62,905. Associate professors saw an increase in their salary of $2,000 and there was one full professor in the college. Before there were none.
Even with these improvements, Zhan said she still must worry about faculty retention. One of the ways she raised nursing’s salary was by employing new professors at higher wages, which has left some veterans earning less than the new hires.
And, for now, there seems to be no remedy for this.