Is St. Kate’s failing to value its female professors?

Since coming to St. Kate’s a few months ago to begin my graduate work in Theology, I have felt empowered both as a student and as a woman. This has been my first experience at a school that caters mainly to women and I was drawn to the university’s commitment to recognizing “the accomplishments of women and their distinct approaches to teaching and learning,” as quoted in the St. Kate’s mission and vision statement.

As you can imagine, I was stunned, but skeptical, when I heard that male professors make more money than female professors at St. Kate’s. I began to do some research and found public records of average faculty salaries at St. Catherine University. The data in Academe showed that the average salaries for male faculty are higher than the average salaries for female faculty at the ranks of professor, associate professor, and assistant professor at St. Kate’s. Typically, an assistant professor is an entry-level employee and does not have tenure yet, an associate professor is one step up and sometimes has tenure, sometimes doesn’t, and the final step for most faculty is a full professorship that is almost always tenured. Average salaries for female faculty are higher than average salaries for male faculty at the rank of instructor, but it is important to note that there are only seven employees overall at this level. These figures are shown in Table 1 below.

This table details the average St. Kate's faculty salary by rank and gender.

This table details the average St. Kate’s faculty salary by rank and gender.

I decided to explore this issue in more detail and was told to contact James Ashley, a former economics professor at St. Kate’s. In addition, Ashley has kept a long-term record of relative faculty salaries at St. Kate’s. Ashley was gracious enough to meet with me to discuss the issue and gave me permission to quote his data and opinions. He acknowledged that there were slight differences in average salaries for males and females at St. Kate’s. But he thought these differences were minor compared to the difference between salaries at St. Kate’s and to other private universities and colleges in the Twin Cities.

His opinions are shown below in an edited version of our conversation. I began the conversation by asking Ashley about the differences in salaries within ranks at St. Kate’s and why he thought it was more important to look at the difference between average salaries here compared to other private colleges and universities in Minnesota. Here is a summary of Ashley’s response:

“The slight differences in mean salary for males and females at the ranks of instructor, assistant professor, and associate professor within St. Kate’s are almost certainly due to random factors at each rank, i.e. time in rank, number of new hires at each rank, departures of current faculty, promotions of current faculty, etc. As a matter of fact, the average salary of female assistant professors was higher than the average salary of male assistant professors in 2013-14. As Table 1 shows, this changed in 2014-15. But the $600 difference in average salaries in 2014-15 is not a significant difference. And I expect the difference to fluctuate in a more-or-less a random way in the future.”

Ashley then explained why he thought the differences in salaries between St. Kate’s faculty and ACTC faculty were significant.

“I think the major issue with salaries at St. Kate’s is not the slight difference in salaries at some ranks within the institution but rather the large gap between salaries at St. Kate’s and salaries at other Minnesota colleges and universities. Since around 81 percent of the ranked faculty at St. Kate’s are females, this means women at St. Kate’s earn significantly less than men at other Minnesota schools where males are the majority in faculty ranks. In fact, while tuition has increased approximately 39.7 percent since 2007-08 and inflation has been about 14.2 percent, faculty salaries have only increased approximately 12.5 percent. This means that, not only are salaries failing to keep up with inflation and St Kate’s faculty are falling farther behind other ACTC faculty, but also that the money from increased tuition clearly isn’t going to faculty salaries.”

As can be seen in Table 2 below, out of the five schools Ashley cited, St. Kate’s ranked in either last place or second to last place for faculty pay.

This table shows the average salary of ACTC professors by academic rank.

This table shows the average salary of ACTC professors by academic rank.

Ashley also made an important note at this point. St. Kate’s salaries are included in the mean ACTC salary data, showing St. Kate’s faculty salary is only 82.8 percent of the ACTC mean. When St. Kate’s is taken out and the data is adjusted, we see that St. Kate’s faculty are only paid around 77.4 percent of the adjusted ACTC mean. This implies St Kate’s faculty would need to receive an average raise of $18,075 to achieve parity with their ACTC colleagues.

Ashley also noted that St. Kate’s seems to be on track to become a very wealthy institution; although, until stocks and bonds are cashed in, professors and students are the ones affected.

“The university has followed a strategy of accumulating financial wealth and constructing new buildings since around 1990. This has been accomplished by making the accumulation of wealth a priority by combining debt financing, investment in the stock market, capital campaigns, and tight operating budgets. This accumulation of wealth has also been based on large increases in tuition rates at St. Kate’s in the last thirty years. Overall, tuition rates have risen more than three times as fast as inflation since around 1987. One of the results of this emphasis on wealth accumulation for the university is that it is now very common for students to graduate with a large, and sometimes crushing debt-load.”

Although I did not receive my undergraduate degree from St. Kate’s, my husband and I graduated in 2013 with over a six figure college debt and expect to be paying off this debt for the foreseeable future. So Ashley’s comment about crushing student debt-load certainly applies to me. Some of our professors could be in this same financial situation.

I discussed this issue of salary differences with several female faculty members at SCU. Only one was willing to be quoted.

This faculty member was Carol Geisler, an associate professor in the Holistic Health Studies department. I asked her about her awareness of salary differentials and why she taught at St. Kate’s given these differences, and she said, “For now, the community, flexibility, and intellectual stimulation I find at St. Kate’s outweigh my salary.”

Ashley also suggested that many professors may stay at St. Kate’s because of the community, the support offered for working parents, or simply because there aren’t job offers elsewhere in many of the fields of study present at St. Kate’s.

This information about faculty pay is important for students to know for a number of reasons. First, we need to be conscious of a sense of entitlement that may grow as our tuition bill does. When tuition is as high as St. Kate’s, there can be an idea that ‘if I, as a student, am paying x amount of dollars, my teacher should be constantly available to me and should teach the class in a way I approve of’. However, what the information above shows is that while students are paying a lot of money to attend St. Kate’s, the professors aren’t seeing that money. On top of meeting the various demands of their jobs placed on them by the university, professors also work their lives around ours and often help students with many things that are above and beyond their job descriptions.

Another reason it is important for students to be aware of the financial situations of our professors is because for many professors, they’re not in a position to be able to speak out about it. Unless a teacher is tenured, keeping a teaching job can be unstable. In fact, out of the faculty members I spoke to, the ones that aren’t tenured at St. Kate’s didn’t want to be referenced in this article for fear of repercussions.

Finally, I want to mention a few things to keep in mind when analyzing the charts above. In the chart for male and female pay, we can see that there are significantly fewer male professors than female. So, the difference in mean salaries could mean that the salaries for one or two male professors are pulling up the mean or it could mean that all of them make more than women and that’s why the mean is higher than women’s. This difference in pay could also be the result of the fields of work men and women have traditionally chosen. Historically, men tend to enter into higher paying areas of study such as math and science while women are present more in the humanities. I would be hesitant to use this as reasoning for the pay gap we see above, but I want to acknowledge the many factors that could potentially affect faculty pay.

As students, we need to keep asking questions, especially with the search for a new president underway. Questions like: How is our tuition being spent? Why are these gaps present between male and female professors? Why is the pay gap so vast between our institution and others? What can we do to make this better and for these numbers to reflect our values that empower women?

An email was sent out to students a few weeks ago asking for input for the presidential search that is underway. This is the perfect opportunity to let our voices be heard by either attending upcoming meetings or emailing

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2 thoughts on “Is St. Kate’s failing to value its female professors?

  1. As little as faculty earn earn here, staff make even less by far. My position requires an MA, and, if I were allowed to work full time, I would make half of a professor’s income. The institution doesn’t offer that many positions that are 40 hours a week, so labor costs are reduced further that way. Administrative staff make even less.

  2. Pingback: Is St. Kate’s choosing economic advantages over fair wages for adjunct instructors? | The Wheel