For some Columbia professors, waiting three years for the results of a pay equity study is just too long. After a series of hand-offs and ad-hoc committees that have formed and disbanded, officials say that results are on the way. But some critics claim that the data became stale over time. Over three years ago, the Research Officers Committee of the University Senate, along with the Commission on the Status of Women, proposed a salary equity study for research officers to ensure that they are receiving equal pay regardless of gender, race, age, and other factors. The results have yet to be seen. During the senate's first plenary meeting in September, Daniel Savin, a member of the Research Officers Committee, discussed the study and urged the University to release the results. The committee's annual report for the 2008-2009 year states, "The University is taking what the ROC believes to be an unreasonably long time to complete this study," adding, "We are pushing the administration to have the results out this coming academic year." According to the Research Officers Committee's 2005-2006 annual report, it originally initiated the study because no such study had been done before. Similar studies had been conducted for officers of instruction, but never for research officers. According to the most recent annual report, in spring 2006, Jean Howard—then vice provost for diversity initiatives—approved the study, which was carried out by Lucy Drotning, the associate provost for planning and institutional research. At the end of the summer of 2006, Drotning presented preliminary results that, according to Savin, "showed significant discrepancies in salaries among certain Columbia research officer titles." After the preliminary results appeared in mid-2006 based on data from April 2005 to June 2006, Howard formed an ad hoc committee—which included both research officers and faculty—to review the results, but her term expired before the study was completed. In fall 2007, new Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives Geraldine Downey wanted to add data from July 2006 to June 2007 to the study while disbanding the ad hoc committee. Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg took over the study in the summer of 2008 and formed another ad hoc committee to review the results that fall, which began to meet in the winter. Concerned Columbians are still waiting on the data. But since the summer of 2006, Savin said, "From the point of view of the research officer community, this report has gone into a black hole." When the final results are released, he added, if the discrepancies disappear, he "will press the administration to explain why." Savin emphasized the importance of the study and the necessity of the results being released. "Given that the condition of research officer salaries affects people's livelihoods, my committee considers this a major issue," he said, adding that the committee understands that new Provost Claude Steele will "have to familiarize himself with the issues," which will "delay the process further." Despite this, Savin urged quick results. Rittenberg said last week that officials are in the "final stages of preparation" for the study. The committee is supposed to present the results to Steele soon, and then "he will decide what he wants to do." He added that the delay on the study has been due to "some questions with the quality of data." Rittenberg also noted that a different study that assesses similar issues for the Morningside faculty has been in the works for about a year, and stressed that "the results have to be interpreted carefully between minorities and non-minorities, because it might not be discrimination." Still, he added that even if nothing arises in the results of the studies, "it doesn't mean that there are not individual cases [of discrimination]." Maya Tolstoy, chair of the Senate's Commission on the Status of Women, was a member of both the commission and the Research Officers Committee when the salary study was first initiated. She said she was hesitant to speak about the study since "a lot of the information is confidential" and covers a "sensitive issue" at the University. Mercy Davidson, a retired senior research scientist from Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons who also sat on both committees, said she and Tolstoy were on Howard's initial ad hoc committee, but the preliminary results were never given to them. "Maya and I never knew what happened to the results then," Davidson said. But she expressed concerns about the value of the original data now. "The longer you take to analyze the data, the more skewed the results become because of the time factor," she said. "I don't know if any of the data they have now has value anymore." Asked about the study, Drotning declined to comment, saying, "It would not be appropriate for me to talk ... about the specifics of the studies since their results have yet to be made public."
Columbia Spectator Staff