UO’s attempts to dismiss Freyd lawsuit include redefining “Professor”

4/11/2019 update. Arguments about to start. More later.

4/8/2019 update: Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer.

But having now spent a little more time with the docket, I see that in addition to the retention raise issue mentioned below, our administration’s lawyers are pursuing another interesting and potentially more troubling strategy in their argument for dismissal.

If I understand it, they are arguing that there is no such job as Professor. Instead, there are different professor jobs, each with different responsibilities. So different that every professor should really be in their own separate, unique, incomparable job classification. Presumably they also think these classifications should change annually, or at least with the NSF grant cycle.

This argument means that there can be no such thing as pay discrimination for professors, because there are no two professors with the same job classification. Therefore Judge McShane must dismiss this case. Brilliant.

While universities have been mistakenly lumping all these different professor jobs under the category of professor for centuries (albeit with subcategories for rank and discipline) now is the time to put a stop to this professor thing, and the University of Oregon is just the place to do it! Presumably our administration’s new Faculty Tracking Software will help with the slice and dice.

As I mentioned, I’m not a lawyer, or even a legal historian. However it seems to me that an opinion from the judge agreeing that this argument is grounds for dismissing the case, if sustained, would be a precedent with wide ranging effects, making it nearly impossible for anyone in a professional job with varying job responsibilities to ever win a pay discrimination case.

You can read UO’s outside attorneys Paula A. Barran, Shayda Zaerpoor and Donovan L. Bonner of Barran Liebman LLP laying out their arguments in this motion to dismiss. A snippet:

They’ve even persuaded a few UO people with the job title soon to be formerly known as  Professor to give sworn affidavits that support this argument. Other professors swear that it is bullshit. Check the docket here.

Suggestions for our new job titles are welcome in the comments.

4/7/2019: Gender gaps in outside offers and retention, Freyd lawsuit

Oral arguments in Prof Freyd’s gender pay discrimination lawsuit against UO are this Thursday at 2PM (lengthy docket here). The crux of the case, as I understand it, is whether a gender gap in salaries that results from a gender gap in retention and outside offers, rather than intentional gender discrimination, is illegal.

The timely report by Harvard’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), here, bears directly on the existence of these gender gaps. (Thanks to a reader for forwarding this link.) Some snippets:

Further, the study’s insights into the negotiation process are suggesting some troubling gender gaps. For example, among those who didn’t ask for a counteroffer, men are more likely than women to receive one, anyway; among those who do ask for a counteroffer, women are more likely to be denied.

Higher ed’s “counteroffer culture” has real costs. Faculty are expected to cultivate outside offers before they can ask for a better deal at home. This requirement pushes them out the door: we are finding that nearly 1 in 3 faculty who left had originally sought the offer only to renegotiate the terms of their employment.

Universities have a “home-field advantage” in retaining dual-career couples. Retentions were nearly twice as likely as departures to have a spouse employed at the same institution. The implications for women are particularly acute: 48% of women versus 21% of men ranked spousal employment as a primary factor in their decision to stay or leave.

COACHE’s mission is interesting:

… a research-practice partnership (RPP), committed to improving the academic workplace and advancing the success of a talented and diverse faculty. We accomplish this by providing comparative, actionable insights on what faculty need to do their best work. We derive these insights from survey and institutional data that we collect and analyze under the highest standards of research. We share these insights with a community of practice in academic affairs who are, like us, committed to making academic leadership more adaptive and governance more strategic.

They partner with about 250 universities to conduct surveys on faculty matters, at quite reasonable costs:

Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey

The Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey offers academic affairs administrators unique insights into the faculty experience. The survey captures faculty sentiment with regard to teaching, service and research, tenure and promotion, departmental engagement and collegiality, and other aspects of the academic workplace.

Faculty Retention & Exit Survey

The Faculty Retention & Exit Survey involves COACHE partners in the only comparative study of faculty retentions and departures. The results show the implications of certain policies and offer insight into the causes, costs, and conduct surrounding faculty exit.

I wonder why the UO administration is so eager to blow money on things like Academic Analytics and now Faculty Tracking Software, but unwilling to participate in efforts like these?

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10 Responses to UO’s attempts to dismiss Freyd lawsuit include redefining “Professor”

  1. thedude says:

    Universities also have a home field advantage in hiring couples. Often 1 person that is marginally qualified for a job and is overpaid gets hired because the other is a star and might be underpaid. But people only get mad one part is underpaid, and you don’t see the campus suing that they are overpaying part of the couple.

    Likewise, the university doesn’t hook up non dual phd households with jobs or careers. People like the benefits that come when the university solves their dual search but get they can’t have their cake and eat it too….

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    • not entirely true says:

      Non-phd spouses get hooked up all the time. It’s actually a big contributor to admin bloat. By passing through extra money to a non-phd spousal seat warmer it keeps phd salary comparitors lower throughout the department, and is thus a cheaper investment for the University.

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  2. Lemur says:

    Actually, the university does have someone whose job it is to help faculty partners (including those without PhDs) find jobs. Her name is Rhonda Smith.


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  3. Deplorable Duck says:

    Just to tie the threads together, this is where our General Council earns his generous salary. His job is to win this lawsuit, or proclaim loudly to the top brass that it likely will not be won and should be settled. Those are the only acceptable outcomes. He’s here to protect UO from these legal risks.

    A few might argue that the lawsuit has merit, and UO should lose. I’m not of that opinion, but in any case, nothing could be less relevant in a court of law than the merits of the case. Produce, GC, or begone!

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    • not entirely true says:

      On any case of substance GC will usually punt to a subcontracted firm for a very generous fee. Your tuition dollars at work!

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  4. prof from another says:

    “Suggestions for our new job titles are welcome in the comments.”

    Distinguished Professor or Regents Professor, with a rigorous selection process, and limited numbers per yr; OSU limits the number to 2. .Every other R1 school I know has these ranks, restricted to their ‘best faculty’. and they usually come with a defined salary increase. These sit along side endowed chairs to retain great faculty. They sit outside yearly salary increases, and promotion salary increases. They should be hard to get, but unrelated to retention offers.

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  5. Hippo says:

    I agree that almost every instance of fitting a least squares line to observational data for a purpose other than data summary is devoid of “supported methodology”. (Yeah, two-stages, instruments, etc won’t save you, despite what the economists want you to believe.). I look forward to the University administration eschewing all instances of this pseudoscience since they swear in court they agree! No more garbage regressions on faculty data, thank you very much.

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  6. Eyeroll says:

    I’d love to know how much the UO administration is spending to fight this case rather than settle it. Unless their goal is actually to prevail in un-defining “professor” for purposes that cannot be ethical, I can’t see the advantage to going to court with this.

    Kind of reminds me of JH’s incredible claim in (I think) 2007 that professors’ job descriptions “didn’t require them to publish” (!) so the UO could legitimately refuse to indemnify a faculty member in a civil suit generated by something published in an academic article.

    Still working to dissolve the professoriate

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    • Hippo says:

      Ha, I remember the “publishing is not an official duty” line.

      As for this lawsuit, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have much merit; the argument seems to be based on a least-squares line fit on observational data with a handful of points in it. See my comment above about the possibility of causal inference from such data. This isn’t dispositive one way or another about gender discrimination, which is quite possible given what I see with my own eyes, but I don’t think the argument being put forward is a persuasive one.

      What I would like to see is that if the University chooses to advance an argument in court, it commit to its own policies being consistent with the argument.

      As I write above, the University should refrain from shitty inferences based on least-squares lines. From what I can tell, that is exactly how they are making the so-called equity adjustments. Similarly, I have no idea what is the secret sauce the Academic Analytics or whatever they are called is using to track us, but I suspect the methodology is garbage. Since the University has declared it has no tolerance for unsupported inference methods in court, I would like to see them stick to that in their actions on campus.

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