Report: Female faculty still make up minority at KU; also twice as likely to leave jobs

A bus passes in front of Strong Hall Nov. 16, 2015, on the University of Kansas campus.

Female faculty still make up the minority at the University of Kansas, where they’re also twice as likely to resign from their posts as male colleagues, according to a report published earlier this month.

Donna Ginther, a KU professor of economics, headed the committee tasked with investigating and identifying potential gender inequities among students, staff and faculty. The report, requested last year by the University Senate, found that just 35 percent of KU’s tenured or tenure-track faculty are women.

It’s a measurable jump, at least, from about a decade ago, when women comprised about a quarter of tenured faculty at KU. That figure, documented in a 2006 report by the American Association of University Professors, was the second-highest percentage in the Big 12 at the time.

“Relative to our peers, I think in terms of representation, we’re a bit better,” said Ginther, whose research specialties include gender in academia.

For instance, she said, there’s not much of an apparent pay gap when you examine faculty by division and rank. Overall, Ginther and her colleagues found a difference of 5 percent or less in most comparisons, the exceptions being KU’s schools of business and law.

Female associate professors of business earn about 76 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid; female full professors of law are paid less than 85 percent of what their identically ranked male colleagues make.

And, much like student gender demographics across fields of study, female representation among KU faculty tends to follow disciplinary lines, Ginther’s report found. Female faculty make up the majority in the School of Social Welfare, but comprise less than 25 percent of faculty at KU’s schools of engineering and business.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, women comprise between 40 and 50 percent of faculty in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Less than 25 percent of faculty in the college’s natural sciences and mathematics departments, however, are women.

The findings back up Ginther’s additional, older research into why mathematics-heavy fields are still vastly overrepresented by men — and why women are still vastly overrepresented in the more traditionally “feminine” scientific fields. The mechanisms behind these career paths form years before students even enter college, Ginther said.

“A lot of my research shows that, in terms of math-intensive majors like economics and engineering and computer sciences, that divergence in interests happens in middle school,” Ginther said. “And women are more likely to go into what we call LPS — life sciences, psychology and social sciences, excluding economics.”

Nationwide, only 10 percent of full professors in economics are women, Ginther said.

As of the 2016-2017 school year, women held 34 of the 110 dean, associate dean, department chair or area director positions at KU. Ginther attributes this to what she sees as normal fluctuation within the academic climate, where KU often sees its female leaders moving onward to even higher positions at other universities — or retirement, in the case of Bernadette Gray-Little, the first African-American woman to serve as KU chancellor.

Ginther is also concerned about the number of women holding distinguished professorships (20 out of 86) at the university, as well as the complete lack of women (meaning, absolutely zero) in top leadership positions at KU’s designated centers and institutes.

However, “given that the research sector is kind of in turmoil these days,” she said, “it may not be surprising.”

“Where I see some concerns is that we have a significantly higher share of women leaving than men. That’s troubling,” Ginther said. “We didn’t have the data on reason for departure, but that’s concerning.”

At KU, women faculty are more than twice as likely to resign as male colleagues. Retention, Ginther said, remains a key goal — especially in recent years, as state lawmakers have made cuts to KU funding and student financial aid.

“I think that we really need to pay attention to our junior faculty and mentor them and facilitate their success. That’s critically important,” she said. “I think we really need to pay attention to retaining the faculty we have, because that means we don’t lose our investment in the faculty when they leave.”