The Faculty Room at Princeton University in October 2014.
Princeton University, Facilities Communications, Christopher Lillja
In reaching the agreement, Princeton admitted no liability.

Princeton reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve an allegation of pay discrimination for female full professors, pledging to pay more than $1 million in back pay and salary adjustments to 106 women on the faculty. The resolution was announced Oct. 5 by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). 

The Department of Labor investigation began as part of an ordinary compliance review, the University said. According to the OFCCP, preliminary findings by the office showed disparities for women in the full-professor position, who were paid lower salaries than “similarly situated” male professors in the period between 2012 and 2014. A Department of Labor news release said “Princeton’s actions did not comply” with nondiscrimination rules for federal contractors.

The OFCCP said its model controlled for several factors, including department and years of experience, but University spokesman Ben Chang said in a written statement that Princeton contested the finding “because it was based on a flawed statistical model that grouped all full professors together regardless of department and thus bore no resemblance to how the University actually hires, evaluates, and compensates its faculty.” 

A Department of Labor news release said “Princeton’s actions did not comply” with nondiscrimination rules for federal contractors.

Academic disciplines “function as separate labor markets for purposes of hiring and compensation,” Chang said in the statement. “In other words, a professor of English cannot perform the duties of a professor in the physics department, and vice versa.” The University’s own statistical analyses for 2012–14 “found no meaningful pay disparities based on gender,” according to the statement. 

In reaching the agreement, Princeton admitted no liability. It agreed to distribute $925,000 in back pay (including pay for those who’ve left the University) and at least $250,000 in future salary adjustments. Faculty and administrators involved in compensation decisions for full professors will receive pay-equity training. Princeton also will perform an annual equity review of salaries for all full professors for the next five years, through 2025, and will address any statistically significant salary disparities in that time period. 

“Princeton University is taking multiple proactive steps to promote pay equity and enhance its diversity initiatives that will help it comply with current federal laws,” the OFCCP’s Northeast regional director, Diana Sen, said in its news release. 

According to the American Association of University Professors, which publishes an annual survey of faculty salaries with data from more than 900 institutions, last year’s nationwide averages showed salaries for women across all ranks and departments were 81.4 percent of those for men, and in the last decade “the overall gender pay gap has not budged (and in some ranks has increased).” 

At Princeton, women made up 32 percent of the 814 tenured and tenure-track faculty in 2019–20, according to Princeton’s Office of Institutional Research. The Chronicle of Higher Education, using data from the U.S. Department of Education, reported that Princeton full professors earned an average of $248,252 in 2018–19, second among U.S. institutions, behind Stanford University. Men were paid an average of $252,805, while women were paid an average of $234,593.