Op-ed: The Kernel’s tenuous averaging


Makenna Theissen, Staff

Luke Schlake

Why do we say “read the fine print?”

Because it’s a lot easier to believe and accept something written in big font. The first week of the semester, the Kentucky Kernel proclaimed that ”UK’s female deans are paid less”. The accompanying article, written by Ms. Natalie Parks, detailed a difference in deans’ salaries corresponding to gender. But I am concerned students drew unreasonable conclusions from the misleading front page.

The title suggested that women were paid less than men for doing the same job. Comforted by sight of hard numbers and the bolded title asserting “UK’s Female Deans Are Paid Less”, most students gave a cursory glance to the material, accepting that the Kernel had indeed uncovered a pay gap based on gender discrimination.

But we must be cautious of too quickly drawn conclusions.

The article itself identifies a number of possible sources for the pay disparity other than gender bias. One reason is acknowledged by UK Provost David Blackwell, who points out that some dean positions are simply paid more than others because of the high competition in a specific field’s market (e.g. medicine, engineering). It would be one thing for a woman to earn less than a man for working the exact same job, but the value of each dean’s position must be considered in its own context and cannot be flippantly compared across colleges.

To further demonstrate the flaws in the analysis, look at the largest pay gap found by the Kernel. Female deans of the undergraduate colleges were offered starting salaries that, on average, were 83% of what their male counterparts were offered. The Kernel printed this statistic in massive font above the body of the article.

While any stats professor would tell their students that a large data pool is necessary to identify significant trends, the data set for this supposed bombshell statistic was restricted to 16 undergraduate deans. Therefore, if one or two male deans were to be replaced with females, the undergraduate data set would alter significantly. Were a female to become the dean of the college of medicine, the female deans’ average starting salary would rise above that of the men’s!

In fact, average is only one statistical tool. When looking at all 19 deans’ starting salaries, the median salary (or middle value) for men is $270,000, a figure that is $2500 lower than the median value of the women’s salary, $272,500.

We can be quick to criticize institutions because of apparent institutional discrimination—and when appropriate, we should. We need to make sure, however, that we are certain the discrimination exists.

UK female deans may indeed be unfairly paid less than their male colleagues, but the Kernel article does not contain the necessary amount of data or analysis to prove this. There are too few statistics influenced by too many complex factors.

There may be an argument to be made for more female deans at UK, but the argument of a gender wage gap needs much more data to be corroborated. Students and faculty alike should be careful not to draw unsubstantiated conclusions from ambiguous data or gratuitously sensationalized headlines.