The leaders of Utah’s universities have been asked for the past 34 years to report how many women and people of color are in faculty positions.
And they have never done it.
Some have collected the numbers, but few have published their findings. And none have used the same format, so there’s no easy way to make comparisons. From her own experience, Theresa Martinez knows that data would be valuable.
When she started as a sociology professor at the University of Utah in 1990, her salary was $30,000. The two white men hired in the department at the same time, she later found out, were each offered about $5,000 more.
One hadn’t finished his doctoral dissertation like Martinez had. The other had fewer publications than she did. The dean brushed it off.
“You don’t have a family to take care of,” he told her.
“It just kind of floored me,” Martinez said Friday as she recalled the sexist explanation. “But I stayed and I fought.”
Martinez was one of only three women in her department then and the only person of color. It took years before that changed. Now, nearly three decades after she started, half of the sociology professors at the U. are women. Six are minorities. Most, she believes, including herself, are paid equitably.
Certainly those are strides, Martinez said, but she wonders: Are other departments at the university experiencing similar things? What about other colleges in Utah? Where are there still wage and hiring gaps? Can those be closed?
The Utah Board of Regents, which oversees public higher education in the state, wants those answers, too.
Its members voted Friday to update and enforce a policy that was first put in place in 1985 but never implemented.
It will require that university presidents report on the racial and gender demographics of their staffs and share the information in a statewide database each year.
“It’s a fairness issue,” said regent Pat Jones, who also heads the Women’s Leadership Institute in Utah. “It’s important to track it to see how we’re moving whether forward or backward. You need that data to make informed decisions.”
The move to uniformly collect the information comes as four of the eight public colleges in the state are led by woman — many for the first time and overall a historic total. Two of those presidents — Ruth Watkins at the University of Utah and Astrid Tuminez at Utah Valley University — have expressly made it their goal to hire more diverse staffs.
Currently, according to the data on its website, the U.’s faculty of 1,771 instructors and professors is 34% female and 27% racial minorities. Of the available data for each school and the limited comparisons possible, that gives it the lowest ratio of women but the highest for staff of color.
“Obviously, we still have a ways to go,” Martinez said. “But this is the only way that we can find out if there are gender and racial disparities. More transparency is always best.”
The data collection — which will also require university leaders to provide a breakdown of salaries — will be presented annually to the Board of Regents. But it will still be up to the individual schools if they want to do something to change it. The hope is to give professors a chance to review their own treatment, too.
Utah Valley University in Orem, which has the largest student body in the state, inaugurated its first woman and woman of color as president earlier this year. Tuminez has promised to make the faculty more reflective of the diverse student body.
To do that, the school has reevaluated the requirements for applicants. It has generally lowered the number of years of experience it requires — because men tend to have more — and broadened its definition of experience to attract more candidates, said Jeff Olsen, provost at the school.
Of it’s full-time faculty — the only numbers it has published — 44% are women and 13% are individuals of color.
Of the available data for each school, Weber State and Salt Lake Community College both have the highest percentage of faculty who are women at 49%.
SLCC, though, had no public information on racial demographics. And Southern Utah University and Dixie State University both reported the lowest makeup at 7% non-white staff.
The data is hard to compare, however, because some of the schools only post numbers on their full-time faculty. Others use their entire staffs but don’t give an explanation of which are adjunct and tenured professors. That means the numbers may look better for a college if it reports that it has a high number of female employees — but it may not show whether they are in mostly lower or part-time positions.
“If you don’t know what the data is saying then you don’t know what changes to make,” said student regent Jakell Larson.
A little more than a year ago, a group of students at Dixie State brought the policy to the Board of Regents and asked where the data was. They wanted to know why more professors at their school didn’t look like them.
The new rule now states the purpose of collecting the data is to help “provide students with an educational experience rooted in diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds.”
“When they don’t see it, they feel alone on their campus,” said regent Nina Barnes.
That’s a big reason why Martinez said she stayed at the University of Utah despite the salary disparity. She wanted other Latino and female students to have a role model, to see that they could also become professors.
She was the first Mexican-American woman to get tenure in the state, which she achieved in 1996.
“You need to see that you can accomplish this,” she said. “Seeing a white man accomplish it is not a measure of you.”
Though she’ll always remember what the dean said about why she wasn’t being paid more, she also reflects back often to when she first got her Ph.D. At the graduation ceremony 35 years ago, she walked past a mom and her little girl. The woman looked at Martinez, she said, and then back at her daughter.
Then the mom said: “Look honey, she’s a doctor, and you can be too.”