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Article on FSB gender discrimination lawsuit disservice to women involved

By Evon Del Vecchi and Deborah Fletcher, Guest Columnists

Miami University, like many organizations, needs to have an open and honest discussion about the relationship between gender and pay. At the heart of such a discussion is an assessment of employee performance and whether pay is in alignment with performance or whether the same performance is rewarded differently as a function of gender. Thus, we were interested to read the recent article in the Miami Student entitled "Finance professors sue Miami for gender discrimination." Such a lawsuit offers an unfortunate, but perhaps necessary, catalyst for the needed dialogue. However, we fear that the simplistic approach taken in the article will have the opposite effect in terms of dialogue about this complex issue.

The article in question focuses on the performance of a small subset of job performance indicators for an equally small subset of Miami faculty. Regarding the number of faculty considered, the article focuses on the performance of Professors Kelly Brunarsky, Yvette Harmon, Terry Nixon and David Shrider. Given that Professors Brunarsky and Harmon are apparently bringing the lawsuit, the focus on their performance is perhaps understandable. What is less understandable is the focus on these two male counterparts.

Ultimately, The Student's article considers the salary of only four of the fifteen tenure track faculty in the finance department. To highlight the dangers of such selective comparison, it can be noted that the three lowest paid tenure track faculty members in the department in 2015 were male.

As for dimensions of performance, Miami faculty members are evaluated across three core dimensions: teaching, research and service.

Further, for each dimension, performance is considered via a number of criteria. Salaries should reflect performance across the entirety of these dimensions and associated criteria. Ignoring the teaching dimension while questioning the salaries of Professors Nixon and Shrider is, at best, a glaring oversight and, at worst, journalistic dishonesty. Professors Nixon and Shrider are two of the most decorated teachers in the Farmer School. Both have won teaching awards at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and both are among a very small set of faculty members who have won the most prestigious school-wide teaching award, the Richard K. Smucker Award for Teaching Excellence, twice in their career.

The Student's article is also faulty in its treatment of the research records of the people profiled. The article focuses on two dimensions of research excellence: the number of publications and the number of times the publications have been cited. Research is also evaluated by the number of authors on a paper (where more authors means less individual contribution); the order of authors (where being first author often represents the greatest contribution to the work); and the quality of the journal in which the article is published.

Even to the extent that the two narrow metrics - number of publications and number of citations - cited in the original article matter, their treatment is mishandled by focusing on publications since tenure. It is difficult to imagine an explanation as to why only publications since tenure should be considered when evaluating a faculty member's performance. Second, considering someone's output irrespective of the time it takes to achieve the output is unduly crude. Professor Brunarsky and Professor Harmon have been tenured for a combined twenty-five years. Professors Nixon and Shrider have been tenured for a combined thirteen years. In this light, it is unsurprising that Professors Brunarsky and Harmon have more publications and citations than Professors Nixon and Shrider.

Measuring performance is difficult. Rewarding performance is complicated by market factors. "Salary inversion," where more recently hired faculty members make more money than longer-tenured ones, is a well know market-driven phenomenon. People who perform best during years with a greater raise pool are likely better rewarded than those whose best performance occurs in years with small raise pools. Simplifying the gender gap issue to four employees and two performance metrics is insulting to those who want to have a mature and informed discussion of the topic.

Further, to the extent that there is more merit to the recently filed lawsuit than presented in the article, it is a disservice to the women bringing the suit.

Finally, the selective dissection of the accomplishments of Professor Nixon and Professor Shrider is patently unfair.

As we see in other realms of American society, one-sided, narrow and selective exposition on important issues leads to philosophical entrenchment and division. We hope that the Miami Community takes a more thoughtful approach to this issue than did The Miami Student.