Self-described 'pioneer for women's education' sued for gender pay discrimination

Vassar College, founded in 1861 as a women's college, was sued on Aug. 30 by five professors who accuse the school of being biased against women in compensation, evaluation, and promotion.

Vassar has historically championed itself as a leading voice for women in high education and promotes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in its mission statement.

Recent litigation brought against one of the nation’s leading progressive institutions indicates that the school might not practice the liberal principles it preaches.

On Aug. 30, a group of female professors filed a federal pay discrimination lawsuit against Vassar College, one of the founding women’s colleges in the United States.

Five current and former female professors, joined by 36 additional faculty, allege that Vassar has known about this “long-standing” issue yet has been negligent in taking action.

“The College has known for many years that it has unlawfully paid men more than women, but it has for years rejected our overtures and refused to address this discrimination in any meaningful or substantive way,” the women wrote in a joint statement.

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Wendy Graham, Maria Höhn, Mia Mask, Cindy Schwarz, and Debra Zeifman comprise the five plaintiffs in the case. They are professors in the Vassar departments of English, History, Film, Physics, and Psychology, respectively.

“We do not take lightly the decision to speak out, but Vassar has left us with no other choice,” they said in their statement.

More specifically, the professors accuse the college of deliberately delaying the promotion of women faculty members, in addition to using compensation and evaluation systems that adversely affect their standing at the school.

Vassar prides itself as being a “pioneer for women’s education,” pointing to the fact that when the school opened in 1861, “for the first time, women were offered courses in art history, physical education, geology, astronomy, music, mathematics, and chemistry, taught by the leading scholars of the day.”

According to its mission statement, Vassar “is now open to all and strives to pursue diversity, inclusion, and equity as essential components of a rich intellectual and cultural environment in which all members, including those from underrepresented and marginalized groups, are valued and empowered to thrive.”

“It is striking that Vassar — an institution founded on principles of equity — has for so long refused to address inequity within its own walls,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michelle Lamy, told Campus Reform. “This turn toward opacity would be a failure for any institution, let alone one that so publicly claims to strive for equity and inclusion.”

“If it can happen at Vassar, it can happen, and is happening, everywhere,” she added.

The professors in the case have also gained strong support from Vassar’s student body. 

On Sept. 13, students organized an on-campus protest to express their solidarity with the plaintiffs and female faculty members.

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The same day the case was filed, Vassar’s Board of Trustees issued a statement reaffirming the school’s commitment to “pay equity.”

On Sept. 9, Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley wrote a letter to the editor of the school newspaper, The Miscellany News, stressing that the institution is “committed to gender equality,” while noting that the “faculty members who brought this lawsuit have a different understanding of the relevant facts and law that is at issue in this dispute.”         

“I look forward to diligently working with all parties to reach a fair and thorough resolution in due course,” she concluded the piece.                                                                    

Campus Reform has contacted each plaintiff and President Bradley for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.