In the March 29 edition of the Tartan, reporter Liam Adams does a very good job reporting on the complex topic of College finances. It was also a story in which he sat down with us and two of his colleagues and worked through his data and research on the topic so that we could answer questions and clarify as needed.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his “pay disparity” piece in the same issue, which falls far short of the Tartan’s intended commitment to good journalism and irresponsibly implies a serious problem where there is not one—and certainly not based on the data they draw from.
The problems start at the outset, with a headline (“Statistical Tests Find Support for Pay Disparity”) that is patently misleading, given the article’s own conclusion: “At this point, there is no clear conclusion about the reality of equal pay (or the lack of equal pay) at Gordon College.”
But the most egregious error is misinterpreting and then extrapolating incorrect assumptions from the document that prompted their inquiry. The source for their analysis, as they point out, is a “final check register” processed regularly by the College payroll office and emailed by mistake to a campus distribution list more than a year ago. This document does not provide data that is adequate to determine whether there is pay disparity by gender, let alone what the cause might be.
Check stubs reflect net pay (salary minus deductions), which may differ from one employee to another, and may differ even for employees who make the exact same salary. If one person has deductions for medical, dental, retirement and extra tax withholding, for example, but another employee gets health coverage from their spouse’s job—that person’s take home pay might appear to be much larger if based on a comparison of a single check amount with no other context. Other factors that affect salary levels include length of service at the College, stage of career, and the level and responsibilities of a particular job, all of which transcend gender. These variables are not considered in the analysis.
These facts—added on top of the central flaw that net pay is inappropriate for use in this type of analysis—confirms (as they again concluded themselves) that no conclusions can be drawn. Such a piece would not have passed muster with most professional media outlets. In an issue where the Tartan decided to view the administration’s role in Gordon events of recent years through a particularly harsh lens, this article came across as spurious piling on. That’s both unfair and unfortunate, and can’t help but undermine the integrity of their other stories, all of which have ramifications beyond campus. As young journalists with the right intentions to examine important issues, and a love for Gordon—which, frankly, is shared by every one of our Cabinet colleagues—I would hope the editors will be able to learn from this particular misstep as they make decisions on story coverage in the future.
Michael Ahearn, Vice President for Finance
Rick Sweeney, Vice President for Marketing and External Relations