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Takeover of troubled mortgage program created more issues

Plus, how Penn State’s gender wage gap compares to its Big Ten peers.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

August 3, 2023 |
No relief, election costs, amendment delay, fake electors, missed payments, secret group, reversed ruling, cannabis confusion, and PSERS lawsuit.
Pennsylvania is struggling to overhaul its troubled mortgage relief program and desperate homeowners are stuck in the middle.

Long delays dogged the $350 million program from the start, leading the state to cut ties with the company it put in charge. 

But a new Spotlight PA investigation shows that almost five months after the state took over, problems persist and the transition has in some cases created new ones

Also this week, Carter Walker of Votebeat reports on how counties spent their first grants from the state for election administration costs. Officials spent much of their share on expenses such as mail ballot sorting machines, rental trucks to transport voting equipment, and poll worker pay.

And finally, Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso reports that a constitutional amendment that would provide legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse will not appear on the ballot in 2023

While there's bipartisan support among current state lawmakers for the measure, disputes between the Democratic and Republican caucuses over whether to bundle the proposal with other amendments — including one that would expand voter ID requirements — sank its chances this year.

"I thought this was the end of my stress over my house but it has begun all over again."

—A homeowner who told Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's office that they fell behind on their mortgage and received a foreclosure warning notice after a state program failed to make payments it was supposed to cover

HOW LOCAL GOV'T WORKS: Join us TONIGHT from 6-7:15 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on oversight issues in local governments, how to hold officials accountable, and where you can turn to address issues with municipal services. Register here and submit questions to
» Pa. counties face uncertainty as they grapple with how to spend opioid settlement funds
» Why Trump’s ‘fake electors’ in Pennsylvania are likely to avoid prosecution
» Pa. begins to miss education, human services payments as budget impasse continues

How Penn State’s gender wage gap compares to its Big Ten peers

Penn State is facing at least one allegation of wage discrimination, while salary data shows the university’s gender pay gap is among the worst in the Big Ten. 

A Penn State Abington professor, who was born in Iran, is suing the university for wage, race, and gender discrimination. In a lawsuit filed last month, Faranak Pahlevani argued she earns less than an American-born male colleague, despite the two doing equal work. According to the lawsuit, Pahlevani raised her concerns internally, but the university did not take action.

The university said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation.

Across Penn State’s statewide system, female instructional staff earn on average about 80% of what their male colleagues make, according to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Penn State combines data from all of its campuses when reporting to IPEDS.

The size of the wage gap varies depending on academic rank. According to adjusted IPEDS salary data from the 2021-22 academic year, female professors made 88% of their male colleagues’ average salaries while female associate professors earned 87% of their male counterparts’. For female assistant professors, the figure was 90%, while female instructors, lecturers, and instructional staff without an academic rank earned 98%, 86%, and 72% of their male colleagues’ average salaries.

Spotlight PA requested to speak with a Penn State official about the data, factors that could be creating the differences, how the university’s new budget model may address inequities, and any other university initiatives on the topic. The school declined an interview.

In a statement, a university spokesperson wrote that Penn State “places great importance on maintaining internal pay equity within its faculty ranks.” The university said IPEDS data should not be used to measure equity or draw conclusions since factors such as years of experience, subject area, tenure and non-tenure track faculty, highest-earned degree, and “years in rank at Penn State” are not included in the data.

“Like most government surveys of this type, the IPEDS reporting is only of raw salary data and makes no attempt to compare faculty in similar fields or to account for the myriad factors that influence faculty salaries,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “This is particularly important for Penn State where market forces dictate higher salaries in some of our 14 colleges than in others.” 

According to the university’s statement, median faculty salary data present “a more accurate representation of the central point of the salary distribution, as it remains unaffected by outliers.” Penn State does not typically make median salary data available to the public.

However, in response to a request from Spotlight PA, Penn State provided median salary data for faculty at its Abington campus. In the 2022-23 academic year, female instructional staff earned between 80% and 112% of their male colleagues’ salary depending on their academic rank and whether they were tenure-line faculty.

In the latest IPEDS report, Penn State chose to compare its data against its public Big Ten peers, which showed that Penn State faculty across all academic ranks make less than the median salaries of their conference colleagues. In February, English faculty publicly argued they are the lowest-paid teaching unit at the university.

Penn State’s gender wage gap, averaged across all academic ranks, is among the worst when compared to the flagship campuses of other Big Ten universities, with only Michigan State University and the University of Iowa having a wider gap in the 2021-22 academic year, according to IPEDS. When comparing specific academic ranks, Penn State’s gender wage gap ranking is more varied. Wyatt Massey, Spotlight PA

🏆 HIGH SCORE: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Trump indictment mentions, fake electors, and opioid money for cops
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaSECRET GROUP: A partially redacted Right-to-Know response has named some of the union, energy sector, and environmentalists in the room as Gov. Josh Shapiro's working group on climate change debates a cornerstone of former Gov. Tom Wolf's climate change agenda, Inside Climate News reports. The documents show Shapiro has gone to great lengths to keep the group's inner workings private.

  This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaREVERSED RULING: A Bedford County judge ruled a regional planning commission in southwest Pennsylvania can withhold public records and does not have to comply with the state's Right-to-Know Law. The Altoona Mirror reports the findings reverse a ruling that considered the commission a government agency subject to open records rules.
  • RELATED: A fight over public records could threaten novel approach to broadband in rural Pennsylvania, via Spotlight PA archives
This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaPA LIFESAVERS: State Rep. Jim Struzzi (R., Indiana) lost his brother to a drug overdose at 31 and is now pushing for the statewide legalization of syringe services programs (SSPs) with lifesaving potential. WVIA reports Pennsylvania is one of a few states where the programs remain prohibited — beyond two cities — and that similar harm reduction changes have been slow-moving here even as the epidemic rages

CANNABIS CONFUSION: Following raids that netted $300,000 worth of unregulated THC products from Lancaster stores, LNP examines the confusing legal landscape around hemp products and the intoxicating cannabinoids not specifically listed in state and federal drug laws. Adding to the confusion: State Police say the compounds have been banned here, only under different names.

PSERS LAWSUIT: Pennsylvania’s $72 billion pension fund for public school employees has sued the firm behind a costly math error that falsely inflated the fund's performance and touched off federal probes. PennLive (paywall) reports the 46-page lawsuit filed by the Public School Employees’ Retirement System against Aon Investments seeks millions and indemnification against related civil actions.

» APGuv says millions will help train workers for infrastructure projects

» CAP-STAR: Report outlines the costs of climate change on Pa.

» FOX43: Sunoco agrees to pay $660K to resolve pipeline violations

» PUP: Pittsburgh synagogue shooter to be sentenced to death

» WITF: US House Republicans block grant for the LGBTQ center

Send your answers to

FUNERAL PLANS (Case No. 211)A plane crashed between the border of France and Belgium. Where were the survivors buried?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Beetle. (Find last week's clue here.) 

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