LOCK-OUT: Women Academics

A man and his son have a terrible automobile accident. The man is killed. The son is rushed to the hospital for surgery. The surgeon takes one look at the boy and says: "I can't operate on him; he's my son."

Most people cannot explain the relationship of the boy to the surgeon because they are conditioned to think of surgeons only as men. As the boy's father had been killed, the surgeon was, of course, his mother.

In academia, it does not occur to most students that there are strikingly few female professors. They are accustomed to the idea that only men are qualified to hold positions of authority. And, the perceptions remain unchallenged while of the 352 tenured faculty members at Harvard College, only 12 are women.

Nationally, the overall representation of women on teaching faculties, according to a recent research report on the status of women in academe, is identical to the 1970-1971 average--25 per cent. That is there has been no significant change over the past six years. While 25 per cent of faculties on the national average are women, only 16.5 per cent are tenured. Harvard's 3 per cent of tenured women on the Faculty does not compare favorably with the national average.

Women are generally relegated to low positions where they succeed in getting placed at all. Slightly more than one-third of the colleges and universities in this country do not have any women deans. At Harvard, while a large proportion of women are on administrative and professional staffs, women still do not fill the highest positions, e.g., vice presidents and full deans. In the faculty, women occupy junior positions. At Harvard, where there is no tenure track system for any junior faculty members, the problem for women is compounded. For, the issue can be avoided by raising affirmative action statistics by hiring women as members of the junior faculty, keeping them here only temporarily. This strategy has resulted in a 17 per cent differential between the number of women that are members of the junior faculty and those that are tenured.


Even when women do receive tenured positions, they suffer from economic discrimination. Their salaries lag behind those of men. In 1978, the average salary for a male professor was $19,313 but for a female professor, it was $15,941--17.5 per cent lower. These studies control for variables such as type of institution and field of study. The salary gap tends to increase over time and with increasing rank. For example, the salary difference at the level of assistant professor puts women 4 per cent below their male colleagues; 15 years after receiving their doctorates, women earn from 13 to 23 per cent less than men. In addition, marital status is used as a rationale for the justification of lower salaries for women faculty members while it is considered irrelevant where men's wages are concerned.

Concrete examples of discrimination in university tenuring practices and policies clearly exist. In 1978, Brown University agreed, when forced by a class action suit brought by Professor Louise Lamphere, to cease its discriminating against women in hiring, promotion and tenure. Lamphere won a tenured post at Brown. However, controversy still rages at Brown over the case of Professor Ann Seidman. Seidman, who has published ten books and 35 articles, was ranked third on a list for a new chair after two men. When they declined, the Sociology Department reversed itself and withdrew her nomination. The Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee, established by the university in accord with the Lamphere Decree, held that Brown had failed to prove that it had not discriminated against Seidman. Out of 845 tenured economics posts in major Ph.D degree-granting universities, only 14 are held by women.

Harvard has a poor record of incorporating women into its faculty. After hundreds of years, in 1947 the first women was granted a tenured position, a Zeniurray Radcliffe professorship. In 1956 Harvard appointed its first tenured woman professor, in the Department of Astronomy. As recently as 1969-70, while the search was on for a new Zemurray professor, there were no tenured women on the Faculty. At the Harvard Medical School and at the Law School, no women held tenured positions until the mid 1960s and 1970s respectively. Today, only 17 of a tenured faculty of 569 in the University are women. There are as yet no women at the Dental, Divinity, and Kennedy Schools. Finally, a month ago, the Business School appointed its first female professor since 1961 when Henrietta Larson, the first to achieve that position retired.

But while the University's affirmative action gains have at the very best been slow, some departments seem to make better progress than others. Surprisingly, it has been and continues to be the more traditionally "women's fields" like history and English which find cause to complain of a lack of qualified candidates. The Biology Department has tenured two women (Hubbard and Turner) while neither history nor English have tenured any. Yet, government statistics reveal that 20 per cent of recent Ph.Ds in history are held by women. According to the recommendation of a faculty committee chaired by Caroline Byrum and Michael Walzer in 1971, "If Harvard granted tenure to women equal to the percentage who received Ph.D's at the University ten years ago, women would compose 19 per cent of its current tenured faculty."

The attitude underlying these inequities seems to be that women just are not qualified to be tenured members of the Harvard faculty. President Horner commented on the large numbers of degrees granted by some departments in which tenured women are entirely absent. Although, she says, one cannot expect immediate change, the underutilization reflects badly on Harvard policies.

Harvard meets its affirmative action goals only by lowering them. In doing so, not only does it deny women equality of opportunity, but it fails to meet its responsibility to undergraduates by denying them the important social benefits to be derived from the presence of qualified women faculty members. Horner points out that "teaching as a part of socialization is instrumental to the educational process--not just the substance but who conveys it and in what manner, is crucial." The composition of the faculty is as vital as that of the student body. Without female role models, all students are led to believe that women are not qualified for positions of authority. The positions in which women are visible affect male and female expectations of what women are capable of doing. Angela Giral, chair of the Ad Hoo Committee on the Concerns of Women at Harvard made the point well: "A lack of women with tenure gives the impression that Harvard thinks there are no women with scholastic aptitude to warrant it. We don't believe that. We believe Harvard simply hasn't looked hard enough." For the presence of women to have any impact, there must be a significant number of them on the Faculty.

MacCaffrey admits that evaluation procedures are "primitive at best." However, the subjectivity of promotion and tenure decisions is not seen as an element contributing to the persistence of discrimination, but is instead used as a screen on which to project an image of irreproachable authority. The subjectivity of guidelines reinforces the evidence offered by the numbers themselves--that certain sectors of the university are not truly committed to affirmative action.