American Association of University Professors
University of Delaware Chapter

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March 2004 aaUPBEAT

Issues Pertaining to Women in Higher Education

Introduction: Persistent Problems

The relative number of women in higher education has increased dramatically over recent decades as indicated by the fact that the portion of female graduate students at institutions like the University of California has increased from slightly over 10 percent in 1970 to approximately 50 percent in 2002.

An analogous, if not quite as dramatic, increase has occurred in the number of higher education women faculty. According to the Digest of Education Statistics, from 1972 through the late 1990s the percent of female faculty grew from 24.5 percent to 39.6 percent.

Yet in spite of such apparent changes for the better, the rise in number of female faculty hasn't been accompanied by an equivalent growth in female power in faculty life. Growth in higher education female presence has mostly occurred toward the bottom of the power scale, which is shown by the fact (reported by the U.S. Department of Education) that in both 1980 and 2001 the exact same number -- a disturbing 66.6 percent -- of all tenured female higher education faculty in the country were concentrated in two-year schools far from the higher-paying, greater-opportunity environment of more prestigious 4-year institutions. At universities with doctoral programs, by the end of the 1990s the portion of women faculty had not yet risen above 19 percent. Additionally, women who have children early in their academic careers are less likely to get tenure (only 56% do) than men who become fathers earlier in their careers (77% do). The varying ways that concerns related to family size impact on women and men are shown by the fact that 38 percent of female academics feel constrained to have smaller families than they'd like to have, whereas only 18 percent of male faculty feel similarly.

What makes such data even more disturbing than it might be otherwise is the fact that, although the relative number of women faculty has grown, salary and tenure disparities along gender lines have remained more or less stable over the last three decades, thus creating a pattern of a real but misleading expansion of women's role in higher education. This expansion is a Trojan horse which hides persistent gender inequities that continue to relegate women to a academe's most disempowered zones. At UD, for instance, this disempowerment isn't only reflected in female faculty's concentration in lower-paying positions, it is also reflected in data pertaining to the campus-wide employment of women at all levels: whereas only approximately 33 percent of faculty are women, they make up about 94 percent of the far lower-paying secretarial staff.

Searching for the Reasons

Why such gender inequity endures in spite of the apparently increased influence of feminism and pro-diversity consciousness in the academy is the subject of much debate. Many of the positions staked out within this dialogue belong to one of the following three categories.

1. Society-Wide Discrimination. Some analysts maintain that society-wide discrimination against females from birth onward impacts on higher education as elsewhere. From this perspective it is argued that the same values which encourage young girls to view themselves as "little helpers" and which eventually direct them into nurturing occupations (e.g., nursing, primary school education, etc.) also influence the world of higher education by steering women away from more "masculine" interests like philosophy and the hard sciences.

As a National Science Foundation publication reported in 2000, the different disciplines in which women and men seek graduate degrees reflects a gender divide. Whereas women receive 66.6 percent of the doctorates in psychology and 58.7 percent in the social sciences, they receive only 23.7 percent in the geosciences, 23.4 percent in mathematics, 22.4 percent in physical sciences, 16.2 percent in computer sciences and 12.3 percent in engineering.

2. The Male Ideal Employee Model. Other analysts maintain that workplace organization in the academy, like in other work environments, favors men by assuming that the ideal employee is one who, unencumbered by excessive "outside" obligations (e.g., family responsibilities, etc.), is free to devote him/herself more or less exclusively to job performance and career advancement.

Another aspect of this ideal employee model is that it is allegedly based on a male acceptance of the "naturalness" of hierarchy as opposed to the supposedly more female view that cooperation and the relaxation of barriers between people is a better way to relate to people in the workplace. In writing about higher education scientific pursuits, Prof. Janet Mifsud of the University of Malta's pharmaceutical department argues that this difference between male and female views of the workplace results in the fact that "few women are willing to adapt to the male model of academic science, which involves an aggressive, competitive stance and an unconditional devotion to work" a position that many feminists have applied to the whole of academia, not just science departments.

As a result of this refusal to adapt to what is perceived as an at best flawed model of studying and mentoring, women, it is suggested, are kept from the academy's power centers.

3. Self-Limiting Women's Studies Programs. A third critique argues that, ironically, Women's Studies programs have themselves become at least partial abettors of continued male/female disparities in academia. According to this argument, three factors are pivotal.

One is that such programs -- by overemphasizing the need to unbury lost women's histories at the expense of pursuing a more rigorous analytical investigation into the ways that gender creation feeds into what Laurie Finke, a feminist professor at Kenyon College, calls "the power differential between them (women and men) and the inequality that the system of gender generates" -- have failed their participants by leaving them underdeveloped as advocates for change.

A second factor is that Women's Studies programs limit their potential power base by replicating other academic programs in terms of racial/ethnic composition of faculty and students.

The third factor is that Women's Studies programs, as a result of points one and two, are no more analytically equipped to challenge status quo hiring practices than are other programs and departments and that the end result is a conservative impulse to protect their own turfs rather than to break new ground.

In the final analysis, whatever the reason -- or combination of reasons -- for ongoing gender disparities in the academy, the fact of those disparities is undisputable.

UD: Steps in the Right Direction but Still a Way to Go

In spite of the national context cited above, the AAUP has managed to achieve some significant family-related gains for female and male faculty as part of our ongoing effort to make UD more friendly to female faculty.

One of these gains relates to maternity leave and can be found in the Faculty Handbook, Section 4. Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with fifty or more employees to let an employee take up to twelve weeks of FMLA leave within a twelve-month period for care of newborn or newly adopted infants, this is at best a limited first step since the provided leave is unpaid. This is why the AAUP negotiated an agreement with the Administration (Section 9.13 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement) which mandates that departments and chairpersons must grant to eligible faculty the option of "a one semester administered load that allows a choice of either partial or full relief from teaching during the semester of the birth of a child or immediately following the birth of a child."

Another gain involves giving a faculty parent a one year extension of their pre-tenure probationary period for each child up to a maximum of two years. This means that faculty who have children early in their academic careers are now given additional time to establish their tenure credentials, thereby at least partially diminishing the "time penalty" previously inflicted on faculty parents who strove to achieve tenure while simultaneously raising young children.

Although both these gains are important steps in making UD a more attractive work environment for faculty parents, the gains nonetheless leave much to be desired; for instance, the administered workload option should be extended in the next contract beyond biological parents to include the parents of adopted and foster children.

Additionally, there are other UD shortcomings that if left unrectified are guaranteed to prolong the University's inability to increase the number and influence of female faculty. One such shortcoming is daycare. Although UD's Office of Women's Affairs talks about providing "high quality early child care and education and family support services in a new center," the office fails to mention that the center only has 50 slots reserved (out of 237) for University employees, students and faculty. As important as these 50 slots are for the parents whose children fill them, the slots are also a reminder of what we don't have at UD: a sufficiently large daycare program to establish the University as an institution willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to providing faculty and students with a daycare facility (or facilities) adequate to their needs.

Until such problems are solved, the effort to achieve gender equity at UD will be more rhetorical than actual.

As the data show, in spite of a number of a well-publicized UD reports and commissions in support of hiring more female faculty the University nonetheless remains in a rut when it comes to attracting women. From 1992-2001, the percent of women in full-time tenured and tenure-track positions at the University didn't rise even one percent, but instead stayed at 27 percent - an embarrassing failure of its women recruitment strategies by any measure. Meanwhile, a less dramatic but still indicative fact is that in 2001 women held a higher percentage (59 percent) of the lower-paying full-time non-tenure-track slots than they did of the more prestigious tenured and tenure-track teaching/research positions.

It's time for a change.

2004 AAUP Student Award Winners: James N. Sarakatsannis & Jennifer L. Hicks

James N. Sarakatsannis of Cincinnati, Ohio and Jennifer L. Hicks of Rehoboth, Delaware are each winners of a $2,000 AAUP Student Award for graduate study.

Sarakatsannis, a Biochemistry major with minors in Japanese and religious studies, has a cumulative 3.93 GPA. He will graduate with an Honors Degree with Distinction and plans to obtain a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Mr. Sarakatsannis is a District II Rhodes Scholarship Finalist, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a current TA for three undergraduate chemistry courses, and has an article under review summarizing a procedure he developed for use in an undergraduate laboratory course. He is the only undergraduate in a computational chemistry research group, and has completed semesters in Japan and South Africa.

Mr. Sarakatsannis has also been extraordinarily active on campus and in the community. He has been a Big Brother for two years, helped organize several activities to raise funds for children with AIDS, and was an organizer of a student-run project for University of Delaware students in South Africa. Additionally, he is a fine percussionist.

Mr. Sarakatsannis' goals , as a future chemistry professor, include (1) a desire is to encourage undergraduate research in a way that helps students "to appreciate chemistry as it applies to the real world" and (2) to "encourage students to seek out experiences that promote diversity in science."

Jennifer L. Hicks of Rehoboth, Delaware, is an Exercise Sciences major, concentration in Biomechanics, with minors in computer/information sciences and mathematics. She has a 3.99 GPA.

Hicks, who plans to obtain a Ph.D. in Bioengineering, has been a Science and Engineering Scholar for two years, and expects to publish her work on gait and hip joint center research.

As a Dean's Scholar, she has been able to combine preparation in biology, physiology, computer sciences, physics, and mathematics, and she has been involved in interdisciplinary research for two years.

Ms. Hicks has been the recipient of many awards and honors, and has been active on campus and in the community as a volunteer at A.I. duPont Hospital and also for a distance racing series that provided funds for several charities. Additionally, Hicks worked as a summer intern for the Center for the Inland Bays.

Regarding her academic accomplishments, one professor praised her work, doubting that he "would ever find another student with her intellectual capacity, her high level of motivation and focus, her attention to detail, and her dedication to research."

In terms of her expectations for the future, Ms. Hicks hopes that her research will "advance the field of biomechanics, which will in turn... directly benefit patients with musculoskeletal disorders."