University Women: An Exchange

In response to:

The Fight Over University Women from the May 16, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

Gertrude Ezorsky has misinformed and misled the readers of The New York Review of Books [May 16, 1974] about hiring practices at Brooklyn College in the course of her criticism of my views.

In an article on “The Road to a University ‘Quota’ System” (Freedom at Issue, March-April, 1972) I referred to the failure of the HEW Regional Board to understand the academic procedures by which promotions are made at Brooklyn College of CUNY:

On April 30, 1971, President John Kneller of Brooklyn College received a letter from HEW, making not a “complaint” alleging sex discrimination in the case of a particular professor but declaring that “findings” had been reached that the college was guilty of sex discrimination and ordering that an associate professor, who despite her long years of service had not reached the status of full professor, be forth-with promoted to that rank with reimbursement for several years’ pay differential. All this was set forth as a “finding” without even a “hearing”! Failure to act on the finding, it was threatened, would lead to a cancellation of all federal grants.

I went on to add: “HEW did not ask why the promotion in question had been turned down for twenty years by this woman’s colleagues even though other women had been promoted to full professorships.”

It is clear that “the promotion in question” referred to a full professorship.

To which Ms. Ezorsky responds by writing “But in fact her promotion was denied, not by her department colleagues, but by a committee appointed by the administration.” She also cites reports that her department colleagues recommended her promotion ten times in the past. She repeats this in her rejoinder to Jeanne Wacker [NYR, October 31].

The clear implication here is that the promotion to full professorship was recommended by the departmental colleagues of the teacher, and denied by an administration appointed committee. This is false and Ms. Ezorsky knows it is false. The truth is that departments have no jurisdiction over recommendations to full professorships. The Bylaws of the Board of Higher Education specify that promotion to the rank of full professors shall be recommended by the Faculty Committee on Personnel and Budget. Candidates for full professorships are not nominated by departmental colleagues. Associate professors who are one step from the minimum salary for full professors are automatically considered for promotion unless they withdraw their names; there is no vote by departmental colleagues. Further, the Faculty Committee on Personnel and Budget is made up of Departmental Chairmen who are elected by the members of the Department. They are not appointed by the administration.

The qualifications for promotion or appointment to the rank of professor are (Section 11.8; Bylaws of BHE) that “the candidate must possess the qualifications for an associate professor, and in addition a record of exceptional intellectual, educational or artistic achievement…longevity and seniority shall not be sufficient for promotion.”

There also exist Divisional Sub-Committees on Promotion (Humanities, Social Sciences and Humanities) “set up for the purpose of screening of candidates within these divisions and recommending to college-wide promotion committees at each rank the candidates in each division who are judged to be most qualified for promotion” (I am quoting from the Promotion Procedures approved by the Committee on Faculty Personnel and Budget of Brooklyn College). The composition of these divisional committees is chosen by the Chairman of the Faculty Personnel and Budget Committee. There is also for each rank a college-wide Committee on Promotion whose members, selected by the Chairman of Personnel and Budget, are subject to the elective approval of the full membership of Personnel and Budget. These Committees consider the recommendations of the Divisional Committees in the light of the number of promotional slots or vacancies to be filled. They draw up the final list of recommended candidates which goes to the full membership of the Personnel and Budget Committee.

When I referred to the “colleagues” of the teacher whose promotion was rejected it was to the members of the Committees. The rejections go back a long way and I erred in not making clear that they included her application for promotion to associate professorship, too. The record shows that in October, 1964, she appealed to the Brooklyn College Committee of the Board of Higher Education alleging discrimination against her on grounds of sex. After a hearing, the Committee dismissed her appeal on the ground that she failed to substantiate her claim. She then appealed to the entire Board which, after a hearing on April 26, 1965, ruled against her on the same ground. She then took her case to the State Commission of Education which is completely independent of the City University and has overriding jurisdiction in educational matters. In a written opinion on September 12, 1966, Acting Commissioner Nyquist wrote:

The record indicates that in the seven years during which Professor X’s name was considered for promotion, and passed over, seven subcommittees of the Committee on Faculty Personnel and Budget had served, and their opinions represented no less than that of 29 different members of the faculty of the respondent’s college, whose said opinions were never static due to the continuous change in committee membership…. Nowhere in the record is there any affirmative proof that the appellant was denied promotion because of the [sexual] prejudice she claims exists.

In 1968, Professor X was finally promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, the relevant committees having decided that she had fulfilled the qualifications for that post. She has subsequently been judged as unqualified for promotion to full professorship. There were women on all the committees that judged her case. Originally her contention was that the reason for discrimination against her was her refusal to vote for a Chairman approved by the President of the College. Subsequently she charged she was the victim of sexual bias. By her own account it would seem that her grievance stems from events that allegedly occurred almost twenty years ago.

HEW investigators did not hold a hearing when they visited the college on March 18, 1971. Although they recommended that the teacher be “immediately” promoted to a full professorship and her salary be “immediately” raised, in view of HEW’s power to cut off Federal grants, it is justifiable to characterize the recommendations, under the circumstances, as in effect an “order.” Obey or else! It was so perceived by officials at Brooklyn College. There is no evidence that at the time HEW was aware of all the relevant data which a regular hearing would have brought forth or with the details of promotion procedures. The fact that in its letter, the recommendation for immediate promotion is buttressed by the statement that the teacher in question was the only member of her department to have two doctorates without awareness that the second degree was in acupuncture is hardly evidence of familiarity with professional qualifications.

Brooklyn College has steadfastly refused to buckle under to HEW’s demands. As HEW has learned more about the case, it has backed off—unless we are to believe that it too is becoming infected with sexual prejudice.

Gertrude Ezorsky has shockingly distorted my views on affirmative action. I have never denied that in some universities “there has been and still is unfair discrimination against women and minorities.” What I have denied is that the policy with respect to women has been deliberate. It has been in the main a result of socially stereotyped behavior patterns among both men and women, now happily changing. I have unqualifiedly approved of the Executive Order 11246 as amended and have criticized only the guidelines of HEW establishing “numerical goals and timetables,” a semantic evasion for quotas, as violating the spirit and letter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as of the Executive Order.

I have always believed in and fought for a single standard of merit regardless of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. I do not believe in quotas in education, but in expanding educational opportunities. The history of invidious discrimination amply shows that it cannot be abolished by other forms of invidious discrimination.

Sidney Hook

Stanford, California

Gertrude Ezorsky replies:

Sidney Hook errs in two ways: he ignores the relevant method of establishing the facts and he distorts the facts themselves. He shows ignorance of method when he tries to prove that Professor X’s claim of sex discrimination is unwarranted. What is Hook’s evidence? The Board of Higher Education and Acting Commissioner of Education, he says, ruled against her charge. Relying on authority is, of course, justified on some occasions (e.g., interpretation of a dental X-ray). But Hook himself is supposed to be an authority on university sex discrimination. Where is his own independent inquiry into the facts of her case? Two and a half years have passed since he first ridiculed her charge of sex discrimination in promotion. Hook still refuses to investigate the evidence relevant to that charge.

In the article he is supposed to be answering, I cited two crucial items of evidence:

(1) “Men whose academic qualifications were inferior were given the promotion she was denied.” (Let me now give one such example: men who never finished graduate school, and with no plausible PhD equivalent, were promoted to full professorships. Professor X, a Columbia PhD in American Literature, chaired her department’s graduate studies division and, as a senior Fulbright fellow, founded a graduate program in English abroad. Yet she was promoted more slowly than these men and after thirty-seven years is still not a full professor.)

(2) A general pattern of discrimination against women instructors at Brooklyn College was demonstrated by a Chancellor’s Advisory report.

About these two claims, jointly sufficient to confirm Professor X’s discrimination charge, Hook is silent. Yet he continues to insist her charge is false.

He does inform us that, according to Board of Higher Education by-laws, a person promoted to full professor should have “a record of exceptional intellectual educational or artistic achievement.” Were Brooklyn College men denied full professorships unless they showed such “exceptional” achievement? The authority on university sex discrimination didn’t think to ask.*

Let us now catalogue Hook’s major distortions of fact:

Professor X’s Promotion Record

Her record is correctly summarized as follows: after fifteen years as instructor, and eleven years as assistant professor, she was promoted to associate professor in 1968. In the three years from 1968-1971 she was turned down annually for a full professorship. HEW, in 1971, noting her “slow promotional progress,” recommended immediate promotion to full professor at maximum salary with retroactive pay.

Hook reported and now repeats:

HEW did not ask why the promotion in question had been turned down for twenty years by this woman’s colleagues even though other women had been promoted to full professorships. [Emphasis added] [Freedom at Issue, March, 1972]

Hook failed to mention that during those “twenty years” her department had again and again recommended her promotion. He now tries to cover up that failure by showing that the promotion he referred to was a full professorship, over which departments have no jurisdiction. (Their authority to recommend stops at the level of associate professor.) Yes, indeed, but for seventeen of those “twenty years,” she was applying for promotion, not to a full professorship, but to an assistant and then an associate professorship; promotions which, after a number of rejections, she finally received during those seventeen years. Hook may originally have believed—out of ignorance—that “for twenty years” she was being turned down for a full professorship. But he certainly knows better now. He lets slip what he now knows to be the truth, when he writes in his current letter:

“In 1968 [three years before HEW’s report] Professor X was finally promoted from assistant to associate professor…. She has subsequently been judged as unqualified for promotion to full professorship.” [Emphasis added]

Note that according to Hook’s own letter, her rejections for a full professorship began only three years before HEW’s 1971 letter of findings. Hence, he knows his claim, that, as of 1971, she had been “turned down for twenty years” for a full professorship, is false. Yet he has the nerve to repeat this false claim in the same letter.

Why the deliberate distortion of fact? Hook must know that it was disgraceful to have described her as having been “turned down for twenty years” by her “colleagues,” without even hinting that for seventeen of those twenty years, her department colleagues—those trained in her field, who knew her performance best—had recommended her so often and so strongly. Indeed, for five separate years, she was ranked by the members of her department as their first choice in promotion. But Hook still pretends that for “twenty years” she was applying for a full professorship, where no department recommendation is made, apparently hoping that his shameful omission of the facts will not be noticed.

Did Hook, while protecting his public image, think of how this woman felt, reading—for a second time—his description of her, as a woman “turned down for twenty years” by her “colleagues”?

More factual distortion shows up when, citing Brooklyn College regulations, Hook attacks my claim that her promotion was denied by an “administration appointed committee.” Yes indeed, the “screening” of promotion candidates for each rank has been done as Hook explains by “Divisional faculty committees.” It was these “Divisional” screening committees, at each rank, which were responsible for blocking her promotion so often.

But who appoints these Divisional committees? Hook informs us only that they are chosen by “the Chairman of the Faculty Personnel and Budget Committee.” One would imagine, from Hook’s report, that this “Chairman” is himself a faculty member. He does hold a professorship in a faculty department. But this “Chairman” also holds another college position which Hook fails to mention. He is the President of Brooklyn College.

I conclude once more: “her promotion was denied not by her department colleagues, but by a committee appointed by the administration.” In reporting this case, which concerns justice to an individual, Hook, a moral philosopher, has shown “culpable negligence” with respect to “the whole relevant truth.”


Since 1971 Sidney Hook has been attacking HEW civil rights investigators as “aggressively ignorant bureaucrats,” who in “flagrant unawareness of the criteria of scholarship” issue thirty day ultimata, violating due process and threatening helpless administrators with loss of all government funds. When Columbia President McGill, in an October 8, 1971, Life guest editorial, claimed that with “no prior warning” or “suitable…due process,” HEW instructed Columbia “to get into compliance within thirty days, or face a cut-off of federal grant funds,” Hook applauded McGill’s editorial as a response to HEW’s “poisoned” reasoning. Hook suggested that “even alleged criminals” are given better procedural protection than HEW gave Columbia. (Freedom at Issue, November, 1971)

In my article, which Hook is supposed to be answering, I showed that McGill’s claim that there was “no prior warning” or “suitable…due process” was false. (HEW gave Columbia plenty of prior warning and due process during their two and a half years of negotiations.) I also denied Hook’s claim that, in their 1971 letter of findings, HEW had “threatened” Brooklyn College with “cancellation of all Federal grants.” (Freedom at Issue, March, 1972)

Yet Hook fails now to defend either of these attacks on HEW. Nor is there a word from him about “thirty day” ultimata. It is customary in scientific circles to publish corrections of erroneous factual reports. When is Sidney Hook—defender of scientific method—going to remove his incorrect statements about HEW’s civil rights investigators from the public record?

Hook’s current claims about HEW show the same disrespect for factual truth. He writes: “As HEW has learned more about the [Brooklyn College] case, it has backed off.” But Hook doesn’t say what they have learned. Hence, if they have “backed off,” how does he know they were justified in doing so? He complains that their 1971 investigators, having held no “formal hearing,” lacked “details of promotion procedures” and “relevant data.” But Hook fails to report the kind of investigation they did conduct. As I stated, they interviewed “the president” and “dean of administration.” More information about their investigation is available to the general public. For example, a letter from J.S. Pottinger to the City University Chancellor, reprinted in the Congressional Record, (June 23, 1972) states:

The investigation [of Professor X] entailed an examination of Forms D [promotion applications], faculty folders, and Personnel and Budget Committee minutes. As a result of this investigation, the Regional Office made a preliminary finding in favor of the complainant and recommended that the university promote [Professor X] to the rank of Professor.

Hook attacks HEW’s civil rights investigators with lacking “details of promotion procedures” and “relevant data.” It should be clear by now it is Sidney Hook, not HEW, who lacks such information.

Affirmative Action

Sidney Hook has repeatedly claimed that HEW imposes “quotas” on universities. In my article, however, I cited evidence contradicting his claim. Yet Hook, silent on this evidence, still repeats that HEW, in fact, imposes such quotas.

He also claims:

Gertrude Ezorsky has shockingly distorted my views on affirmative action. I have never denied that in some universities “there has been and still is unfair discrimination against women and minorities.”

But nowhere do I say that Hook “denied” there is ” ‘unfair discrimination’ ” in “some universities.” Hook’s attribution of this claim to me is an invention, concocted to avoid responding to my actual account:

Sidney Hook assesses the degree of sex prejudice in universities as merely “peripheral.” Yet Hook—defender for decades of the scientific method—fails to offer a shred of evidence for this view.

Was this a “shockingly distorted” version of his position? Let it be reported more fully:

the relative scarcity of women in university faculties… [has] little to do with discrimination which at the worst has been a peripheral phenomenon among mediocre men…. Because there are today more women in graduate schools, there will be more women on the faculties of the universities in the future…. They can make it on their own…. Like some men, some women cannot believe they have failed through no fault but their own. [Freedom at Issue, July, 1972]

It is true that now, since widespread discrimination against academic women has become public knowledge, Hook has stopped trying to minimize the seriousness of university sex discrimination. Indeed he has even informed readers of The New York Times (November 12, 1974), that “sex bars” in academic employment should be dropped. But whatever view Sidney Hook takes, it is to be regretted that we can no longer expect him to use evidence fairly in its defense.

  1. *

    While ignoring relevant facts about Professor X’s credentials, Hook does not hesitate to display an item which, as he correctly supposes, the prejudiced will appreciate.