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The Fight Over University Women

Sex Discrimination

The claim that universities use the merit system is weakened even more by the extensive evidence of university sex bias in employment. In this respect, universities looked no better in 1970, when HEW began a number of campus reviews, than did society in general.

Let us briefly recall how widespread sex bias had become by 1970. Excluded, for the most part, from positions of power in government, industry, labor, and the professions, women were concentrated primarily in low paying, unskilled and semiskilled jobs. (Even in an overwhelmingly female occupation, lower education, there were fewer than five women among 13,000 US district superintendents.)12 For every $100 earned by the average full-time male worker in 1968, his female counterpart earned $58.20.13 A typical eighth-grade male graduate earned as much as a woman BA working full time.14

Such gaps have usually been explained by saying that employers are “naturally” reluctant to hire and promote women who “naturally” take time out or resign because of family obligations. This family rationalization is used so often it deserves a name: Famrat. But by 1970, studies had undermined this argument considerably. When the records of men and women were compared for the same job categories, it turned out that women resign or are absent less often (including time off for child care and pregnancy) than men. The status of a job roughly predicts turnover. Dish-washers leave their jobs more often than bank presidents.15

The scarcity of women’s faces in high places has been coupled with a general belief in their inferiority. Thus, in experiments, the same article (appraised by both women and men) was rated significantly lower when attributed to a female writer.16 The belief in female inferiority has shown up in radical as well as respectable society. At a 1966 SDS convention women who proposed a women’s liberation plank were “pelted with tomatoes and thrown out of the convention.”17 As the power, position, and pay of most jobs increase, the smaller the ratio of women. This same pyramid appears within academies, where as institutional standing, rank, and salary rise, the ratio of women declines. Perhaps this pyramid has been based on women’s academic inferiority? Let us see.

Higher Hurdles

A comparison of male and female students shows that “apparently only the very best of the good women students” entered graduate school. 18 Harmon, in his study of over 20,000 PhDs, reports:

Women…PhDs are superior to their male counterparts on all measures derived from high school records, in all…specialization[s]. [Page 60] An earlier study…found…women PhDs…brighter by any index…used, than men in the same…specialization. [High School Ability Patterns: A Backward Look from the Doctorate, Scientific Manpower Report No. 6, 1965, L. R. Harmon, pp. 27-28]

There is a simple enough explanation for this marked academic superiority of women PhDs: since women students faced greater obstacles in obtaining PhDs, in general, only the very able made it. But the barriers these women encountered as students foreshadowed their treatment as instructors.

As a consequence of sex quotas, women needed higher grades for admission to many colleges. (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill restricted admission of women a few years ago “to those…especially well qualified.” The entering class was 80 percent male.)19 In academia, open expression of sex prejudice was considered respectable. Nathan Pusey, president of Harvard, upon learning that, because of the draft, fewer men would apply to Harvard Graduate School, complained, “We shall be left with the lame, the halt, and the women.”20 Sarah Lawrence president Charles de Carlo explained that “feminine instincts…demand that men be better than they are.”21

It is unimaginable that spokesmen for major liberal academic institutions would have openly expressed such attitudes toward Jews or blacks. (It is also unimaginable that such institutions would have tolerated bulletins in their placement offices listing jobs for “whites only” or “gentiles only.” Yet the College Placement Annual used by hundreds of major institutions often advertised jobs for “male only.”)22

What college presidents said openly about women is a mild indication of what went on behind the scenes, when women’s grades and recommendations were made up or when women students criticized a male professor’s opinions in class. The following are samples from a collection of remarks by academic men about women:

Any woman who got this far has got to be a kook…. The girls here get good grades because they study hard, not because they are more intelligent than men…. We expect women who come here to be competent, good students, but we don’t expect them to be brilliant or original…. Women are intrinsically inferior…. Our general admissions policy has been, if the body is warm and male, take it; if it is female, make sure it is at least an A minus from Bryn Mawr.23

Women who survived in academic life had to be able, hard-working, and determined. A medical school dean exclaimed: “My God,…what [am I] going to do with all these female overachievers who keep applying?” 24


Were “female overachievers” applying for jobs as instructors rewarded in accordance with “their ability and…works”? One study suggests they were punished because of their ability and work. Women PhDs ranking highest by academic standards turned up as the same women who reported academic sex discrimination (H. Astin, The Woman Doctorate in America, p. 107).

Let us look now at the general position of women PhDs. Over 90 percent are employed;25 they work primarily in lower ranking institutions which require heavier teaching loads for lower salaries.26 It is often the case that a junior scholar, beginning as an instructor or assistant professor, ascends the academic ladder to a full professorship. Yet never in the history of six social science departments at the University of Chicago (founded in 1892) has a single woman junior appointee become a full professor in her department. (The first woman to teach a political science course—Elizabeth Wallace in 1892—was also the last woman appointed in that department.)27

Seabury describes the scarcity of women on major university faculties as “statistical underrepresent[ation]” caused by the merit system.

This [merit] system…left a myriad of American categories statistically underrepresented in the highest precincts of American higher education…. On faculties…women are underrepresented…. Jews…3 percent of the population…are a vastly greater proportion…on the faculties of America’s greatest universities. [HU, pp. 40-41]

By women’s “statistical” underrepresentation on major university faculties, Seabury means the disparity between the female percentage of such faculties and the 51 percent female proportion of the national population. To fault universities alone for that is, of course, to burden them with sins not of their making. But there is another revealing disparity which Seabury never mentions: the great gap between women trained as PhDs and women hired as faculty by major universities. Here are some pre-HEW 1970 comparisons between the ratio of women as PhDs and as major university faculty:

Approximately one in eight PhDs is a woman, but at major universities one in fifty full professors is a woman.28 Women are granted one in six sociology PhDs, but only one in 100 sociology professorships in top graduate schools.29

Women were awarded 10 percent of Harvard’s Arts and Sciences PhDs in 1960, and 19 percent in 1969. But Harvard’s 1969-1970 Senior Arts and Sciences Faculty (except for one woman’s chair) was composed as follows: Men, 483; Women, 0.30

In 1968, Columbia awarded women 67 percent of its PhDs in French, 44 percent in anthropology, 36 percent in psychology, and 17 percent in philosophy. But no woman was included on these PhD-granting faculties. 31

In 1968, major institutions awarded the following percentages of PhDs to women in five disciplines. Psychology: 26 percent, zoology: 20 percent, bio-chemistry: 21 percent, history: 13 percent, philosophy: 11 percent.32 But Berkeley’s 163 faculty positions in these five disciplines (instructor and up) were distributed in 1968-1969 as follows: Men, 163; Women, 0.33

Why does this enormous gap exist between women trained and women hired by major universities? Famrat surely competes with sex discrimination as a candidate for such an explanation: a woman PhD’s family obligations are so consuming that she becomes less qualified than her male counterpart. When one notes that the average woman PhD does twenty-eight hours per week of housework, Famrat seems even more plausible as an explanation.34

But if Famrat were true, then there should be sharp differences between men and women PhDs in the amount of work published. In fact the difference is a negligible one.35 Not surprising if we remember that it usually takes very hard-working, able, and determined women students to overcome the barriers of sex prejudice. Moreover, Famrat cannot tell us why the half of women PhDs who are single receive “markedly lower” salaries than male PhDs.36 Or why, as a study of academic social scientists holding a PhD over twenty years showed, 90 percent of the men, but only 53 percent of the single women, had attained a full professorship.37 Finally, while Famrat might explain why some academic women become less qualified than their male competitors, it cannot explain why academic women equally qualified with men are paid less and promoted more slowly.

An analysis of the 1969 survey by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education and the American Council of Education sums up the story.38 Allowing for practically all the relevant factors that might affect the outcome (demographic, educational, work experience, institutional), the results “clearly demonstrate the biases…against women in awarding rank.” To pay women as much as men of “similar rank, background, achievements and work setting” would require an average compensatory raise of $1,000. This figure, according to the analysts, is “extremely conservative” since it does not reflect the salary loss from discrimination in opportunities for advancement, hiring, and rank. The amount of “actual” salary discrimination entitles women to a “substantially” higher compensatory average raise (emphasis in original).

If sex bias deprives academic women of the salary and rank they deserve, it is surely reasonable to infer that such bias also deprives them of other professional rewards, e.g., of positions they merit in the “highest precincts” of American education. When Seabury’s articles extolling the academic merit system appeared, mounting evidence of university sex discrimination had already been published, although no-where does this social scientist refer to it. Sidney Hook assesses the degree of sex prejudice in universities as merely “peripheral.”39 Yet Hook—defender for decades of the scientific method—fails to offer a shred of evidence for this view. These self-proclaimed defenders of scholarship standards might start by doing some homework.


By 1971 the HEW civil rights investigators were conducting a number of reviews of university discrimination. Predictably, administrators in institutions where women had been kept in their place complained that the HEW investigators were violating their rights. The published reports about two such cases—Columbia University and Brooklyn College—suggest, however, that it is the authors of these reports who are violating rights—the right of their readers to be told the whole truth.

  1. 12

    Statement of…Chairman, Legislative Task Force, Professional Women’s Caucus,” House Hearings, p. 1061.

  2. 13

    Survey by the Economic Unit of U.S. News and World Report, April 13, 1970, reprinted in House Hearings, p. 22.

  3. 14

    House Hearings, p. 22.

  4. 15

    A Strategy for Change,” Eleanor Holmes Norton in Women’s Role in Contemporary Society, The Report of the New York City Commission on Human Rights Hearings, September 21-25, 1970 (Avon Books, 1972, hereafter WRCS), p. 60.

  5. 16

    The experiment in which female college students rated the articles was conducted by Philip Goldberg (“Are Women Prejudiced Against Women?” Transaction, April, 1968, 5, pp. 28-30). The experiment was repeated informally, with male students doing the rating, by Sandra L. and Daryl J. Bem in their classrooms with the same result (“Training the Woman to Know Her Place: The Power of a Nonconscious Ideology,” Sandra L. and Daryl J. Bem, WRCS, pp. 103-104).

  6. 17

    Sisterhood Is Powerful, Robin Morgan, p. xxi.

  7. 18

    Academic Women, Jesse Bernard (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), p. 80.

  8. 19

    Bernice Sandler, WRCS, p. 571.

  9. 20

    Ann Harris, WRCS, p. 583.

  10. 21

    Ann Harris, WRCS, p. 584.

  11. 22

    Sandler, WRCS, pp. 573-574.

  12. 23

    Harris, WRCS, p. 587.

  13. 24

    Joan Flannigan, WRCS, p. 358.

  14. 25

    The Woman Doctorate in America, Helen Astin (Russell Sage Foundation, 1969), p. 57 (a study of women awarded PhDs in 1957 and 1958).

  15. 26

    Sandler, WRCS, p. 571.

  16. 27

    Women on the Social Science Faculties Since 1892, University of Chicago,” Jo Freeman, House Hearings, pp. 994-997.

  17. 28

    Women in Academia,” Science, January 14, 1972.

  18. 29

    Status of Women in Graduate Departments of Sociology, 1968-1969,” Alice S. Rossi, The American Sociologist, Vol. 5, No. 1, February, 1970, p. 64; “Availability Statistics, Women Holders of the PhD, 1967-1969 (Top Degree Granting Schools),” published by Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges, Washington, DC, April, 1972 (hereafter, Availability Statistics).

  19. 30

    Preliminary Report on the Status of Women at Harvard,” House Hearings, pp. 183, 185.

  20. 31

    See the “Report from the Committee on Discrimination Against Women Faculty, Columbia Women’s Liberation,” House Hearings p. 260; and Columbia University Graduate Faculties Announcements, 1967-1968, 1968-1969. Election of a department member to a Faculty usually implies permanent tenure.

  21. 32

    Availability Statistics.

  22. 33

    Report of the Subcommittee on the Status of Academic Women on the Berkeley Campus,” House Hearings, p. 1171.

  23. 34

    Astin, p. 95.

  24. 35

    Concerning “the two most direct (measures of productivity),…numbers of articles and books published, married women [PhDs] publish as much or more than men [PhDs] and unmarried women publish slightly less than men,” “The Woman PhD: A Recent Profile,” R. J. Simon, S. M. Clark, and K. Galway, Social Problems, Fall, 1967, Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 231 (a study of women who had received PhDs between 1958 and 1963).

  25. 36

    L. R. Harmon, Careers of PhDs: Academic vs. Nonacademic, Career Patterns Report No. 2 (Washington National Academy of Science, 1968), Ch. IV, pp. 74, 98.

  26. 37

    Harmon, 1968, cited in Rossi, p. 9.

  27. 38

    Sex Discrimination in Academia,” Helen S. Astin and Alan E. Bayer, Educational Record, Spring, 1972.

  28. 39

    Freedom at Issue, July, 1972 (hereafter, FAI), a bi-monthly paper published by Freedom House.

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