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The Fight Over University Women

Columbia’s President McGill had this to say about HEW’s methods:

if…we are to move quickly to truly equal opportunity for women under federal pressure…it would be advisable to protect the integrity of the experiment by suitable exercise of due process. To take one example, in late June of this year [1971] Columbia received a letter addressed to “President Andrew Cardier” stating that we were out of compliance with the terms of the federal executive order enforcing equal rights in federal contract activities. We were instructed to get into compliance within thirty days or face a cut-off of federal grant funds. There was no prior warning. There was no notice of hearing or right to appeal; no clear indication in fact of the manner in which we had failed in compliance. All this required discovery.

Such methods seem to me a bit heavy-handed. One would think that an agency threatening to cut off all our federal funds would at least make an effort to get the president’s name straight. (I succeeded Andrew Cordier in 1970.) Even with the best intentions we cannot accomplish overnight what our social order has failed to achieve throughout all its history. [Life guest editorial, October 8, 1971.]

No prior warning? No due process? Demand for overnight accomplishment?

The truth is that HEW had been negotiating with Columbia for two and a half years before McGill received this warning in June, 1971. McGill himself was involved in these negotiations. Six months before the warning was given, on February 2, 1971, he was informed in writing by an HEW official of their requests concerning an impending Columbia review. During those two and a half years, Columbia received a considerable amount of “due process” and “prior warning.” What was at issue?

Columbia, like other government contractors, is required to undertake an “affirmative action plan”: It must (1) compile basic employment data relevant to discrimination; (2) identify discrimination in hiring, salary, and promotion; (3) set up a remedial program with goals and time tables. In two and a half years, Columbia failed to take serious steps toward getting through phase (1). Without such data on comparative salaries, job duties, etc., an employer can’t identify the discrimination itself (phase 2), and so can’t devise remedial programs (phase 3).

Between February, 1969, and June, 1971, Columbia promised HEW this employment data, then stalled, made fresh promises, and stalled some more. At the end of 1969 Columbia submitted a plan lacking basic data and it was still lacking in June, 1971. HEW again and again requested this information from Columbia officials (e.g., Presidents Cordier and McGill, Vice President Goodell, Dean Merritt) by letters, telephone, interviews, special delivery mail. What McGill conveyed to Life‘s two million readers—that HEW’s June, 1971, warning was HEW’s first communication with Columbia—was false.

Sidney Hook, applauding McGill’s Life editorial as a response to HEW’s “poisoned” reasoning, suggested that “even alleged criminals” are assured more procedural protection than HEW gave Columbia.40 What alleged criminal is given two and a half years to examine his own record and make plans for doing better?

Columbia’s second plan was submitted, again without basic data, on July 30, 1971. In this plan, Columbia anticipated that by December, 1973, five years after negotiations began, it could complete an analysis of faculty salaries. HEW’s civil rights director, J. Stanley Pottinger, told Columbia why the plan was rejected:

…it fails to identify and analyze…basic employment patterns necessary for the identification of problems, and the development of…remedies…it fails to commit the University to gather and analyze this information so that it can itself…identify and eliminate…problems…. Instead despite a considerable passage of time…the University proposes to make analyses…only after additional unexplained exorbitant delays…I should emphasize that…hiring criteria…[are] appropriately left to University officials. Our sole interest is to ensure that…employment criteria are not invidiously discriminatory on their face, and are implemented in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Of Pottinger’s recommendation to terminate Columbia’s contracts Seabury wrote:

In November, 1971, HEW’s Office for Civil Rights announced its intent to institute proceedings for Columbia’s permanent debarment—even though no charges or findings of discrimination had been made. Columbia simply had not come up with an acceptable affirmative-action program to redress inequities which had not even been found to exist. [HU, Commentary, February, 1972, p. 39, emphasis in original]

It is astonishing that although at another point in his article Seabury refers to McGill’s claim that Columbia found it difficult to collect data for HEW, he never mentions HEW’s charges that Columbia failed to supply information for two and a half years. He thus conveys the impression of tyrannical, irrational bureaucrats threatening to “wholly wreck” a university. The truth is that nonenforcement in cases like Columbia’s would “wholly wreck” chances of women and minorities for justice on their jobs.

It is highly unlikely that Seabury was ignorant of HEW’s charges against Columbia. Those charges were published in the same New York Times story (November 5, 1971) that reported HEW’s announcement of its enforcement action at Columbia—the same announcement Seabury referred to in Commentary. HEW’s “thirty month delay” charge was repeated in the next day’s Times, in the same column containing a statement by McGill that Seabury cites.41 Hence it is hard not to conclude that Seabury is guilty, not of mere negligence (i.e., not troubling to ascertain the whole truth), but of a more serious moral offense, attempting to create a false belief by deliberately omitting relevant facts.

Another exposé of HEW, this time from Sidney Hook, about Brooklyn College:

On April 30, 1971,…[the] President of Brooklyn College…received a letter from the HEW, making not a “complaint” alleging sex discrimination [against a woman associate professor]…but declaring that “findings” had been reached that the college was guilty of sex discrimination and ordering that [she]…be forthwith promoted…with…several years pay, differential. All this set forth as a “finding” without even a hearing! Failure to act on the finding, it was threatened, would lead to cancellation of all federal grants. [Freedom at Issue, March, 1972, emphasis added]

But HEW investigators had met with the college president and dean of administration on March 18, 1971. Moreover, not one word about canceling federal grants appears in this HEW letter. Nor was the president “ordered,” as Hook claims, to promote the woman in question and pay her back salary. The HEW letter states:

We are recommending that…she be immediately promoted…we are recommending that…[her] salary be immediately raised…and back salary [granted]…. [Emphasis added]

Three years later, Brooklyn College, its federal grants untouched, has yet to accept these recommendations.

More from Hook: “HEW did not ask why the promotion in question had been turned down for twenty years by this woman’s colleagues….” But in fact, her promotion was denied, not by her department colleagues, but by a committee appointed by the administration. Indeed the very HEW letter Hook cites reports that her department colleagues recommended her promotion ten times between 1957 and 1967, and “in five separate years…[she] was the department’s first ranked choice for promotion” (emphasis added).

Turned down by her colleagues indeed!

Had Sidney Hook honestly investigated these HEW findings he might have found that men whose academic qualifications were inferior were given the promotion she was denied. He might also have found evidence that Brooklyn College (like other CUNY colleges) has consistently practiced discrimination against women instructors.42 Instead, he published a plainly distorted account of this woman’s case, an account she must have read with considerable pain. (I have cited here only the most flagrant of Hook’s distortions.) On a most generous interpretation, Hook’s report is hearsay, originating from a hostile source. However, this moral philosopher is certainly guilty of culpable negligence with respect to the truth.

Numbers Count

HEW investigators, enforcing the Executive Order, are required in their campus reviews to investigate patterns of job discrimination and to ensure that action to remedy it is taken (e.g., setting numerical hiring goals and time tables). Critics argue that HEW’s rules for universities put unfair emphasis on numerical criteria. First, absurd arithmetical standards are allegedly used to detect hiring discrimination (i.e., “underutilization”). Second, in their enforcement of the numerical hiring goal requirement, HEW investigators are said to be imposing a quota system, which yields reverse discrimination against white men.

HEW investigators have frequently interpreted discrimination against women instructors as a disparity between the ratio of women who are on the faculty and those who are PhDs.43

Daniel Bell questions HEW’s “logic.”

…the government’s test became…if women earned 30 percent of the PhDs, are 30 percent of the faculty women…what is the logic of extending the “representation” principle only to women…[and minorities named] in the HEW guideline? …why not religion or political beliefs as the criterion of balanced representation…[should] conservatives,…highly underrepresented in [California] state [faculties],…be given preference in hiring…? [The Public Interest, February, 1972, pp. 37-38]

Thus, according to Bell, the logic of HEW rules is absurd because any group could demand faculty representation. But, in fact, the absurd demands Bell fears are excluded by HEW practice. This is why: Suppose a group constitutes 30 percent of the candidates for employment, but only 10 percent of those actually hired. We presume that “underutilization” has taken place when we know there has been a clear pattern of discrimination against the group in question. Consider the following hypothetical case: Suppose that women and Republicans each constitute 5 percent of the sociology faculty in a typical major university, the U of X. Such statistics taken alone may be grounds for a suspicion of discrimination. But interpret these statistics in the light of what we know about the hiring of women and the possibility that the U of X discriminates against women becomes likely, while the same possibility concerning Republicans declines.

Remember that the gap between women trained and women hired holds generally for major universities, in most departments, while in society at large, as well as universities, women are concentrated at the bottom in salary, position, power, etc. Sixteen percent of sociology PhDs are women, while 5 percent of the U of X sociologists are women. In view of this pervasive background of sex prejudice, it is quite likely that the 95 percent male U of X sociology department “underutilizes” women.

Nothing like this general pattern could be shown for Republicans, or for most other political or religious groups. So the argument that any group whatever could demand faculty representation is without merit. But suppose that the U of X sociology department does quite likely discriminate against women. Is this sufficient for conviction? A jury should convict only if the defendant is not merely likely guilty, but guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

True. But remember, in a courtroom the consequence of erroneous conviction is unjust imprisonment, while under HEW’s rules the university is “sentenced” to aim at recruiting and promoting qualified women. Some of course would regard having women in their department as a painful penalty, and giving women equal rank a still greater misery. But would such suffering be undeserved?


Employers who fail to meet their hiring goals for women instructors are not penalized by HEW if they can show they are trying in “good faith” to find qualified women (e.g., by soliciting applications from women’s professional organizations, by advertising vacancies, and by abandoning the “old boy” system of faculty recruitment). However, it is widely believed that HEW, by requiring such goals, is really imposing a quota system. According to such belief, the university is compelled to hire a specified number of women or lose their federal contracts. Under threat of such sanction, the university has no alternative but to reject more qualified male candidates, i.e., practice reverse discrimination.

The “quota” charge was, to my knowledge, first made in the March, 1972, Freedom at Issue article by Sidney Hook. His article appeared with the following bold headline: “FORCE FACULTY ‘QUOTAS’—HEW.” The unwary reader would think that an HEW official had in fact instructed HEW representatives to “force faculty ‘quotas.”’ Yet nowhere in Hook’s article is any such HEW statement displayed, and Hook cites no source for this headline. The “quota” charge continues to thrive, in spite of HEW’s denial. “Goals,” writes Seabury, are the “twin sister” of “formal quotas.”44 Daniel Bell claims:

The government assumes that “educated labor” is “homogeneous….” One can “logically” insist on quotas where the skill is homogeneous…set[ting] “target” figures for women…has…[in] practice…meant quotas, or priorities in hiring, for…[women].” [Public Interest, Fall, pp. 36-37, 1972]

The fact is that rules for applying the Executive Order specifically state that “goals must not be rigid and inflexible quotas which must be met.”45 Hence, if the quota charge is true, HEW officials are illegally imposing quotas, by threatening sanctions when a university, in spite of “good faith efforts,” fails to meet its hiring goals. Some HEW investigators, carried away by their power, might, on some occasions, have so exceeded their legal authority. But if there are such cases, then apparently neither Hook, Seabury, nor Bell has been able to find them. For all their “quota” mongering they have failed to show a single case where HEW has, in fact, imposed a quota on a university, i.e., refused to accept “good faith efforts” in lieu of a goal unfulfilled.

On the other hand, HEW has accepted good faith efforts from universities (e.g., MIT, University of Vermont, Princeton, Rutgers, and Tufts) who fell short of their hiring goals. Moreover, none other than President McGill of Columbia University has stated that:

In the [1972] agreements which we reached with the government…we were not required to engage in preferential hiring of minorities and women. We are also not required to inject any considerations beyond merit and excellence into our appointment process…. Thus the fact that we have stated our long-range objectives numerically…(under existing federal regulations)…does not seem to me to have forced reverse discrimination upon us….

I have never encountered such views [favoring preferential hiring] in any of my dealings with public officials. [Address read to B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, Palm Beach, Florida, January 20, 1973]46

The claim that HEW is forcing faculty quotas turns out to be unsupported. Moreover, if the Executive Order is weakened by eliminating hiring goals, then as far as women are concerned the future will resemble the past. Hundreds of academic departments have yet to make even a token repudiation of that past, i.e., to promote or give tenure to a single woman, or to hire one woman as an assistant, associate, or full professor. Remember that the men who expressed contempt for women graduate students are for the most part still around. Is it plausible that they want women in their departments? The typical male academic has been inclined to believe for most of his life that, with rare exception, women’s minds are not to be taken seriously. Should he trust himself to judge a woman’s intellect impartially?47

Finally, it has been objected that there is a tendency in the hiring process for goals to become quotas. After all, the easiest way to meet a goal is by preferential hiring, e.g., to reserve a current vacancy for a woman, whenever possible.

Yes, it is the easiest way, and it is possible that some of the administrators who say (illegally) that they are holding a post for a woman actually end up hiring one. Any man who as a consequence is unjustly denied the job he merits is perfectly entitled to do what a great many women are still doing: to file a sex discrimination grievance with a government agency. Of course if these administrators had seriously been searching for the best candidates they wouldn’t have taken the easy way of preferential hiring. But had they followed a merit system, academic women wouldn’t have found it necessary to call in the law.


University Women: An Exchange April 3, 1975

Breaks for Women October 31, 1974

Breaks for Women October 31, 1974

  1. 40

    FAI, November, 1971.

  2. 41

    HU, p. 42.

  3. 42

    Women as a group are not treated equitably throughout the CUNY system (p. 6). However the CUNY system is analyzed…the lower faculty rank standing of women prevails (p. 50). Women were not receiving equal pay for equal work (p. 59)…. Brooklyn…diverge(s) in no significant way from the…CUNY…pattern (p. 54).” The argument that the lower status of women faculty members is based on their lack of professional achievements is inapplicable at CUNY (p. 66). The Status of Women at the City University of New York, A Report to the Chancellor, prepared by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, December, 1972 (emphasis in original).

  4. 43

    ” ‘Underutilization’ [of women] is defined as having fewer women in a particular job classification than would reasonably be expected by their availability…the contractor will consider the availability of women having requisite skills in an area from which the contractor can reasonably recruit” (Revised Order #4).

  5. 44

    IM, p. 45.

  6. 45

    Revised Order #4.

  7. 46

    McGill was describing not merely the situation at Columbia. In fact, HEW generally leaves hiring standards to the university. (See Pottinger’s letter cited above.) However, a biased administrator may prevent hiring or promotion of appropriately qualified women by deliberately raising standards for women candidates. This discriminatory double standard was, in fact, widely used against academic women. “Being ‘qualified’ simply has a different meaning for women than for men” (Sandler, WRCR, p. 570). Revised Order #4 makes the following “suggestion.”

    The contractor should insure that minority and female employees are given equal opportunity for promotion. Suggestions for achieving this result include…neither minority or female employees should be required to possess higher qualifications than those of the lowest qualified incumbent (#60:2.24:fn 5).

    Peter Holmes, current HEW civil rights director, reported HEW’s interpretation of this section:

    …[it] constitutes…suggestions [whose]…object is to discourage contractors from applying an abnormally rigorous standard in order to exclude or limit persons from consideration on a racial or sexual basis. This does not however require the employment of promotion of a person solely because that individual meets the qualifications of the least qualified incumbent. [Read to September, 1973, Political Science Association meetings. Emphasis added]

  8. 47

    Currently the situation of black academic job candidates is relevantly different from the position of women candidates, since the supply of trained academic blacks is much smaller. Less than 1 percent of PhD holders are black. (See data on number of black PhDs, actual and projected, in a 1968 study, appearing in Available Data on Minorities and Women, US Department of HEW.) Universities are currently competing for token blacks and predominantly black colleges are experiencing a “brain drain.” But if the supply of black candidates were to increase substantially and significant numbers of blacks rose in the academic hierarchy, it is not implausible that academic race. bias would reassert itself. Imagine a situation where a black administrator denies promotion to a white instructor on the grounds that the instructor’s publications are intellectually inferior. Could any white person, no matter how emancipated, who grew up in this society, be certain that he or she would feel no differently because the adverse judge of his or her intellect was black?

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