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Breaks for Women

In response to:

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

To the Editors:

Professor Ezorsky’s article “The Fight Over University Women” is a closely argued and thoroughly documented analysis of the position of women in the academy. Unfortunately, it suffers badly from lack of candor. Professor Ezorsky, feigning incredulity, simply cannot understand why the academic game must now be conducted to discriminate against male academics. Speaking of administrators who deliberately hold vacancies for women academics, Professor Ezorsky writes, “Of course if these administrators had seriously been searching for the best candidates they wouldn’t have taken the easy way of preferential hiring.” The fact (if I may be permitted the indiscretion of using a philosophically defunct term) is that many (not some) administrators have deliberately set out to hire the best woman for their job and not because they are either lazy or perverse. The present situation, and Professor Ezorsky must surely be aware of it, compels many administrators to systematically hire (preferentially) women academics. Let us see why.

Neither HEW nor women academics, Professor Ezorsky claims, seeks preferential hiring for women. Women academics and HEW are simply interested in seeing that the academic game is conducted fairly. The results of the game (the stats) will take care of themselves. It is of course true that the game, played fairly over time, will yield properly non-discriminatory stats. But that is the hitch, how much time must pass before the stats reflect the impartially conducted game?

The academy during the decade of the 1960s saw faculties nationwide double in size. Recently, the academy has fallen on hard times. Faculties, where they are not actually shrinking, are barely maintaining their numbers. Few faculties are growing and those slowly. Gazing into their crystal balls, prognosticators tell us that the present situation is not likely to change in the next ten years.

Given a stagnant or slowly expanding pool of academic jobs in the next ten years, each year nationwide, in any given discipline, only an insignificant percentage of the total jobs in that discipline will open. With that tiny rate of vacancy, years will pass before enough jobs have opened to even give women academics a shot at being fairly represented nationwide in a given discipline. If in this situation, the game is then conducted impartially (with women receiving only an appropriate percentage of the openings), untold years will pass before women academics come to be properly represented in a given discipline.

How will the vacancy rate affect the individual university or department? Let us say, that the Government Department (which has no women on its faculty) at University X (whose enrollments have not grown in several years) seeks to fill, in the next five years, only a very small number of vacancies. HEW has set a numerical “goal” for University X. Because so few jobs have fallen open, the numerical “goal” set by HEW turns out to represent a significant percentage of the few jobs that will fall open. That percentage is considerably higher than the percentage women academics could ordinarily expect to receive were the game merely conducted impartially. In better times (with many job openings) a numerical “goal” might represent a much smaller percentage of total job openings and might be met merely by seeing that the contest was conducted fairly.

It is not surprising that many administrators have “taken the easy way” by hiring women academics whenever possible. When Professor Ezorsky asks only that the game be conducted fairly, I must conclude that she has not been candid. She has chosen to ignore the price tag attached to the quest for social justice; a price tag that will be paid primarily by younger male academics. As in the economy so in society, Adam Smith’s invisible hand seems incapable of producing (without a painful shove) those results which we all take to be just.

Robert J. Steinfeld

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Gertrude Ezorsky replies:

Wacker’s claim that “the gravamen of [my negligence] charge” against Hook is his taking “all faculty members to be colleagues” misleads in two ways:

(1) Of course the administration-appointed Brooklyn College committee, which denied this woman’s promotion, was composed of faculty colleagues. But Wacker refrains from mentioning that, as I reported:

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]

Yet Hook, reporting her colleagues’ attitude, told his readers only that her promotion had been “turned down for twenty years by this woman’s colleagues.” His failure to even hint that her department colleagues—i.e., those trained in her discipline and most familiar with her performance—recommended her promotion so often and so highly, is surely culpable negligence with respect to the whole relevant truth.

(2) Wacker refrains from mentioning that I substantiated my negligence charge by showing several additional examples of factual distortion in Hook’s reporting. (E.g., he disparaged this woman’s claim of sex discrimination in promotion, but failed to report that men with academically inferior qualifications were given this promotion. Hook also insisted that HEW sent the president “findings” on her behalf “without even a hearing,” when, in fact, HEW investigators had met with the president about this case weeks before.) Yet Wacker brazenly sums up the “substantiat[ion]” I gave for my negligence charge against Hook, as merely a verbal dispute about the word “colleague.”

Perhaps some day Jeanne Wacker will explain to the woman in this case—who is still seeking redress for injustice—why, in joining her attacker, she, like that attacker, was so culpably negligent with respect to the truth.

According to Mr. Steinfeld, given current job scarcity, “the academic [employment] game must…discriminate against male[s].” Preferential hiring of women by many administrators is a “fact.”

Really? But a 1974 National Academy of Sciences study indicates that women doctorate holders are having a harder time finding jobs than their male competitors. The unemployment rate of PhD’s is running six times higher for women, than for men, in biological science, psychology and social science (fields where 30 percent of all women doctorate holders turn up). The unfavorable employment situation of women PhD’s, as compared with male PhD’s, is, in the fields surveyed (science, social science and engineering), “far more acute for young doctorate holders.” (Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the U.S.: 1973 Profile)

Preferential hiring of women indeed!

Note that Steinfeld offers no comparative employment data supporting his claim that academic women are being favored in hiring. Why should he? He knows, without glancing at such relevant data, that current hiring goals, set by HEW, must be preferential to women. My “feigning incredulity” shows, he explains, that I suffer “badly from lack of candor.”

Let us see.

First, let Steinfeld be informed, it is not HEW, but universities which set their hiring goals (subject to HEW veto). These goals may be either impartial or preferential.

Suppose, for example, that although one in five biology PhD’s are women, a university’s biology department is composed of twenty-five men and no women. Since employment sex discrimination has been so widespread, we may reasonably infer that this all male department has discriminated against, or as HEW puts it, “under-utilized” women. Five vacancies (including replacements) are projected for the next five years. Assuming a stable one in five ratio of women as biology PhD holders, an impartial, hence, fair goal, would be one woman among the five persons hired. (This department’s record indicates that without the pressure of a hiring goal, no women at all would be hired.) A preferential goal however would exceed such impartiality and be from two to five women. Given an even lower department vacancy rate, goals can be devised for an entire division or institution. Such goals may also be either impartial, i.e., reflect the ratio of women among relevant doctorate holders, or preferential, i.e., exceed such impartiality.

Unquestionably, a general policy of setting preferential goals for women would be unfair to male job seekers. But Steinfeld insists that currently, hiring goals for women faculty must be preferential. Otherwise, given the low vacancy rate, years would pass before women “are fairly represented nationwide in their discipline” (emphasis added). But Steinfeld should be told that women PhD’s were already represented nationwide in their discipline four years ago, when their complaints brought HEW on campus. The underrepresentation of academic women took a quite different form than Steinfeld imagines. As employed faculty, women were concentrated, in a ratio exceeding their ratio as doctorate holders, in secondary institutions. (Sex discrimination in these institutions has been exemplified, not so much by refusing to employ women, but by keeping them in lower paying, lower ranking positions.) But, as employed faculty, they were very much underrepresented in major universities which rarely hired women. Hence the task of setting numerical hiring goals, to remedy underutilization of women, as employed faculty, has in large measure fallen to these top level institutions.

Both Harvard and Columbia have published their affirmative action programs, complete with numerical goals for women faculty. Let us test Steinfeld’s claim that such hiring goals must be preferential.

By 1976, the ratio of women as doctorate holders will approximate 15-16 percent. Harvard projects 231 vacancies (assistant professor and up) from 1973-1976. But there are so few women at Harvard that bringing the ratio of women, as Harvard faculty, up to their ratio as doctorate holders would require an extremely preferential hiring goal, one which allots 70 percent of these positions to women. In fact, Harvard’s goal for women faculty amounts to only 15 percent of these positions, a ratio which just approximates impartiality.

Columbia claims that its 1972-1977 women faculty hiring goals (covering humanities, social science and pure science departments) are impartial, i.e., the ratio of women, as newly hired faculty, would equal the ratio of women, as doctorate holders in Columbia’s national hiring pool. But, by failing to allow for the increasing proportion of women among doctorate holders, Columbia’s women faculty goals actually fell below impartiality. Moreover, Columbia explains, goals are not “inflexible quotas…the data may considerably overstate the availability of distinguished [women] teachers and scholars actually available for appointment.” In that case, the goals for women faculty would be reduced.

Steinfeld’s claim that “the academic game must now be conducted to discriminate against male academics” is, I conclude, false. The next time Steinfeld is tempted to accuse a person of “lack of candor” concerning the facts, I suggest he try doing some honest labor in those fields himself.

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