Four years ago, the first complaint of university sex discrimination was filed with the secretary of labor by a woman’s organization called the Women’s Equity Action League. WEAL requested that an Executive Order, which, as of 1968, prohibited sex discrimination by federal contractors, be enforced against universities. Millions of dollars in federal contracts were handed out every year to academic institutions which, as WEAL claimed, practiced extensive and vicious prejudice against women instructors and students. WEAL appended eighty pages of evidence for its charges and asked that HEW examine all universities and colleges holding federal contracts to see whether they were complying with the Executive Order.

Within six months complaints against more than one hundred academic institutions were filed by women’s groups.1 Under this pressure HEW’s Office for Civil Rights began conducting reviews of the compliance of universities. Almost everywhere HEW found evidence of prejudice. The university administrators, in effect, had to promise to mend their ways or lose their federal allowances. Like other employers holding government contracts, they were required to draw up programs to eliminate discrimination in hiring.

The academic campaign against HEW on campus started on October 8, 1971, when Columbia’s President William J. McGill, as Life’s guest editor, complained that with “no prior warning” HEW had instructed Columbia “to get into [federal contract] compliance within thirty days or face a cut-off of federal funds.” McGill’s claim that Columbia had “no prior warning” was, as we shall see, utterly false. But within a few weeks Professor Sidney Hook of New York University was denouncing HEW’s thirty-day edicts. While women’s organizations were busy filing more university discrimination charges, Hook was busy telling university officials just what they wanted to hear: administrators “should not yield to [HEW] …ultimata.”2 Hook organized the Committee on Academic Non-Discrimination and Integrity, and in one article after another male professors wailed about HEW interference on campus.

These protectors of academic integrity against the HEW civil rights office use two kinds of argument. According to the first, university hiring practices are fine just as they are. Universities practice a “merit system” of employment.3 Since a merit system is, by definition, free of sex discrimination, HEW’s pressure to hire and upgrade women faculty is superfluous and, if successful, would corrupt “standards of excellence.”4 This argument is consistent. Unfortunately, its premise—that universities practice a merit system—is false.

Not all HEW critics agree that academic hirings and firings are so fair or so virtuous. Some even grant (sometimes) that universities have treated women badly. But, they claim, HEW remedies have bad side effects. First, HEW investigators ignore university rights to due process (e.g., by issuing orders that universities must end discrimination within thirty days). Second, HEW insists on increased numerical representation of women on faculty—a numbers game that is said to be logically absurd since any other group could demand faculty representation. Finally, by requiring that the universities set numerical goals, HEW is allegedly imposing a quota system that causes reverse discrimination against men. As Charles Frankel, a philosopher, put it: “If you hire unqualified women…bright white males don’t get jobs.”5

Let us see if the claims of these academics against HEW stand up.

The Merit System

Paul Seabury, a political scientist writing in Commentary, describes HEW’s enforcement of the Executive Order as an “assault on the merit system” of faculty recruitment. If the universities complied with HEW’s demands, this would, he said,

compel a stark remodeling of their criteria of recruitment, their ethos of professionalism and their standards of excellence….6 Somebody…has to pay when the principle of merit is compromised or replaced by preferential ethnic and sex criteria.7

Seabury explains that the idea of merit as a conception of justice means “to each according to his abilities…[and] works.”8 Of course, Seabury does not claim that throughout society people are rewarded according to their ability and works. Why then does he believe that this kind of justice looms so large in academies? Do professors have so much more integrity than ordinary mortals? Such discrepancy between the morality of academia and the rest of the world seems implausible, for a start.

Note that the idea of a merit hiring system does not mean merely that excellence is given some recognition. Superior quality plays a role in almost any market or hiring system. The force of talent is undeniable. It is unlikely that the three top sopranos would be unrecognized. Similarly, virtually anyone who has contributed significantly to knowledge will be offered a place in a major university. But it is a necessary condition of any hiring system based on merit that qualified candidates not be excluded, either because of (1) hiring procedures that tend to reject them, or (2) prejudiced attitudes, e.g., against women. Academic hiring fails on both counts.



If any group can be expected to hire its faculty according to “standards of excellence,” it should be the philosophers. Do not philosophers, far from petty concerns, seek Truth, Beauty; and the Good? But the fact is that hiring practices in philosophy are similar to those described in US vs Local 46, Lathe Workers where the court found a “deep-rooted and pervasive practice” in the lathe workers union of giving out jobs through their own network “on the basis…generally [of] ‘pull.’ ”

As with the lathe workers, so with the logicians. The philosophy hiring network is revealed in a document issued by the officers of the American Philosophical Association:

[we] have for some time been ashamed of the way in which we force young philosophers to…enter…the profession…. Candidates for junior positions, no matter how able, can…probably expect…serious consideration from only a few departments,…in a great many cases, departments having some special tie with [their] own. These conditions, together with the spectacle of the annual smoker…[where job interviews occur] can hardly…instill…pride in our profession. [APA Bulletin #4, February, 1971, emphasis added]

This “special tie” is known in every profession as the “old boy” or the “buddy” system. Seabury’s claim that American administrators seek “the best the world of scholarship could offer” is misleading. 9 Typically, a department chairman asks his former graduate professor to recommend a candidate. For example, colleges in New York City employ a large number of Columbia PhDs. Did New York college administrators just happen to find the best available candidates from “the world of scholarship” studying right in their own neighborhood? The fact is that a local phone call often fills the job. This “old boy” system tends to exclude talented people outside the closed circuit.

Seabury does offer one fact about academic hiring practices. The hiring “skill pool” used by “top universities” is “the top 5 percent of graduate students in the top ten universities.”10 But hiring among top institutions itself exemplifies the “old boy” system. A bright graduate student who didn’t attend a top university is usually barred from a place on their faculties. In a merit system, such institutions would reasonably recruit, in good measure, from top universities; but no candidate would be denied a chance merely because of the status of his or her graduate school. The fact is, however, that a student’s choice of graduate school (often made naïvely or ignorantly or because of family obligations) “has a determining effect on where he ends up.”

Just as a person’s eventual position in society depends on the class he was born into as well as on his own talent, so his eventual position in higher education depends on the standing of…his PhD institution…as well as on his capabilities…. [R. Berelson, Graduate Education in the US, McGraw-Hill, 1960, pp. 109-113]

The “halo effect” conferred by a PhD degree from a high-status school is an advantage regardless of merit. But that halo does not brighten a mediocre PhD’s own classroom, where generations of students may languish under incompetent instruction. In today’s tight academic market, mediocrities with high-status PhDs can still expect decent jobs, while bright, lively candidates from minor universities may worry whether they will ever get to teach a class. As the APA document reports, job candidates have a “desperate sense that one could find out where the jobs are if one could only be introduced to the right people.”11

A resolution by young philosophers describes hiring procedures:

Something must be done about the degrading and humiliating process of [convention] interviewing…the inhuman rush for jobs and candidates…. How are we to take philosophy as a great enterprise of the human spirit, when it becomes a scene of speedy uncaring encounters with recruiters and a race from interview to interview. [APA Bulletin #4]

Philosophers refer to the APA Convention, where “degrading and humiliating” job interviews occur, as “the slave market.” Perhaps some day Seabury will explain how hiring procedures appropriate to a slave market sustain a merit system.

A system where job applicants are “desperate” to meet the right people also corrupts professional excellence, although more subtly. What happens when young people, who regard their profession as “a great enterprise of the human spirit,” discover that to practice their profession they should know the “right” people? Ways of knowing the right people are the same throughout society; and professors are no less susceptible to flattery than others. Young persons who become adept in getting to know the right people are likely to become less fit to practice any “great enterprise of the human spirit.” (Such adeptness can also help a young academic to become one of those “right people” himself—a fact which helps to explain how mediocrity finds a home for itself on major university faculties; or—to skip a step in this story—how so much pale, male, dead wood got settled at the top.)


Recently, I ran into a philosophy instructor who as a student had seemed the model of intellectual purity. This model now held forth on the utility of something he called “deference.” It is certainly true that deference is professionally most useful and can be practiced in a variety of ways. For example, one could, in one’s own articles, defer to Professor Joe Doaks, by such references as these:

Philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Joe Doaks…. This article is a footnote to Professor Doak’s classic paper…. As Doaks has taught us….

It is not surprising that many young academics come to resemble their Madison Avenue counterparts—junior executives on the make.

While Seabury mentions the hiring tie among top institutions, he says practically nothing about general hiring practices in the academic world. But the moral principle he praises—to each according to his ability and works—is a tenet of justice. Surely the person applying for an instructorship at Podunk College, as well as at Harvard, has a right to just treatment. Seabury might broaden his moral perspective by asking whether academic people are usually accorded fair treatment. He would find, I suggest, that applicants for instructorships share the fate of job seekers everywhere. Being the best qualified candidate is one way to get the job.

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.

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.

This Issue

May 16, 1974