Women represent majority of college students, minority of tenured faculty

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2004

NEW YORK When Hunter College salutatorian Chamion Thomas peers into the future, she sees graduate school followed by a professional career but not in higher education.

Women comprise 58 percent of the nation's 13 million college undergraduates and, in 2002, earned more doctorates than men. They're a dominant force on college campuses until they receive a degree.

Drawn to the private sector by higher pay and the opportunity for speedier promotions, women like Thomas are rejecting teaching and other careers on college campuses.

"It has to do with the salary," Thomas said moments before receiving a degree in applied mathematics at Hunter's winter commencement ceremonies. "Plus, teachers don't get the credit they deserve."

Others say that, while universities seem like bastions of idealism, smashing through the glass ceiling in the academic world can be particularly tough.

"Higher education has traditionally been the playground of male academics," said Leslie Annexstein, director of the legal advocacy fund for the American Association of University Women. "It's their turf. And sharing that turf is difficult for many of them."

The upshot, said Claire Van Ummersen, a vice president of the American Council on Education, is that just slightly more than one-third of the tenured or tenure-track faculty positions on U.S. college campuses are held by women.

The gender gap is especially prominent in the hard sciences such as math, biology and chemistry, she added.

Woman are "marginalized. They're not elected to serve as department heads or key committees," said Van Ummersen, who is also director of the ACE's office for women and higher education and a former president of Cleveland State University.

"As a result, they have no influence on important decisions that are made. It creates a sense of being undervalued."

Annexstein said discrimination takes the form of "unbelievable" reasons highly qualified women are denied tenure or advancement. The AAUW still fields complaints about decision-makers who become perplexed when female professors become pregnant, or who flagrantly block the promotion of women.

In a lawsuit filed last year, law professor Daisy Hurst Floyd claimed the former president of Texas Tech University used "the lewdest and crudest of terms" when he told a colleague he "would not appoint a woman to be dean of the law school."

At the time, Floyd was a candidate for interim dean. She dropped the suit in January after being named dean of the law school at Mercer University in Atlanta. Texas Tech did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Annexstein said sexism on college campuses is generally more subtle than the Texas Tech case would suggest.

Early in her career, Elizabeth Farokhi asked permission to attend a professional conference on effective governing by women in college administrations. Farohki said a colleague suggested she omit the word "women" before submitting her proposal.

She did and was allowed to attend the conference. "It was typical of the roadblocks that have been set up," said Farohki, now an administrator at Georgia State University.

After Farohki co-authored a 1999 report criticizing gender inequality at Georgia State, the school responded by establishing a faculty advancement committee to assist and elevate women to senior faculty and administrative positions.

"There are some steps being made," said Farohki. "But things move very slowly."

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