This is a guest post by Mary Gray, a contributor to the January-February issue of Academe. Gray is professor of mathematics and statistics at American University. Her research interests include statistics and the law, survey sampling, economic equity, international development and education, and the history of mathematics. Founding president of the Association for Women in Mathematics, she is a long-time human rights and social justice activist and a life member of the AAUP.
In 1970, the AAUP decided that during the 50-year hiatus in the operation of its committee on women in academe, not a lot had happened. In fact, it might even be said that matters had deteriorated. Women’s colleges, long the preserve for women faculty, had, particularly in the post-WWII push to get women out of the work force, begun to hire a lot more men; even more alarmingly, some were disappearing. The revived Committee W looked around and saw a landscape of unfriendly policies (e.g., anti-nepotism rules, exceptions in tenure rules for military service but not for childbirth and child care) and salary discrepancies. Gradually a collection of better policies was adopted by the AAUP and found its way into many colleges and universities. A big victory, assisted by the AAUP, led to non-discrimination in pensions; the reporting of faculty salaries by gender led to some embarrassment and even some improvement, helped along by the AAUP’s salary kit; the Supreme Court gave plaintiffs the right to access comparative data in discrimination litigation; Title IX and the application of Title VII to professionals certainly helped, at least for students and in entry-level hiring of faculty.
Why then do women’s salaries still lag behind those of men – far more than can be explained by different disciplinary career choices? The question is still open as to whether policies allowing extra time to gain tenure have been a benefit or a hindrance to the advancement of women. Although those who take on the burden of litigation may effectively challenge the ostensible reason for the denial of tenure or promotion, is the playing field really level or has the “old boys’ network” simply become more subtle or gone underground? In the face of evidence of the potential bias of student evaluations of teaching or of the “impact” of publications is there really a fair metric that keeps the percentage of women among senior professors at most universities far lower than the percentage created by the pool of women among PhDs that has existed for the past 20 or more years? Yes, there are noted women scholars and far more women university presidents than in 1970, but much remains to be done? Can the AAUP play a role?
Observant readers will say, what about the enormous increase in contingent faculty? Not good news for anyone, but particularly for women, who constitute a much larger percentage of contingent faculty than of tenure-line faculty at most institutions. Destabilizing the body of faculty is just one facet of the corporatization of higher education but seeing contingent faculty as a place to concentrate women aspirants seem to motivate a lot of institutions – even many headed by women. Consequently, the best thing the AAUP can do for women is probably to champion contingent faculty – preferably by seeing that they are less contingent and better compensated.