Second in a three-part series.
Monday, March 12
In 1985, Marcia Falk applied for tenure in the Department of English at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air, California. She was a published poet and feminist critic. Although the university didn’t have a policy of closed-door tenure review, she learned that the committee conducting her review insisted on anonymity, and when her tenure was denied, Falk had no opportunity to appeal the decision. She believed that she was discriminated against because she was a woman teaching courses on feminism at a conservative university, and filed a lawsuit in 1988. She and the university settled out of court in 1991.
Lucinda Miller accepted a position at Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in 1997 as professor and vice chair of the department under the condition that she could apply for tenure immediately. She and another female colleague with a similar contract applied for tenure the following year, but were denied while a male colleague was accepted. Miller had more published journal articles than the male colleague. Miller and her female colleague filed a lawsuit in 2000, and they still await a court date.
These two women are represented by the American Association of University Women‘s legal fund, and their stories appeared in a 2004 report, Tenure Denied. “On paper, making a comparison to a similarly situated male colleague seems straightforward–it is a matter of counting publications, classes taught, and service activities. In practice, however, these comparisons are rarely straightforward,” the report said.
But Catherine Hill, director of research at AAUW and one of the people who worked on the report, told Campus Progress that the secrecy of the tenure process is simply unfair, and often biased against women. “You don’t know what you’re being judged on,” Hill said. The standards by which a candidate is judged are often unclear, varying from university to university, department to department, and sometimes even from candidate to candidate. But in medical schools, where tenure standards are clear and well-defined, Hill said women are doing notably better. Nationwide, about 30 percent of medical school faculty members are women.
Balancing family and work is one reason why achieving tenure is so difficult for women. The average age of someone applying for tenure is 33, and the review process takes about five years from the day he or she is hired at the institution. This coincides directly with when many women are considering starting families. “Fulfilling responsibilities is a 60- to 70-hour-a-week job. That’s the kind of commitment universities are looking for. I would hope we would change the culture,” said Ann Higgenbotham, chair of AAUP’s Committee on Women in the Academic Profession. While work-life balance can be a challenge for men, too, women must handle the biological demands of pregnancy and are much more likely to become the primary caregiver for their children and the primary domestic laborer in their homes, even when both partners work full-time.