Academic Angst

UT Clams Up

MIT released its tenure findings with a splash of publicity, reporting the information in the faculty's official newsletter and on the school Web site, at The dean of the university, Robert J. Birgeneau, introduced the study by asserting that MIT's faculty "remains overwhelmingly white male ... to the detriment of the students, the faculty, and MIT as a whole." The MIT committee recommended that the university take "affirmative actions" to remedy the problem of inequity at the school, including "addressing the serious under-representation of minority faculty at MIT." Hopkins says that MIT administrators are "absolutely on board" the mission to reverse gender inequity at the school. "The amazing thing was that the dean of the university backed the women. ... He said, 'At the end of the day, we're all scientists. You give us data and if it's convincing, we're going to be convinced. You can't argue with data.'"

Ever since the 1996 Hopwood decision, UT administrators have been reluctant to support affirmative action policies, and they've been similarly reticent about the issue of gender inequity. Researchers and administrators have so far taken a markedly more low-key approach to their committee's findings, as compared to MIT's frank discussion of its report. UT's Web site contains no reference to the Committee for the Support of Women, and does not provide a link to the school's tenure data, which the Chronicle obtained through an open records request. Ohlendorf saysthe university has been working quietly to reverse any perceived problems through its moderate affirmative action policy and the work of the committee, which is developing policies to help non-tenured faculty in the final year of their probationary period better understand the criteria for attaining tenure.

Researchers themselves indicate they aren't ready for a flood of MIT-style hoopla over the findings, which committee co-chair Staiger says are "inconclusive" at best. "The goal of the committee isn't really to issue a report," Staiger says. "I don't want to put out something that is easily refuted." If anything, Staiger says, the data indicate the need for stronger mentoring programs to teach both men and women the "rules" implicit in the tenure contest. "Many people believe that institutions tend to produce men who think they know the rules better than women," Staiger says. "Departments have their own kind of values, and unless you have some sense of the norms of the group that's making the decisions, you're not going to get ahead."

Time to Talk Openly

In this sense, Staiger says, the findings indicate a need for serious discussion among university faculty and administrators about who is getting tenure and why.

But while some university faculty have responded to the release of tenure information by flinging open the windows of discussion in the hope of finding new solutions, the strategy of several of the schools most affected by gender discrimination has been to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Among these is the law school, where officials have tended to dismiss critics as misinformed rather than address their allegations. Despite repeated complaints of gender-motivated tenure denials and pay disparity, which have only accelerated in frequency since the early 1990s, law school officials say the institution's treatment of women has never been better. Law school Dean Maurice Sharlot -- whose deanship at UT has encompassed several challenges to the decision-making process regarding tenure and endowed chair appointments -- says he does not think the committee's figures apply to the law school. "I think that the law school has made enormous efforts to try to attract and retain women," since it first began hiring women 25 years ago, Sharlot says. "I am not an expert in the area of employment discrimination, but I don't think it's present."

Historically, changes throughout UT have occurred glacially, rather than with a sudden crash -- a fact that has as much to do with the university's tenacity in clinging to its history, perpetuating many customs until they solidify as traditions. The gradual process of integrating women into the ranks of tenured faculty has been no exception; as UT budget data indicate, the total number of women with tenure at UT has increased nearly 20% in the last five years, from 221 to 264, while the number of men with tenure has remained virtually unchanged. But that increase, dramatic on its face, masks the fact that women still make up only 19% of tenured professors at the university, where more than two-thirds of all faculty are male. Most damning, perhaps, are these figures:

  • Statistically, at UT-Austin, men are more likely to have tenure, and more likely to get tenure, both by about a two-to-one rate.
  • Among male faculty, 66% have tenure, compared to 33% of women, and that disparity hasn't changed much in the past five years.
  • Out of the last eight years' worth of "cohorts" -- those hired into a tenure-track rank during a given year -- 34% of men have been promoted to tenure, compared to 16% of women.
  • When it comes to endowed positions, the gap is even wider, as women hold under 10% of UT-Austin's very prestigious named chairs and named professorships.

Will the tide of history be coming in soon? That depends largely on how UT administrators and research group members react to additional information on tenure and chair denials, which Staiger says the committee plans to compile as supplementary evidence to the current "preliminary" information. So far, says Staiger, the available information seems to suggest a problem. "If everything were equal, which it never is, one would assume that those figures [professorships in general and special endowments] should be more or less equivalent" between men and women, Staiger says. "So when there are fewer endowed positions, one might begin to ask questions about equity."

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University Of Texas, Committee For The Support Of Women, Gender Discrimination, Tenured Faculty, Janet Staiger, Ut Vice President Patricia Ohlendorf, Mit, Law School, Maurice Sharlot

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