Paucity of female profs: a message of inequality

Mr. Leslie Brisman. Mr. David Bromwich. Mr. Langdon Hammer. Mr. Harold Bloom.

None of these professors influenced my decision to devote my four years at Yale to studying the English language.

On the contrary, it was a female associate professor. Since teaching her life-changing course, my professor has left Yale, having fallen victim to the university’s outdated tenure policies and inequitable standards for female professors — publish and not perish, in addition to balancing their academic lives with motherhood.

Yalies frequently cite the parity between male and female students as grounds for feminism’s irrelevance. If the student body is 50 percent female, we are clearly in the throngs of postfeminism. Continued activism towards equal rights becomes an exceedingly archaic, if not useless, endeavor. Yet, of all classes at Yale, there is only a 31 percent chance that the professor standing at the front of the lecture hall is a woman. It is even more upsetting that amongst the faculty this university values most — the prestigious tenured — women only constitute 21 percent of the professoriate. Although the university has achieved gender balance among undergraduates, the number of female faculty remains disproportionately low.

According to a report published by the Women Faculty Forum this past fall, there has been a 5 percent increase of female faculty over the past five years. However, if the hiring policies continue according to this average rate of change, women will not become half of the total faculty until 2038.

The lack of female professors at Yale is deeply troubling, yet the disparity largely remains unnoticed and unacknowledged. There is a systemic difficulty for women who try to move up the academic ladder while simultaneously raising a family. The tenure-track years frequently coincide with a woman’s childbearing years. Because the tenure process is judged according to productivity, a woman who leaves work early to pick up her children from childcare is immediately perceived differently from her male counterpart. In a perfect world, the parental responsibilities of raising children would be equally distributed between partners. However, the burden continues to weigh more heavily upon women. Over three years ago, the Provost’s Office announced changes to the faculty childcare leave policy: a semester of teaching relief for all professors, regardless of gender. But it was not documented in the university faculty handbook until this fall, leaving the benefits of this new policy unused. Not only does the university fail to provide adequate support for these women, it fails to encourage and provide adequate support for male professors who wish to or should be raising their children. Yale expects that women will take maternity leave, while there is no expectation for men to take comparable paternity leave.

Beyond the lack of female professors in the classroom, there is a dearth of female academic advisors to mentor, counsel, and serve as role models to undergraduate women. The number of available female mentors is inadequate for the number of female undergraduates seeking guidance. Limited options for advising are not only endemic to the humanities, but woman mentors are even scarcer within the fields of math and science. You cannot anticipate a female role model in the Mechanical Engineering, Economics or even my own English Department.

Some argue that women have nothing to complain about — there is equal access to higher education and even an explosive increase in the percentage of female Ph.D. students over the last twenty years. Whereas it is expected of those who complete a Ph.D. program to enter the professoriate, more men are hired than women and men advance at a higher rater than women, which ultimately leads to more tenured positions for men than women. Moreover, even if a woman obtains a Ph.D., her salary as a female professor will typically be lower than that of her male peers. Women with Ph.D.s will earn 29 percent less than a man with the equivalent degree. The wage gap is not only widening across the nation, but also within Yale’s own ivy gates.

If Yale fosters an environment in which women comprise less than a third of the faculty, they are creating an environment of blatant inequality and quantitative disparity. This sends a message to undergraduates that men are more qualified to teach to than women; at Yale, there is more to learn from a man than a woman — a dubious claim, by any measure.

Jessica Svedsen is a junior in Morse College. She is the Former Public Relations Coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center and currently a Research Assistant of the Women Faculty Forum.


  • Anonymous

    Finally, a Women's Center piece that deals with an actual, substantive issue! In all seriousness, this is an eminently reasonable and well-argued op-ed about an important topic that should be addressed. As someone who has been disappointed in what I believe to be the Women's Center's overreaction to the Zeta Psi incident, and frankly disgusted by the charges they've been throwing around in connection to it ("fraternity-sponsored rape"? please don't insult our intelligence and diminish the horror of rape by treating it so casually), this op-ed is a very positive step in the right direction.

    Many progressive Yalies, myself included, have been turned off to the Women's Center in the past couple weeks due to a frivolous lawsuit and an effort to suppress student speech. This is unnecessary, counterproductive, and wrong. If the Women's Center would instead focus on addressing real, substantive issues like this one, they could rally a broad consensus of Yalies around changes that could seriously make an impact. And in the process, they could prove that their organization is a positive and proactive force for good on campus, giving the cause of feminism a good name.

    Sadly, I doubt that any of this will happen. The Women's Center has done nothing in the past couple weeks other than alienate its natural allies and marginalize itself. But I really hope I'm wrong. It'd be nice to have an actual, serious discussion about the real issues women face at Yale instead of a bunch of silly name-calling and threats.

  • Wait

    Don't male professors (i.e. Michael Weber of the Philosophy Department) have to balance THEIR professional lives with FATHERHOOD?

    Just a thought.

  • G.E.

    Really? Many of my teachers here have been women… You're in a different major than me… Although, I've had one female English teacher and she was brilliant…

  • women and tenure

    I am just wondering here if it was all males that chose to not offer tenure to one of your favorites.

    I guess one could include a woman producing children in the tenured process right next to producing published work as a requirement for tenure. After all, one does not need to be married to publish or have children. But then, men will not have that opportunity, so how fair is that? Also, if a woman has to leave work to pick up or care for her child(ren), is that not working less than those without children? And should the pay scale reflect that? I do not know anyone who would not want to get paid the same as someone else and work less. Working to gain tenure is not an hourly wage job.

    To parody Martin Luther King….Judge me on the quality of my work, not on the sex of my peers. Probably the best way to accept someone as part of the tenured professor group.

    It is unfortunate that one can lose a favorite person to the tenure process and its unfortunate that one cannot multitask personal issues with work issues. It is fortunate that a place like Yale can offer one the best education possible with the professors they have now; unless one thinks that english majors are best taught by a department with 50% women teachers.

  • Onepercenter

    Oh good: The "Gender rather than Excellence" crowd has arrived…

  • Me

    "Because the tenure process is judged according to productivity"

    Are you trying to say that it should be judged on something else? Should we instead be judging tenure based on parenting skills? If these women want to work less in order to be with their kids, that's fine, but they should not be rewarded in the same way as those who are working more.

  • Holly Rushmeier

    I would just like to add a note on the complexity of this issue. While in many disciplines there is little progress in the faculty ranks despite increased enrollment of women at the university level, the opposite is true in Computer Science (

    Holly Rushmeier
    Professor, Computer Science

  • Hieronymus

    When I was at Yale, I recall an instance similar to the current article: a lone protester (who happened to be, were I forced to categorize him) African-American, stood on the steps of the courthouse, his sign demandig "More Minority Judges."

    I stopped to ask what he wanted, he said "More black judges." I replied, "Great idea! So, when do you begin law school?"

    So, Ms. Svedsen--please do pursue your PhD, produce excellent work, worthy of Yale tenure. I applaud what must be your long-term plan and goal, as well as your commitment to that goal, doing whatever it takes to achieve it. Brava!

    Of course, that "[t]here is a systemic difficulty for women who try to move up the academic ladder while simultaneously raising a family" is quite the red herring--or perhaps the reality. If you cannot do both, then do one or t'other. Problem solved. I could not, for example, attend business and law school at the same time (or, at least, very well), so I prioritized. You can too!

    "The tenure-track years frequently coincide with a woman’s childbearing years." A truisim, given that 18-45 is a pretty broad stretch.

    "Because the tenure process is judged according to productivity, a woman who leaves work early to pick up her children from childcare is immediately perceived differently from her male counterpart."

    I will point out that "leaving work early" is a private-sector idea, certainly not a PhD research concept ("Yah, I had to leave SSL at 4:30; my advisor is way PO'ed!")

    "In a perfect world, the parental responsibilities of raising children would be equally distributed between partners."

    DOGMA ALERT! No, Ms. Svedsen, in YOUR idea of a perfect world, those duties are equally distributed. I hate to break it to you, SOME women view raising their own children as a privilege, not a burden; some women see it as a husband's duty to enable that choice, and guard that realm jealously. As my wife said the other day, "Anyone can be a cancer researcher…" (i.e., only SHE is qualified to raise our children).

    "However, the burden continues to weigh more heavily upon women."

    THERE IT IS AGAIN! *SOME* women do not view their consciously conceived offspring as a "burden"; some women see them as a source of joy and pride, as a personal experiment, as a proof of concept, as a lifelong work, as a culminating achievement, as but a beginning.

    Think of yourself: would you wish that YOUR parents referred to your upbringing as a "burden"? (Although, perhaps in your case…)

    Ms. Svedsen, you (and all women) are free to make any choice you want (indeed, in many cases your range of choices is, on average, broader than a man's), but freedom to discriminate among options does not equate to entitlement to all options. Econ 101 will help you understand the distribution of scarce resources (in this case, time), and how one must rank one's available options, matching them to availabe assets.

    Lastly: Capital "F" Feminism certainly espouses (wait for the pun, please, and then excuse it) a lonely world, one which precludes consideration of a partner (or "spouse," get it? Maybe "dispouses" woulda been better…) or family, demanding that one woman, alone, be given absolute right (and attendant resource) to raiser her children.

    Do "F"eminists have no friends/sisters/husbands/mothers/sisters-in-law/nannies/babysitters/YMCA-daycare/churchgroup connections with which to share this "burdensome" child? Or are such resources available only to us atavistic neanderthals who, by gum, develop this thing called "relationships"?

    Just wondering.

    But back to the point: you want more tenured women faculty? Then, by gosh, make yourself worthy and go get it!

  • Great

    What a great article, but it didn't go far enough. We should also add,

    Native Americans

    Anyone can see that these groups are also underrepresented at Yale in the faculty. In fact, they're less represented than females and the females of these ethnicities are even less represented than that.

  • Anonymous

    If the number of female professors is increasing by 5% per year, Yale is not "fostering" an environment where only 1/3 of the faculty is female - it is actually trying to change it. Also, many of the current faculty have been here since the faculty was all male. Unless you're suggesting that we fire everyone who was hired in a different era under different social conditions, it would take a while for the gender ratio to balance out, even under 50/50 hiring conditions. Also, the fact that women tend to be forced (more than men) to choose between being a parent and being a professional is as much due to biology as it is due to any kind of social construct. No matter how interested they are in being parents, men do not carry unborn children, do not go into labor, and cannot breast-feed - all time-consuming tasks that can only be carried out by women.

  • Hieronymus

    The author writes: "Yet, of all classes at Yale, there is only a 31 percent chance that the professor standing at the front of the lecture hall is a woman."

    So, to avoid intellectual hypocrisy you are, I assume, equally outraged by the lack of male professors in Women's Studies?

    Why, pray tell, are there so few tenured male professors in that major? Surely it is due to the suppressive, oppressive, sexist hierarchy and no other reason, correct?

    I look forward to your resolution of the dichotomy.

  • Seeking solutions…

    Consider also that many of Yale's most successful female professors have been promoted and recruited away. Judith Rodin, Susan Hockfield, and Alison Richard are now presidents or vice chancellor of their respective institutions (Penn then Rockefeller, MIT, Cambridge). These women were all promoted through the ranks at Yale, holding coveted administrative positions as Deans of Graduate Students and Provosts. It would seem that, although not many make it through the rigors of tenure, those women who do make it have been promoted and recruited vigorously.

    Also, what are the feasible solutions you propose? Before convicting Yale of failing to act, you should figure out what reasonable course of action they should have taken -- and argue for its viability.

  • Factor in Casualization

    This is a great piece, but we must also talk about academic casualization and the decline of positions offered for ladder faculty when talking about the current hiring situation for female faculty and faculty of color.

    GESO's report on this, "The (Un)Changing Face of the Ivy League," remains indispensable, in my view:


    Ugh: I have despised GESO since it was TA Solidarity; there time is over, superseded by the REAL grad student union. Get over it.

    So… is that it for the author? A hit-n-run w/no substantive response to the many fine points raised in the forums?

  • Anonymous

    Amazingly, I agree with Ms Svendsen, despite her unbecoming association with radical feminism and the Yale Women's Center.

  • Anonymous

    So true Hieronymus!

    I am a mother now and I choose to work part time to spend more time with my kids. It would be ridiculous for me to expect my boss to given me the same benefits and pay as the men I work with who work full time. It would be ridiculous for me to assume accommodations be made for my children in the business world. Nothing is more rewarding than raising one's own children. Yale, as a world class university, should not lower it's standards for some hare-brained PC notion of diversity.

    No, a perfect society would not have the "burden" evenly balanced among the mother and father. Duties should be carried out by those best suited for it. Despite protestation based on unprovable notions of social conditioning, men and women are very very different socially, emotionally, functionally. We are not interchangable.