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 Since teaching her life-changing course, my professor has left Yale, having fallen victim to the university’s outdated tenure policies and inequitable standards for female professors — publish and not perish, in addition to balancing their academic lives with motherhood.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

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