Part One of Two
All Lee Wandel wanted out of Yale was a fair shot at tenure.
When Wandel came to Yale in 1987, it was as an assistant professor in the History and Religious Studies departments. She hoped to work her way up the rungs of the faculty hierarchy and someday receive a tenured position: a place among Yale’s permanent, senior faculty.
Shortly after arriving at the University, Wandel had her first child. Since Yale did not have a maternity leave policy at the time, she returned to full-time work just weeks after giving birth. Wandel remembers struggling to take care of her family, remain attentive to her classes and keep on top of roughly nine hours of administrative work per week — all while churning out academic work for publication, the quantity and quality of which she knew would make or break her chances at tenure.
Wandel remembers feeling like she was doing far more administrative and committee work than were her male colleagues. But when she left Yale in 1997 after failing to receive tenure in the History Department, it was neither that perception nor her lack of maternity leave that left Wandel on the verge of prosecuting a lawsuit.
“I was evaluated by four people, none of whom were competent to judge my scholarship, and all of whom chose to ignore the evaluations of people in my field who viewed my scholarship as original,” Wandel explains of the departmental review procedure that resulted in her denial of tenure. “My own impression is that my department chairs were not paying attention — there was no mentoring, there was no effort to protect me, there was no one to ensure I got a fair shake. The person who was chosen to chair my review committee said she would rather lose the position than hire me, and that was absolutely not based on an unbiased review of my work.”
To this day Wandel believes that her botched tenure case was allowed to happen as a result of the internal politics at play within her department, and the failure of the tenure system to provide any checks or balances on the department’s initial tenure decision.
“I’m not saying that I should have gotten tenure, I’m saying that I should have gotten a fair shot,” Wandel says. “Systems and procedures that are so cloistered breed discrimination.”
Wandel describes leaving Yale as a “bittersweet” experience.
“I had people who really went to bat for me, many of whom were male, and people were deeply demoralized that I had to leave,” Wandel says. “But unfortunately, in my case there are senior men in the field that hold that no one woman is competent.”
While Yale may not have forced assistant political science professor Pauline Luong out the door, junior faculty retention did not seem to be a priority when she received a tenured offer from Brown. Luong says Yale refused to issue a counter offer or even formally review her record.
“I had just been promoted to associate professor without tenure at Yale,” explains Luong, who at the time was in her sixth year of teaching. “I had tried to go up for promotion a year earlier and was told that I was ‘too early,’ even though those with a less impressive record than mine were allowed to go up for promotion ahead of me. Not coincidentally, they were male.”
After completing her Ph.D. in political science at Harvard in 1998, Luong arrived at Yale as an assistant professor. While at Yale, she felt she was “administratively abused,” acting as the director of undergraduate studies for the Ethics, Politics, and Economics program while at the same time serving on three time-consuming committees.
“Women are coerced into doing administrative work that they know will harm their careers because senior faculty can appeal to the female sense of duty to her community, as well as a woman’s willingness to take on more they can handle in order to please,” Luong asserts.
For Luong, the mistreatment did not end with administrative duties. She felt orphaned by senior faculty members, none of whom seemed to offer her the mentoring, encouragement or feedback that was given to her male colleagues. During her time at Yale, Luong intentionally put off having children because she felt that female faculty members who had families were not accorded the same respect as those without children, or as male faculty members with children.
“Leaving Yale is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Luong says.
Norma Thompson has no reason to gripe about her failure to receive tenure; in fact, Thompson describes the position that President Richard Levin created in order to retain her at Yale — an associate directorship at the Whitney Humanities Center — as her “dream job.” It’s quite a contrast from her initial appointment as assistant professor of political science and humanities.
But she does object to the supremacy of the department in those beginning stages of the tenure process. Thompson’s evaluation took place in the Political Science Department, with which she was only affiliated part time. She described the department as “utterly intellectually dominated by a statistically-based, rational choice mind frame,” an approach that Thompson sees as a quintessentially male take on political science and in which she has no background.
“The intellectual preferences of a few key senior men gave way to a male hegemony in the department such that women’s roles were being trivialized,” Thompson claims.
She recalls a departmental meeting in December 2000 in which an assistant professor was being considered for promotion to associate professor status. According to Thompson, the applicant had done no committee work and was known to be a poor teacher.
“I found the discussion of his candidacy to be perfunctory, none of the hard questions were being asked,” explains Thompson. “He was simply waved through the process.”
But when she suggested that, “even as the numbers of women in the department were growing, their power was being diminished in favor of a male-dominated outlook,” Thompson reports that male members of the senior faculty were infuriated and insulted. They fought her efforts to investigate the actions and leanings of the department every step of the way. “The insidious truth about tenure is that standards shift depending on the outcome desired,” Thompson declares.
The stories of Lee Wandel, Pauline Luong and Norma Thompson are just a part of a quiet but persistent refrain echoing around Yale’s campus — a rumor that here, women have a harder time gaining academic tenure than do men. But does Yale really have a problem on its hands? Are the women who feel wronged truly victims of discrimination, or just casualties of a system of promotion that, by any man or woman’s estimation, is one of the most academically demanding in the world? And if Yale is making it harder for women to succeed, how can we tell — and how do we fix it?
From graduate students to junior professors to the senior faculty, the same complaints tend to surface time and again with regards to what holds women back professionally: a lack of mentoring, an overabundance of administrative duties and a “double standard” that operates to disadvantage women who are viewed as aggressive, dominant and career-minded.
According to statistics released in January 2004 by Yale’s Office of Institutional Research, female professors make up 26 percent of the total faculty. Women comprise 38.2 percent of the non-tenured (or “term”) faculty but only 18.4 percent of the tenured faculty.
A study released by Yale’s Women’s Faculty Forum reports that these figures are on par with those kept by Harvard, Princeton and Duke, the faculties of which are all around one-quarter female. The average rate of growth in female faculty at Yale is holding steady around 0.5 percent per year. And records kept by Deputy Provost Charles Long indicate that in 2003-04, there were 27 tenure offers, 11 of which went to women (41 percent). Over the past three academic years, women accounted for 18 of 49 new tenures, a 37 percent share.
Yet Yale lags 9 percentage points behind the national average for tenured female faculty members, which the American Association of University Women reports to be 27 percent of a school’s faculty. Additionally, while women make up over one-quarter of the faculty here at Yale, they chair only 10 percent of the departments and hold a mere 15 percent of all endowed professorships, according to the Women’s Faculty Forum.
So where does Yale stand regarding women? Where women’s issues are concerned, the numbers usually get a lot of attention — so is equality as easy as demanding equal gender distribution of tenured and term positions? And is Yale negligent as an employer of women if those numbers aren’t achieved?
Thompson stresses that the gender imbalance within Yale’s faculty is not the real cause for concern.
“I’m actually not so concerned about the numbers, those just take time to improve and I have confidence they will continue to improve. This has to be a question of the judgments made on an individual basis,” Thompson says. For her, gender equality is determined more by the personalities within a given department than the numerical male/female composition of that department.
Levin likewise does not flinch at the mention of Yale’s below-average numbers.
“I think some of the top universities lag behind the national tenure average first of all because the standards are very high, second of all because we have a longer tenure clock so we’re a little behind the curve,” Levin explains.
In Long’s opinion, the fact that less than 50 percent of the tenures at Yale are granted to women within a given year reflects only that in certain fields, there are especially low numbers of women holding Ph.Ds.
“I believe that women are every bit as intellectually qualified as men, so that in time the candidate pool for each tenure decision should become gender balanced,” Long says.
One of the best reasons for not relying on the numbers to address the question of gender equality is that some of the best ones don’t even exist. To have a good idea of whether or not Yale makes it harder for a woman to be promoted to tenure, it would be useful to know what percentage of junior female professors go on to become tenured faculty members, relative to the percentage of junior male professors who do. But the Office of Institutional Research does not compile these statistics, nor does any independent organization — probably due to Yale’s unusual tenure policies, which make estimating these numbers extremely difficult.
Academic tenure is a contract that makes a professor a permanent part of the University faculty. Without tenure, a faculty member can teach at Yale for a maximum of 10 years (a period of time referred to as the “tenure clock”) and has limited influence over the direction of both his or her department and the University as a whole.
Tenure decisions, like the allocation of partnerships at a law firm, are generally considered to be a better measure of gender equality than the distribution of junior faculty positions because gender equality implies women have an equal shot at leadership positions and an equal voice in University affairs.
The official standards for tenure are recorded in the Yale University Faculty Handbook as follows: “Candidates for the rank of professor are expected to stand in competition with the foremost leaders in their fields throughout the world.”
Both Long and Levin stress that groundbreaking scholarship and recognition within the candidate’s academic field are the two essential factors in deciding who does and does not get tenure. Teaching ability, they both note, is an important consideration but does not in itself merit tenure.
These standards are widely agreed upon as being good ones. Charles Byrd, as associate dean of the faculty of arts & sciences at Duke University, says Duke publishes similar tenure qualifications and that these expectations are standard among top tier schools.
Levin stresses the importance of how a candidate is perceived by scholars in his or her field, as Yale’s international reputation is heavily based on outside perceptions of its tenured faculty members.
“While teaching and committee work do matter, the University’s international reputation is based on the scholarly reputations of its tenured professors. If we let someone get tenure whose scholarship was lacking, our reputation as an institution would really suffer,” Levin explains.
Long admits that when dealing with an internal candidate for tenure, the amount of committee work and administrative responsibility that he or she has undertaken is “pretty far down the list” of considerations, and Long indicates that typically a successful candidate for tenure is considered by his or her peers to be one of the top five scholars worldwide in his or her field. Because these expectations are so high, gaining tenure at Yale is always “the exception rather than the rule.”
Perhaps more interesting than understanding Yale’s policies is investigating what the tenure system ends up looking like.
The first key fact is that Yale is one of only two schools in the nation (the other being Harvard) that does not have a “tenure track,” which means that while professors undergo a series of reviews during their 10 years at Yale, there is no point in time at which they are officially eligible for tenure. According to Assistant Provost Emily Bakemeier, Yale faculty members can get tenure in two ways.
The first is that the academic department will initiate a search for a candidate to fill a tenured position and consider any relevant junior faculty members at the University as candidates in that search. The second is that based on the outcome of a junior faculty member’s review in their ninth year at Yale, the department can choose to “request resources,” as Bakemeier calls it, so that the department can offer that junior faculty member a senior position.
Once a committee within the department has endorsed that candidate for tenure, all the senior faculty members of the department vote on the application for tenure. If the vote passes, the tenure application goes on to the Tenure Appointments Committee (or Divisional Committee on Tenure), a group of tenured professors from within the department’s division of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences plus the deans of Yale College and the Graduate School. Here the candidate’s application is evaluated with the help of letters that have been solicited from a tenure candidate’s peers both inside and outside of Yale. Should the Tenure Appointments Committee approve a tenure application, it then goes on to what’s called the Joint Board of Permanent Officers — all the senior faculty members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — for a vote. The final step in the tenure process is a pro forma ratification by the Yale Corporation.
The first thing to take away from this rundown of Yale’s tenure process, and of the standards behind it, is that it is a rare thing to be offered tenure at Yale. But this applies to men and women equally. Nothing about the process suggests on its surface that female professors at Yale have a harder time getting tenure than any other candidate.
Yet according to Frances Rosenbluth, who arrived at the University with tenure status, it’s hard to get tenure as a junior professor already at Yale, and female junior professors have it the hardest of anyone.
“Yale doesn’t actually give tenure, they run a search for a tenured position for which a junior faculty member is a candidate,” explains Wandel, who is currently teaching at the University of Wisconsin.
Amy Hungerford, as assistant professor in the English Department, remembers that when she first came to Yale after receiving her Ph.D., she was told by her peers to assume that she would not receive tenure. Thompson, history of art professor Mimi Yiengpruksawan and Luong all adamantly insist that being tenured internally is more unusual for women than it is for men.
“The odds are against you achieving tenure if you are a woman from inside Yale,” Luong claims.
There are no available statistics to prove them right or wrong. Statistically, do less of the women who start off at Yale wind up in tenured positions than their male counterparts? Even Hungerford, who herself is of the opinion that junior women are disproportionately turned down for tenure, admits, “there are so few tenure offers of any kind made over a period of years that patterns can be hard to see.”
Getting an accurate idea of the relative numbers for men and women who start off at Yale and end up with tenure is more than just a matter of looking at how many men and women complete their 10-year tenure clock and then fail to be promoted to tenure. In reality, three areas of attrition need to be considered. The first is the number of junior women and junior men who are actually either actively considered in tenure searches and then denied, or who are not promoted to tenure based on a negative review in their ninth year as a junior professor. The second is the number of women and men for whom Yale does not respond with a counter offer when they are courted by other universities — effectively communicating that Yale does not truly care about retaining them. The third is the number of male and female junior faculty members who leave of their own accord before other lucrative job offers or the question of promotion to tenure ever arise.
Long and Women’s Faculty Forum director Rachel Thomas seem particularly concerned with the gradual attrition of junior faculty women, a silent and passive way in which the female voice is diminished at Yale. The Women’s Faculty Forum has gone so far as to create a task force on junior faculty retention, and while they have yet to compile official, publicly available data, Thomas says that a preliminary pilot study suggests that junior faculty attrition is much more of a problem for women than men.
Long readily admits that one of the problems faced by Yale and institutions like Yale is a high attrition rate for women in the profession. Long explains the problem in terms of two factors: that women often leave their jobs to follow their husbands’ career moves, and the burden women face in both giving birth to and taking care of children.
Rosenbluth, herself a senior faculty member with two children, comments, “Yale is as progressive as comparable schools when it comes to benefits afforded women.” Yale provides an entire semester of paid maternity leave to new mothers, as well as offering all junior professors the ability to extend his or her 10-year tenure clock by a year for each of up to two children born to the family. These policies are similar to those at Duke and Stanford universities, for example, and more generous than the maternity relief options at Princeton University or the University of Pennsylvania.
“Our policy lengthens the tenure clock to roughly two times the length of the tenure clock at most other universities, which affords women significant advantages,” Long notes.
Long says that one way that Yale is working to improve junior faculty retention is by providing more spaces at subsidized childcare clinics, of which there are currently five in New Haven. Both Rosenbluth and Hungerford categorize these resources as “top-notch childcare.”
Policy-wise, while Yale is progressive with the programs they have in place to help working mothers, the implementation within Yale’s various departments can turn out to be less than ideal. For instance, Hungerford says that in her experience, the ability to lengthen the tenure clock is a mixed blessing.
“Yale may let you lengthen the tenure clock, but for every year you tack on the expectations that your department has regarding quantity of scholarship go up,” Hungerford asserts. “It’s not 12 years and two books instead of 10 years and two books. Maybe now it’s three books instead of two. At any rate, it’s not as much of a gift as it may seem.”
Rosenbluth believes that some of the most helpful things that Yale could do for working mothers are related to the department, not the University as a whole.
“It can be as simple as not scheduling all the departmental meetings between four and six in the afternoon, as they are now, because that’s when working mothers have to pick kids up from childcare,” says Rosenbluth.
Yiengpruksawan stresses that standardization of policies and practices between departments needs much more attention, as currently most departments are not very accountable to University standards.
Rachel Novick, a third-year graduate student in the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department, relates that though the University may offer progressive maternity leave policies, it is common knowledge amongst her peers that those policies do not bare out in individual departments.
“I have a friend in the Psychology Department who, when she became pregnant, was informed that ‘no one really took maternity leave’ in that department,” says Novick. “She had her baby and returned to work after a few weeks, because what was she going to do? She didn’t want to lose respect from her colleagues.”
But according to some women who have spent time at Yale, the hardships facing women outstrip those related to husbands and babies. Vilashini Cooppan, a former assistant professor in the Literature Department who left Yale last spring to teach at UC Santa Cruz, spoke at Yale twice this past year to address some of the issues faced by women at the University.
One of her key points concerned the absence of any formal support structures of mentoring across the University — as Cooppan put it, “no indication that someone has invested in us for the long haul” — which leaves women feeling abandoned and confused about what will be expected of them relating to tenure.
“Mentoring … means taking on the invisible task of, as it were, translating that junior woman’s work to others who will profess not to understand it, not to see its value or its merit, or not to understand that it is a contribution to a field of knowledge that is still being created, for which the models are still in process and constantly changing,” Cooppan said.
The lack of mentoring is a common complaint amongst female faculty members, some of whom admit that they are unsure of what will be expected in the tenure process.
“Junior faculty at Yale are given no signals, no mentoring of any kind, and therefore have no idea what is expected of them when it comes to getting tenure,” Luong explains. “Women are particularly disadvantaged because the male junior faculty members seem to get mentored more often by senior male faculty, who don’t do the same thing for women. But from what I’ve seen at Brown, unlike at Yale, the attitude of the senior faculty is to take on a mentoring relationship with junior people.”
Some female professors have even gone so far as to suggest that when they should have been mentored, they were actually on the receiving end of deliberate attempts by senior faculty to mislead them.
One associate professor who is no longer at Yale describes a situation in which she was asked to take on a director of undergraduate studies position in her department. Initially, she was told that taking the position would improve her chances of getting tenure.
“I knew, absolutely knew, that this was a lie and that I was being misled, so I said no,” she said.
The second time around, a senior faculty member invited the associate professor to dinner at his home and appealed to her “as a friend,” to take the position “as a favor” and to be a good citizen in the department. Knowing that such a time-consuming position would make continuing to produce scholarship difficult, again she refused.
“The third time, a senior colleague told me that if I did not take the position, my husband’s employment contract would not be renewed,” she said. “So that time, I caved and I took a job I never wanted.”
Of course, for every woman who feels orphaned by the senior faculty in her department, there are those that describe wonderful mentoring relationships with both junior and senior male colleagues. Hungerford, for example, feels blessed with a female department chair that she feels is attentive to and respectful of her career. Hungerford also stresses that she feels that she has had access to some of the most powerful figures on campus, including a strong relationship with former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead.
Paul Freedman, the chair of the History Department, points out that at the behest of the administration the History Department has recently implemented a formal mentoring system designed to pair-up junior and senior faculty members. William Foltz, chair of the Political Science Department, says that a similar program will begin in his department this coming fall.
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