Part Two of Two
Yet even if the administration has made strides to institute a formal system of mentoring within the apartments, the burden of administrative work remains. Many women at Yale feel that they are asked more often to serve on committees and take on time-consuming positions, such as the director of undergraduate studies position, than are their male colleagues.
“People see administrative work as falling under the female skill set, and so women are asked to take on an inordinate amount of committee work and department chair positions,” Luong says. “This allows the men to spend more time on their scholarship and ultimately to have an easier time achieving tenure.”
Yet Thompson counters that administrative duties are so often requested of females because of good-faith attempts by Yale to give the smaller number of women a more active role and a stronger voice in how the University is run. In other words, if 50 percent of Yale’s faculty can’t be women, maybe Yale women can make up closer to 50 percent of the committee seats.
This is a no small gesture for Thompson and Yiengpruksawan, both of whom celebrate attempts to place women in positions where they can effect change.
While Freedman has not noticed that women take on an extraordinary amount of administrative work in the History Department, he admits that it seems women are asked more frequently than men to serve on University-wide committees. Foltz, on the other hand, readily admits that women in the Political Science Department feel “swamped” by both departmental and university-wide committee work and that these commitments do indeed take valuable time away from scholarship.
“It’s a sword that cuts both ways,” says Foltz. “The committee work is time consuming, but it also allows women to contribute to the department’s decisions in significant ways, without which we are afraid their voice would be marginalized.”
Both Foltz and Freedman note that most of Yale’s undergraduate departments have decided within the past couple of years to give director of undergraduate studies positions only to senior faculty members, specifically in order to lessen the burden on junior faculty members. And contrary to the assertions of many women, female faculty members only shoulder roughly their share of DUS positions: women make up one-quarter of Yale’s faculty, and fill around three-eighths of the DUS positions.
Yet Hungerford offers Cooppan as an example of a “totally polished and very eloquent woman” who, saddled with small children and a large administrative burden, could have benefited from a more aggressive attempt on Yale’s part to help her with the direction of her career.
“I think her scholarship was really slowed down by the administrative tasks she agreed to take on,” Hungerford says. “Someone should have been looking out for her scholarly work more carefully, or rather, her senior colleagues should not have encouraged her to take on the tasks she did without making clear that those tasks would not make her tenure case.”
Asking women to do less committee work lessens the voice of women as a whole; requiring less from women’s scholarship lessens the woman as an individual; asking a women to do both sets her up for professional failure.
What about the women without children, the women who do not profess to have been over-burdened with committee work but categorize their departmental review procedures as biased or discriminatory? Why does Yiengpruksawan, who stresses that she “doesn’t go around looking for women’s issues,” say, “There have been a number of cases in which I believe a more qualified woman was passed over in favor of a less qualified man in the same field, and I really believe these cases need to be looked into?”
It’s hard to ignore the single character trait that unites Luong, Thompson and Wandel, as well as one-time tenure candidates Diane Kunz and Mary Habeck: they are all described by their colleagues as exceptionally “assertive,” “strong-minded,” “dominant ” and “career-focused.”
“I was told separately by two of my former senior colleagues who did not support me for tenure that on a few occasions I was referred to as ‘feisty’ and ‘too opinionated’ and that this hurt me,” Luong says.
“I think there is, in general, a culture in which outspoken women have a harder time than outspoken men,” Hungerford echoes. “Women are expected to be adept and gracious socially as well as accomplished academically.”
Yiengpruksawan volunteers a similar opinion on gender politics at Yale.
“Women are docked for behaving like men — in other words, if a woman is aggressive, dominant, or slightly loudmouthed, she’s going to have a hard time getting tenure because she’s seen as a threat to the department in a way that a similar man is not,” Yiengpruksawan says.
Gender psychologist Marianne LaFrance concurs with the opinions of Hungerford and Yiengpruksawan and notes that neither men nor women like to see women behave in ways that they’ve grown up to believe are “male.” Thompson stresses that sometimes it can be the senior women that can be most antagonistic towards the advancement of and mentoring of junior women, not the men.
What this all adds up to is what LaFrance identifies as the continuing double standard for women.
“Even given all of these improvements in the way that women are included in the University, the thing that continues is the double standard for women,” LaFrance explains. “If you are going to be at the top of your field, you need to take on traits that are traditionally associated with men: aggressiveness, single-mindedness. But at the same time, since those traits are not seen as being feminine, when it comes time to make a tenure appointment, those women lose.”
Levin says that he’s seen no evidence that more aggressive, dominant women have a hard time at Yale, and for good measure he points to a number of the ones that he deems “feisty” — all of whom happen to have entered Yale with tenured offers rather than having been promoted internally.
Neither Foltz nor Freedman recall witnessing discrimination against aggressive, dominant, or “feisty” women within departmental review committees. Freedman notes that the last three women tenured in the History Department have all had bold, no-nonsense personalities.
“I don’t recall ever seeing a case where a woman’s personality determined a tenure decision,” Foltz says. “I’m not rushing out to deny that it could happen, and I’m aware that certain people believe that it does, but if you actually denied tenure to all the strong personalities in academia there would be no one left to hire.”
But if it is true that the more dominant and single-minded junior women are shut down on the basis of their personalities rather than the work they’ve produced — and if it’s true, as Thompson suggests, that this is not the case for men — how can this possibly happen out in the open?
The answer is that it doesn’t.
Quality of scholarship may be the gold standard of tenure decisions. But it is also amorphous and subjective.
“The only thing people can claim in order not to be sued is to talk about the quality of scholarship,” says Thompson. “‘Quality of scholarship’ is a magic phrase that once uttered can stop any reporter or concerned party dead in their tracks. It is extremely difficult to assess quality of scholarship and thus difficult to argue with decisions on those grounds.”
Gender discrimination either happens in the confines of a single department, under the cloak of the “tenure decisions are confidential” clause, or remains guarded by a shield of intellectual snobbery.
So in the end, all we have to go on are the opinions of a few members on a departmental committee on why one book is good and another is not, on why a given junior faculty member’s tenure case should make it past that first hurdle and be released from its own department, or why it should not.
What’s the moral of the tenure story?
There’s a common thread amongst many of the issues that female professors have found problematic in their experiences at Yale: the role of the department in policy implementation and in tenure decisions. There is a worrisome lack of transparency in the tenure process, particularly in its departmental stage. Because there is no typical year in which a professor becomes eligible for tenure, it is nearly impossible to monitor which faculty members are considered for tenure and to keep on top of on what grounds a faculty member is turned down for a senior position. Yiengpruksawan (who is tenured) and Thompson (who is not) explain that the performance reviews which take place within individual departmental committees are exceedingly private affairs, and the professors turned away at that stage of the game depart on the basis of the opinions of only a few of their peers. Bakemeier and Levin both stress that peer evaluations, provided by scholars both inside and outside of Yale, play an important role in tenure decisions — but only if a candidate survives long enough to be evaluated by the Tenure Appointments Committee.
Levin admits that he’s unaware of most of the tenure-related activity in various departments, as individual cases only reach his desk once they have been ratified by the Joint Board of Permanent Officers or when a denial of tenure is especially controversial.
The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs is the closest thing Yale currently has to a monitoring device for discrimination in tenure decisions. While OEOP is not directly involved in tenure decisions, it is charged with reviewing candidates likely to be given tenure in order to identify any potential cases of discrimination before they happen.
“If we see a white being given a tenured position when he’s up against an African-American female, we may ask a couple of questions,” says Valarie Stanley, co-director of the OEOP. “But there’s generally only one or two cases a year that we even have questions on.”
The problem with the OEOP’s form of oversight is that they only investigate the tenure choices made by the Tenure Appointments Committee. They never investigate the earlier choices of the individual departments, such as whether to terminate a junior professor or recommend him or her for tenure. This means the junior professors who are denied the chance at tenure at that first stage of the game have no advocate in the process.
Moreover, tenure decisions of any and all kinds are deemed confidential, which presents significant obstacles to any third party (this reporter included) evaluating the role of discrimination in a particular decision.
Yiengpruksawan and Thompson both believe that it’s the role of the individual departments that are most to blame for discrimination against women in the tenure process. Yet both women are adamant about insisting that the faculty members involved are not intentionally sexist.
“The gender bias that’s going on has more to do with the most fundamental things about the way men socialize,” Yiengpruksawan says. “Men are hesitant to let women into their ‘club’ if you will, their department. I don’t believe they do it consciously, I just think they find themselves bonding better with fellow men and excluding women in the process.”
LaFrance agrees with Yiengpruksawan’s reading of the situation, adding that men as well as women have deeply ingrained notions about what roles each gender should be filling, and in general prefer to work and socialize with people of their own gender. Allowing policy decisions, such as those critical first stages of the tenure process, to happen invisibly within the confines of a single department invites discriminatory behavior.
Freedman believes that whether or not small, departmental decisions breed discrimination depends on the composition of the individual department, and believes that more oversight of the decisions made could be helpful.
“There will always be departments that don’t run as smoothly as we would like, and in those cases some more active monitoring on the part of the University might be helpful not only in preventing discriminatory behavior, but in identifying problems before they become a crisis,” Freedman says.
The University might make significant inroads into preventing discrimination by taking a more active supervisory role in departmental behavior — from ensuring the implementation of University policies to overseeing the decisions of the departmental committees on tenure. The answer is not that Yale is a negligent employer of women until women compose half of the faculty. Yale is a negligent employer of women as long as the University looks the other way when departments misbehave. Yale’s responsibility to the women it employs is not only to have good policies and procedures, but also to make sure they are implemented.
Of course, there are problems that never seem to disappear, no matter what the University might do in the name of equality. Women who are raising small children have a difficult time producing the same quantity of scholarship as men or as women without children.
“When you come up for tenure, there’s a premium put on the speed, efficiency and quality with which you produce scholarship. A woman with children will never be able to really compete on these factors,” Hungerford says.
Hungerford also explains that for a woman with small children, the inability to travel frequently to attend conferences and deliver lectures greatly diminishes your ability to become visible in your field. These problems affect all universities, but they are especially troublesome at schools like Yale where the standards for scholarship and visibility are so punishingly high.
Yet to Hungerford, at least, while it may be difficult for a female faculty member with children to produce large quantities of scholarship and to gain visibility in the field, these are important components of tenure standards for all applicants.
“I don’t think the solution is for Yale to have lower demands on scholarship for women because I didn’t come to Yale to have my scholarship disregarded,” Hungerford says. For Hungerford, the best she can hope for is to remain afloat, striking a balance between raising a family and maintaining the level of academic excellence that merits tenure at Yale. Hungerford is aware that if the tenure committee does not come down on her side, she’ll be forced to uproot her family from their life in New Haven and teach somewhere new. But she’s hopeful that when it’s her turn on the chopping block, she’ll get a fair shot.
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