Where's the female faculty?
Read This. It May Save Your Life.
At first I brushed it off when my friend Steve, a 1998 Notre Dame grad, mentioned that in his time here, he'd only had two female professors.
The number seemed appallingly low, but I chalked it up to the fact that he'd been a math major. As a Spanish and premed major, I have always had at least one female professor every semester. Being cheerfully na´ve, I assumed he was the oddity and my case was more typical.
The affair came to light again a couple of weeks later, and this time, aggravated by it, I started griping about it at the computer cluster where I work. In the course of discussion, it came to light that the three other people in the consultant kiosk had had a total of seven women professors in their combined twenty semesters here. They represented three different majors. An ensuing, more extensive poll revealed that, in fact, my numbers were anomalous.
I broke my personal tally down by subjects for a more in depth examination, and I figured out that I had one female professor in philosophy, one for freshman seminar, one for physiology, and six for Spanish. The only other poll respondent with more than eight female professors had numbers similar to mine, with the majority of hers being psychology professors and just a smattering in other subjects. I have yet to encounter a science major who has had more than one female science professor. I received a response from a senior engineering major who has, over eight semesters here, never had a class taught by a woman. That almost seems excusable; engineering isn't really a field hopping with women. But this engineer has had to take core requirements for the university just like everyone else. In all those classes, those philosophies, those social sciences, he has never encountered a female professor. Although he was the only one who had never had a woman professor, the average for seniors seems to be about four, one every other semester. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?
I checked out the Notre Dame website, looking for the information most readily available on the subject. By my count, the number of "faculty experts" who are women rounds up to nine percent. That's not very many. These are the professors who have established themselves in their fields, presumably through education and research. Women lag far behind in this kind of recognition because, as of right now, they are not getting the opportunity to pursue academics. I cannot believe that romance languages and psychology the only two departments fortunate enough to have enough qualified female job candidates to produce a gender-balanced faculty, or anything even remotely resembling one.
The American Association of University Professors suggests that women applicants are responsible for the glut of professionals in academia today. Their numbers have risen, while those of their male counterparts have remained the same since about 1975. Yet at Notre Dame, they are not being hired in numbers that reflect this huge increase. The academic committee in my dorm recently hosted a professional women's forum. We had three local women, all highly educated, come and talk to us about the challenges of balancing personal and professional lives. (Do men's dorms have these kinds of talks? I won't cave to this digression, but I'm thinking about it). One of the women who came was professor Carol Mooney, who works in the Provost's office and deals directly with faculty hiring practices. She is the person who I would have been seeking out for answers even had she not shown up in our social space for the forum. Professor Mooney said that Notre Dame is aware that its numbers are lacking, and she explained that females account for about forty percent of Notre Dame's tenure-track new hires. According to her, they achieve tenure at about the same rate.
So where on earth are they? What are they teaching? Even if the forty percent is a new number, I certainly haven't noticed any difference in the past four years. Wherever these new female hires are, they are not numerous enough to put an end to the gross inequality that we average students experience. The AAUP suggests that a lower percentage of women achieve tenure, and that more women with advanced degrees wind up teaching part-time or at community colleges, although not necessarily by choice.
Progress is being made; the new-hire numbers and Notre Dame's acknowledgment of the problem are positive signs. Current students, however, are being hurt by the lack of women who teach classes and lead research here. We are learning that academia continues to be a man's world, and that, should women chose to enter it, they will have fewer opportunities to establish themselves, and they will always be held to a higher standard than their male peers. That message damages professors, students and universities.
Kate Rowland is a senior computer science and philosophy major. She wishes to thank Mike McDonough, without whose persistent cynical sarcasm she would never have gotten sufficiently irritated to pursue this column.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, April 4, 2000