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“The Higher, the Fewer”: Discrimination Against Women in Academia

During World War II, a number of states passed legislation to combat salary inequities suffered by women workers. Many unions also adopted standards to insure that women employees received the same salaries as males who performed similar jobs. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, the first Federal legislation guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, prohibited firms engaged in interstate commerce from paying workers according to wage rates determined by sex. It did not, however, prevent companies from hiring only men for higher paying jobs. The following year, Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 further prevented sex discrimination in employment, but did not include educational institutions. The following testimony to a Congressional hearing in 1970 emphasized the need to extend sex discrimination legislation to the academic world. In 1972, Congress passed the Higher Education Act. Title IX of this Act forbade federal financial assistance to educational institutions that practiced sex discrimination.


Dr. HARRIS. I am Ann Sutherland Harris, assistant professor of art history in the Graduate Faculties of Columbia University in the city of New York. I am also active in Columbia Women’s Liberation and I am a member of N.O.W. I do not represent Columbia University in an official capacity, but I am a spokeswoman for Columbia Women’s Liberation, which supports this testimony and helped to prepare the report presented here today.

Madam Chairman and members of the committee, I am here today to testify to the urgent need to extend the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to women in institutions of higher education by means of the amendments proposed by the Honorable Mrs. Green in section 805 of the Omnibus Post-Secondary Education Act of 1970 (H.R. 16098).

Much of my evidence concerning discriminatory practices against women in higher education is drawn from my knowledge of the situation at Columbia University. My research merely confirms my long-held suspicion, however, that the situation at Columbia is merely typical of comparable high-endowment, high-prestige private universities in the United States.

That the overall distribution of women in institutions of higher education in the United States is highly suggestive of discriminatory practices and of attitudes prejudicial to women no one can deny. Research into the problem of sexual discrimination in higher education is handicapped at present, however, by the scarcity of sex breakdown statistics for individual institutions. . . .

The rule—and it applies to outside higher education as well—the rule where women are concerned is simply this: The higher, the fewer. The higher in terms of level of education, the higher in terms of faculty rank, the higher in terms of recognized responsibility, the higher in terms of salary, prestige and status, the fewer are the women. . . .

I am only one of many thousands of women who believe that Congress will be increasingly preoccupied in the next decade with the legislation necessary to insure women equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal status with men in the United States. Women are organizing now as they have not since fighting to win the right to vote 50 years ago. More and more women are realizing that they are treated as second-class citizens.

The word “sex” was added to section 702 of title VII of the Civil Rights Act as a joke, and women will not forget that insult. Equality for women is not a joke. It is a serious issue, although many otherwise fairminded individuals still refuse to believe that discrimination against women is a serious problem, or is a problem that deserves to be taken seriously.

I believe that the best and most convincing evidence of discrimination against women, in the academic world and outside, is statistical, but I know that statistics are tedious to listen to, and I will trust the committee to read at their leisure the substantial body of my evidence.

Here I would like to try and convey to the committee by means of some quotations made by academic men about academic and non-academic women the sexually negative atmosphere in which women live and work as students, staff, and faculty. These kinds of comments are familiar to all women. If they seem to the men in this audience a trivial form of opposition, I hope they will try to remember that they are not and have not been on the receiving end of such psychological warfare. They have not been subjected to daily propaganda with regard to their intrinsic weaknesses and inferiority. Nor have their ambitions been limited by anything other than their native ability and energy.

No man would be content to be only a husband and a father. Men have not organized political movements demanding the right to be house-husbands supported by their working wives. Thus tacitly men have recognized the limited world to which they still seek to confine women, and to which they continue to seek to limit them by making access to professional careers difficult.

Women’s weaker physical constitution has never exempted them from hard physical labor in the United States in the home, in factories, in the fields. It has long been the most valued forms of human achievement from which men have sought to exclude women, and in this the academic world is no different from other spheres of prestigious professional activity.

When President Nathan Pusey of Harvard realized that the draft was going to reduce the numbers of men applying to Harvard’s graduate program, he exclaimed:

We shall be left with the blind, the lame, and the women.

At Yale, when the new women undergraduates protested the quota on women and made the modest demand for 50 more women undergraduates the coming year at an alumni dinner, an alumnus was cheered when he said:

We’re all for women, but we can’t deny a Yale education to a man.

Charles de Carlo, who recently succeeded Esther Rauschenbusch as president of Sarah Lawrence, one of many examples of a women president being succeeded by a man—I know of only one reverse example—said the following, shortly after his appointment:

Feminine instincts are characterized by caring qualities, concern for beauty and form, reverence for life, empathy in human relations, and a demand that men be better than they are.

What is a man who does not think that women are people, doing as president of a women’s college? Charles de Carlo thinks that women are myths, muses, madonnas, but not human beings with the potential and full range of characteristics ascribed to men.

Other academic men think that women are chickens. The following statement appeared in a respectable sociological periodical this winter:

Some years ago, a colleague and I shared an office with a great view of the campus. When we were not consumed by teaching, research and/or community service, we would on occasion observe some of the comely girls passing beneath our window. While male scholars will dispute most generalizations, they will readily agree that there just aren’t enough chicks in their area of specialization, to put it in professional sociological language [sic]. Hence, my friend and I determined to print some handbills or perhaps put up a sign inviting some of the sweet young things to consider doing advanced work in our field. Alas, we never followed through, and many a pretty girl still walks the street who could have been saved. This clear-cut case of creativity [sic] followed by indecision was duly noted by our professors, however, and we were both awarded doctorates shortly thereafter.

The article was headed: “Have You Ever Considered a Doctorate in the Sociology of Education, My Dear?” It is not my impression that those men were primarily interested in the intellectual capacities of the women they idly thought of attracting into their profession, nor do I think that they would have written a similar piece suggesting that blacks be recruited because of their soft voices and sexy sense of rhythm revealed as they walked past the window.

Sexual discrimination is, as has been said before, the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. (See AAUW questionnaire results cited in report.)

Women students regularly encounter the following kinds of statements during their meetings with male faculty—all quotations come from students with the highest academic qualifications:

“The admissions committee didn’t do their job. There is not one good-looking girl in the entering class.”

“No pretty girls ever come to talk with me.” "You’re so cute. I can’t see you as professor of anything.“ "A pretty girl like you will certainly get married. Why don’t you stop with an M.A.?”

“We expect women who come here to be competent, good students, but we don’t expect them to be brilliant or original.” "Women are intrinsically inferior.“ "Any woman who has got this far has got to be a kook.” "Why don’t you find a rich husband and give all this up?"

“Our general admissions policy has been if the body is warm and male, take it; if it’s female, make sure it’s an A— from Bryn Mawr.” "How old are you anyway? Do you think that a girl like you could handle a job like this? You don’t look like the academic type.“ "Somehow I can never take women in this field seriously.”

The effect such comments have on women students and the attitudes of mind behind them are analyzed at greater length in my testimony where the source of the following quote is given:

Comments such as these can hardly be taken as encouragement for women students to develop an image of themselves as scholars. They indicate that some of our professors have different expectations about our performance than about the performance of male graduate students—expectations based not on our ability as individuals, but on the fact that we are women. Comments like these indicate that we are expected to be decorative objects in the classroom, that we’re not likely to finish a Ph.D., and if we do, there must be something “wrong” with us. Single women will get married and drop out. Married women will have children and drop out. And a woman with children ought to stay at home and take care of them rather than study and teach. . . .

I am well aware that the universality of this phenomenon means that we are dealing with instinctive, partly unconscious attitudes, and that making laws that forbid sexual discrimination will not solve the problem. Such laws will help, however, to create the kind of social climate in which men and women can learn to respect each other and learn also not to limit the humanity of each other. It will take a long time, but I for one look forward to the end of the battle of the sexes, in academe and elsewhere.

Although I am pleased that Congress is at last beginning to consider legislation that help women obtain fair and equal treatment, this bill contains one section that in my opinion, and in the opinion of Columbia Women’s Liberation, will more than offset the benefits of section 805. We wish to express our opposition to title VII of this same bill.

The “disruptive acts” which title VII deals with are so broadly defined as potentially to stifle expression of justifiable grievances by powerless groups: minority groups such as black and brown people, majority groups such as women.

Section 701 places the power to define “disruptive acts” with “trustees, administrators, and other duly appointed officials.” The last-named group is not at all defined and could be interpreted as officials of any level of government. This set of people may not be responsive to claims for equitable treatment made by unrepresented groups: racial minorities—for most of these officials are white; and women—for most of these officials are men.

For example, we spoke earlier (in the report attached to this statement) about the lack of adequate gynecological services available to women students. Columbia Women’s Liberation undertook to remedy this situation at Columbia and found the administration willing to deal with the issue. However, an administration that did not wish to concern itself with the needs of their own women students might define as disruptive actions taken in the pursuit of fair treatment in this area. . . .

The effect would be to purge universities of all dissident voices, of those who have given, and will continue to give universities and societies the impetus to change. We believe that women like ourselves are one such group. Our dissent at Columbia has not only been tolerated, but has been welcomed by many of those at whom it is directed.

At other educational institutions, women who have criticized their faculties for sexual discrimination have been “censured for conduct unbecoming,” a rare procedure in academe normally reserved for actions such as outright plagiarism. As women who may in the future find our problems turned aside by those who refuse to recognize the existence of sexual discrimination, we cannot turn our backs on the grievances of the oppressed, the powerless, and the dissident, for women are among those people. . . .

The advancement of women through this bill would come at the cost of the repression of all progressive groups working for change, including women’s liberation groups. Because of the repressive aspects of this bill as it stands with the inclusion of title VII, we of Columbia Women’s Liberation and I as an individual cannot give it the wholehearted support that we could wish to give it at this time. . . .



I am Dr. Bernice Sandler of the Women’s Equity Action League1 (WEAL), where I am Chairman of the Action Committee for Federal Contract Compliance in Education. I am also a psychologist with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and a former Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services at the University of Maryland. However, I am not speaking as a representative of H.E.W., but as an individual and as a member of the Women’s Equity Action League.

I come before this distinguished committee on behalf of Section 805 of H.R. 16098. You will be hearing from several witnesses who will address themselves to various aspects of this bill. I will limit my testimony to the crucial area of sex discrimination in our universities and colleges, and to how Section 805 will begin to alleviate some of the dreadful injustices and inequities suffered by American women on the campus.

The Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL) has initiated since January 31, 1970 formal charges of sex discrimination under Executive Order 11246 as amended, against more than 100 universities and colleges. This Executive Order forbids Federal contractors from discriminating against race, creed, color, national origin, and sex. According to the national Science Foundation report entitled “Federal Support to Universities and Colleges, Fiscal Year 1968,” universities and colleges receive about 3.3 billion dollars of Federal contracts per year. As Federal contractors, universities and colleges are subject to the provisions of the Order.

In its initial complaint, WEAL charged an industry-wide pattern of sex discrimination and asked for a class action and compliance review of all universities and colleges holding Federal contracts. At that time WEAL submitted to the Secretary of Labor, George P. Schultz, more than 80 pages of documents substantiating its charges of sex discrimination in the academic community.

Half of the brightest people in our country—half of the most talented people with the potential for the highest intellectual endeavor are women. Yet these gifted women will find it very difficult to obtain the same kind of quality education that is so readily available to their brothers. These women will encounter discrimination—not once, not twice but time after time in the very academic institutions in the very academic institutions which claim to preach the tenets of democracy and fair play. The women will face discrimination in admission where they will encounter official and unofficial quotas; they will face discrimination when they apply for scholarships and financial assistance. When they graduate, their own university will discriminate against them in helping them find jobs. They will be discriminated against in hiring for the faculty. If hired at all, they will be promoted far more slowly than their male counterparts, and they will most likely receive far less money than their colleagues of the other sex.

In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on March 9, 1970, Congresswoman Martha W. Griffiths stated:

“Yet most of these institutions discriminate outrageously against half of our citizens—women. They neglect and disregard their potential talent. They place innumerable obstacles and hurdles in the way of academic women. Is our nation so rich in talent that we can afford to have our universities penalize the aspirations of half of our population? Should the Federal Government close its eyes to such unjust discrimination and continue to provide the billions of dollars that help to support these unjust practices?”

The position of women in higher education has been worsening; women are slowly being pushed out of the university world. For example, in 1870, women were one-third of the faculty in our nation’s institutions of higher learning. A hundred years later, women hold less than one-fourth of the positions. In the prestigious Big Ten universities, they hold 10% or less of the faculty positions. The proportion of women graduate students is less now than it was in 1930. The University of Chicago, for example, has a lower proportion of women on its faculty now than it did in 1899.

Women are 22% of the graduate students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. But of the 411 tenured professors at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, the number of women is: ZERO. At the University of Connecticut, a state-supported institution, women are 33% of the instructors but only 4.8% of the full professors. On the University of Massachusetts campus at Boston, also a state-supported institution, there are 65 women faculty, but only two of these have tenure. Even in academic areas where women would be expected to be found in substantial numbers, women are conspicuously absent. For example, out of 105 professors in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, only 6 are women. Again, at the University of Michigan, out of 58 professors in social work, only 12 are women; in library science, out of 14 professors, only 3 are women.

Even when women are hired they generally remain at the bottom of the academic hierarchy. The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women. In a typical study of 188 major departments of sociology, Dr. Alice Rossi, a noted sociologist at Goucher College found that women accounted for—

30% of the doctoral candidates,
27% of the full-time instructors,
14% of the assistance professors,
9% of the associate professors,
4% of the full professors, and
less than 1% of the departmental chairmen.

. . .

1: The Women’s Equity League was incorporated in 1968 in Ohio to promote greater economic progress on the part of American women and to seek solutions to economic, educational, tax, and employment problems affecting women. There are members in more than 34 states. National headquarters are at 22414 Fairlawn Circle, Fairview Park, Ohio 44126. Information regarding Federal contract compliance should be addressed to Dr. B. Sandler, 10700 Lockridge Drive, Silver Spring, Md. 20901. Back to text.

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Education and Labor, Discrimination Against Women, 91st Congress, 2d Session (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970).