For this week’s blog, I read Women in Higher Education: The Fight for Equity, by Marian Meyers. According to the back cover, the book “provides evidence of on-going discrimination in the work lives of women graduate students and faculty” (Meyers). Research has indicated that academia has maintained policies, practices and procedures that preserve the rights of White, male faculty and undermines those aimed at driving change for equity (Meyers). After learning about the women’s class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart and women’s general struggle to succeed in the corporate environment, I was curious to read these women’s personal narratives.

In my opinion, the most interesting chapter was written by a Lesbian Professor who was denied tenure at two different conservative universities. This Professor taught Journalism, specifically reporting and editing courses that “integrated multiculturalism and social issues into the teaching of standard reporting skills” (Meyers 44). She brought speakers and consultants into her classes to ensure that her students “had access to authorities on multicultural issues” (Meyers 45). Her department chair and senior colleagues, however, frowned upon her efforts to liberalize journalism courses. These individuals created a paper trail discipline, “a process through which evidence is accumulated to support a case against the errant faculty member for what administrators will allege to be incompetent or uncollegial behavior” (Meyers 45). They also used comments from a few anonymous students who complained that she supported gay rights and feminism, compared to the hundreds of positive reviews, to deny her tenure (Meyers 49). This Professor took her case to a higher court, attempting to bring a lawsuit against the college on the basis of discrimination (Meyers 52). The final ruling dismissed the case. There is, however, a happy ending. She is currently a “full professor” at Howard University.

Another chapter described the story of a Puerto Rican Professor, who struggled in the academia hierarchy, layered with “Whitestream norms, practices and power dynamics” (Meyers 131). The tenure process for Latinas is a “long, lonely, and spirit-challenging journey” because these individuals are “outside of important socialization networks, with limited leadership and research opportunities,” due to lack of supportive colleagues and university mentors (Meyers 123-124). This Professor became the subject of stereotypes and marginalization. One example was during a search process and an administrator asked why she did not speak with a Spanish accent and whether she actually spoke Spanish (Meyers 125). Throughout this degrading process, this Professor reserved a private place in her mind to “remind myself of my strengths in teaching, publishing, and scholarship” (Meyers 131). To overcome these difficulties, she encourages fellow Latinas to participate in intellectual and interpersonal exchanges in the academia hierarchy. These social interactions can provide opportunities for “personal and collective development and functioning,” leading to positive change (i.e. eliminating structural inequities and different hierarchies of power) (Meyers 132). The question is, how can become aware of this subtle discrimination>

Meyers’s book most certainly could relate to our class. As we discussed in class, the Supreme Court dismissed the women’s class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart because there was insufficient evidence to conclude that gender was the “sole injury” of these women (i.e. a company-wide discriminatory policy). In terms of the first story, the Lesbian Professor filed a lawsuit, which ended in the same result. Was it because she was a woman? If the Professor were a man, would he receive the same discrimination from senior faculty? For this case, unfortunately, we will never know.

Sources used:

Meyers, Marian. Women in Higher Education: The Fight for Equity. New York: Hampton Press, INC., 2012. Print.

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4 responses »

  1. Jordi says:

    Small thing… I don’t know for sure why capitalization rules. White- yes. lesbian – no. Professor Comas- yes. professor- no. Unless her name were Professor Lesbian, it is just lesbian professor.

    • Jordi says:

      Should have finished reading. Puerto Rican professor. “Whitestream” is a word they invented, which at some point , you get to do. I suppose it keeps the capital “W” from the root “White.”

  2. Jordi says:

    Your final question got me to thinking more about the relationship between data and theory. IN a way, because it is rare to observe overt motivation in subtly discriminatory practices, we are left with cases like this. There are differences in how groups are treated. We can statistically determine that the differences in outcomes are NOT due to observed variables like education, years experience, or some performance measure. We are still left with disparate outcomes. And also unexplained variance. Here theory steps in. From theory, and its related cousin, qualitative data and even cultural texts like books, songs, film and so on, we believe gender discrimination exists. So, we logically infer from theory that differences in how men and women are treated that CAN NOT be explained by other means must be due to what is known: discrimination.

    Anecdotes, like the dumb-ass administrator, then crystallize as “a-ha!” evidence of the impact of stereotype and then discrimination.

    Anyway, this also hits close to home for me, obviously, as I work as a professor, am married to one, and have many male and female colleagues who are friends.

    I am not sure about the advice to “participate in intellectual and interpersonal” exchanges. All faculty should do that. So, I am unsure why it is unique to Latinas or other presumptive minorities…

    I have also had White, politically conservative colleagues who feel extremely marginalized not directly, but in the off-hand comments of colleagues. I am not personally equating the experience, but just pointing out that the experience may feel similar even if structurally it has different outcomes (I don’t know that these folks ever don’t get tenure).

  3. Kate says:

    Jordi, in regards to the Latina situation, I am not sure whether the colleagues were super prejudiced, but I find it very odd that the faculty had very few interactions. based on my three years at Bucknell, it seems that the faculty have frequent intellectual and interpersonal exchanges (since many professors collaborate on research–that is my understanding). The world, unfortunately, is not perfect. It always seems like someone is marginalized in the sense of receiving off-hand comments from other faculty members or no one wants to collaborate with them during research. Based on this book, the opinion of colleagues and students outweighs the accomplishments and merits of the candidate. Is that ethical?

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