Surveying the Field : Gender Equity in Higher Education :Selected Papers from Succeding as Women in Higher Education Conference at SUNY Cortland

By Thomas, Anne Burns | Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Surveying the Field : Gender Equity in Higher Education :Selected Papers from Succeding as Women in Higher Education Conference at SUNY Cortland


Thomas, Anne Burns, Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies


2009

Common wisdom dictates that if the struggle for gender equality could be successful anywhere, it would be in the halls of academia. Over the past three decades, women students have become the majority in both undergraduate and graduate programs across America and many other countries in the world. There are far more equitable proportions of women to men at the Assistant, Associate and Full professor level than in the past. The disparity in pay has shrunk, as has the disparity in opportunities at the administrative level. Women students have more women mentors, and women students and instructors have more available programs and structures of support. If better is good enough, then perhaps women should just relax and enjoy their hard-won status. When it comes to gender equality however, good can never be good enough. This is especially true in light of a few salient dynamics that distort the supposed gains women have already made and seriously undermine the possibility of women continuing to keep the equality they have won.

Data that compares the numbers of women at each professorial level fails to show that in many important ways, at a wide variety of institutions equality of job title does not result in equality of job experience. Women have caught up with men in raw numbers in the ranks of the professoriate, but they still lag in pay and more importantly still lag far behind in the most highly esteemed and best remunerated disciplines. According to a 2008 study financed by the National Science Foundation at UC Irvine, women still faced what they called "deeply entrenched inequalities." Among the most pernicious were that high status positions on committees or faculty governance would become less high status once women held them. In addition, women were routinely assigned serviceoriented work as opposed to policy-making or other types of professional engagement. Many women reported that they would be assigned time-intensive service work, then be denied tenure or promotion based on the lack of research and publication they could otherwise be doing.

Perceptions of inequity in appropriate appointments and procedures were revisited in a 2010 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education which concluded that women were much more likely to be hired and promoted in relation to men, if they worked at institutions with strong unions. According to the article, women make up a higher percentage of faculty overall and a higher percentage of Associate and Full Professor faculty at institutions with unions. The clear implication of such studies is that if the institutions themselves embodied the values of gender equality, one wouldn't need unions to impose them.

These issues paint in the broad strokes the picture that despite hard-won gains, women are still facing inequity in the academic workplace. The contributions in this special edition of Wagadu go beyond the broad strokes and provide specific data as it relates to a range of vital issues. Each article illuminates its own particular concern, and as a whole the range of findings provided demonstrates that not only is the struggle for women's equality in the academic workplace vital to women, that the struggle is essential to the tradition of liberal education as a whole. Each author is motivated by their own guiding research question. What are the next steps to understanding gender equality in Higher Education? What directions for study and analysis should we pursue? What foci provide a clear vision for future progress? How should success for women be defined, pursued, examined and quantified? What lessons can be learned from past experiences?

What active roles can women and men take to impart the greatest momentum toward gender equity on college campuses around the world?

In October 2009 the State University of New York at Cortland hosted an academic conference to discuss current issues and future possibilities for women in academia. The Succeeding as Women in Higher Education Conference provided a venue for formalizing and making visible the discussions taking place in the cloisters of the academy. …

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