GW lags behind the national average for female faculty members, but University officials said they have seen drastic improvements in recent years.
The percentage of female faculty at GW is five percentage points behind the Department of Education’s 1997 average of 36 percent female faculty nationwide, according to University statistics for the 1999-2000 school year.
The number of female faculty members at GW – 31 percent of all faculty – has nearly doubled since the fall of 1976, when women represented less than 16 percent of full-time faculty.
Clearly women are making progress, said Grae Baxter, executive dean of Mount Vernon Campus.
Administrators said the University’s tenure system limits opportunities for women in academia.
We have to recognize that in an academic environment where you have tenure, the turnover isn’t that quick, so a lot of positions don’t open up every year, Baxter said. That perhaps has some effect on slowing the progress of women.
Jacqueline King, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education, said tenure is the main reason for disparity in numbers at GW.
It takes a while for people to work their way up the tenure track, King said. If you look at assistant professors, you’ll see far more women. But the full professors of today were hired in the ’60s and ’70s before a lot of women were getting (doctorates) and going on to become professors and do research.
According to 1999-2000 University statistics, GW’s female faculty members hold 25 percent of tenured or tenured-track positions, while males hold 75 percent of the tenured or tenured-track positions.
Professors in positions that offer tenure become eligible during their sixth year teaching, said Mary Futrell, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. At that time, they submit a portfolio to their department demonstrating progress in the areas of teaching, advising, research, scholarship and service, she said.
The department then recommends the professor to a school-wide tenure review committee, which makes a recommendation to the dean of the professor’s school who can then recommend the tenure candidate further. If the person is rejected during any point in this process, their position at GW will be terminated after the next year.
When professors receive tenure their jobs are secure, barring extenuating circumstances, Futrell explained.
Futrell said about 75 percent of GW professor positions are tenured.
We find that where women fall behind is when they are moving up to become department chairs and deans or assistant deans of schools – that’s where you see the number of women drop off, Futrell said.
Bernice Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in D.C., said the most common administrative positions for women at universities include assistant dean, assistant to the dean and associate dean.
She said women are still more prevalent in the fields that traditionally attract more women, such as languages and the living sciences.
When we think of administrators, executives, college presidents, etcetera, we still think of men in these positions and our image of women often doesn’t view them as potential administrators, Sandler said. It gives a hidden message to women and men students alike that men are the ones in power and that women are there somewhat as exceptions to the general rule.
The second reason for low numbers of women among faculty and administrators is that there are still fewer women earning doctoral degrees, King said.
Men still earn the majority of Ph.D.’s so there’s not as many women in the pipeline for faculty positions, she said.
Susan M. Phillips, dean of the School of Business and Public Management, said she was the only woman in the country to graduate with a doctorate in finance in 1973.
We’re getting more women entering doctoral programs now, so we’re seeing the feeder pipelines to faculty positions expanding and growing, Phillips said.
The American Association of University Professors, an organization of more than 44,000 faculty members at universities nationwide, found that women are not afforded the same opportunities to apply for research grants, both internal and external.
Women are entering the profession at a pretty good rate now, said Iris Molotsky, spokeswoman for the AAUP. But what’s happening is that women aren’t promoted within ranks as quickly as men, and are not promoted to higher ranks as often as the men are.
Campuses across the country are hiring as many women as men today, but not necessarily for full-time, tenured positions, King said.
Instead, women are being hired for more part-time and non-tenured openings.
You’ll see this in other fields where tenure is an issue, King said. You’ll see a lot of women being hired as associates at law firms, but not as many women partners. It’s because you need to have that time in the job to progress and achieve that tenure.
Over the past seven years male faculty members were promoted and awarded tenure at GW at higher rates than females were. From 1992 to 1999, 62 percent of promoted faculty were men and 38 percent were women.
In the same period, about two-thirds of the faculty awarded tenure were male, while about one-third were women.
Looking at the data you can see how it’s changing, King said. It’s still not at 50/50, but it’s moving in the right direction. It’ll take a few more years for the women to filter up the chain.
At GW, the number of female faculty varies from school to school. The Graduate School of Education and Human Development has the greatest portion of female professors, 49 percent, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences holds the lowest percentage of women, totaling nine percent of engineering professors.
Baxter emphasized the role GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman and department deans play in recruiting qualified women for open positions.
My impression is that years ago, before Trachtenberg came, GW was a very male-dominated institution – a trend that infused the whole culture of the institution, Baxter said. We’re all encouraged, whatever our role is, when we do national searches for job candidates, to seek out underrepresented people, both relating to ethnicity and gender. However, I can’t guarantee that there isn’t a continuing bias in certain departments.
-Kate Stepan and Tim Donnelly contributed to this report.