Martha West is a professor who has written a textbook on the law (she specializes in employment law) but today she's talking about a related issue of gender parity in the workplace.
The workplace in question is UC Davis and the issue she is focusing on is the lack of female deans and professors at UCD. This is important far beyond the borders of Davis because it impacts all of Northern California, home to many potential UCD students
The status of women at UCD is not, to put it kindly, very good. West, who teaches at King Hall School of Law on the Davis campus, has been trying to bring more faculty women to the campus for 17 years.
After more than a decade of slow but steady growth, the number of faculty women hired at UC Davis in 1997-98 hit an 11-year low.
"We've lost several of our women leaders," said West. "The only two female deans (JoAnn Cannon/ Humanities and Barbara Schneeman/Agriculture) we have left are both leaving at the end of the year and come July 1 we will have no women leaders on the faculty side of the house above department chair... and that's the area that I spend most of my time focusing on: faculty hiring and promotion," she said.
Over the past 10 years the campus has hired women at about 34 percent of the new faculty.
"That's not too bad a job although it could have been better since the pool of qualified candidates (women getting Ph.Ds nationally over that decade) was actually at 44 percent. We are 10 points below availability," she added.
But last year the bottom fell out of faculty hiring and new faculty women were hired at a rate of 19 percent. West calls that "a drastic decline."
"From my point of view it's a tragedy because that means there are 10 women who won't be teaching here for the next 30 years (once we get hired into tenure track jobs most of us stay at one place our entire careers)," she added.
To repeat that a slightly different way: In 1997-98, UCD hired a total of 47 new faculty. Out of that number, nine individuals or 19 percent were women and that represented an 11-year low. There are about 1,260 faculty total on the campus.
"And this is happening at a time when women represent 47 percent of the recent Ph.D. recipients nationally. So this 19 percent hire figure was just dreadful," she said.
And contrary to what some may think, the university is the subject of an elaborate affirmative action plan designed by the federal government. Under that plan, the current makeup of the faculty is compared to the nationwide availability and hiring goals are set to help departments reach parity.
How does the administration respond to such a drop in hiring?
"They didn't really have an explanation for why things got so suddenly worse," said West. " The campus has not been very willing to admit that there's discrimination, so normally the response is rather defensive. I think what happened, frankly, is Prop. 209 (banning preference) got passed and ever since it became an issue neither the UC president nor any of the chancellors have mentioned that we are bound by federal affirmative action plans. And so they are pretending that Prop. 209 limits our employment when it does not. They took all the pressures off the faculty to diversify and never mentioned the goals that we continue to maintain. (Hiring) went back to normal since no one was watching."
West is not unsympathetic to the problem of hiring "different" people.
"What's normal is hiring people most like you. And if most of the hirers are white men they hire mostly white men. I think all of us prefer people most like ourselves unless we think about our own prejudices and the faculty has not been challenged to think about their hidden biases," she said.
Here's an example: When UCD set up a new Center for Neurosciences in 1993, the director, a star tenured professor hired from another campus, had the opportunity to hire five assistant professors in a field where the percentage of women getting Ph.D.s nationally was between 30 and 40 percent. Instead, he hired five white males.
Today, the department at UCD that has one of the largest female hiring goals is psychology with a goal of nine. For many years the English department was farthest from parity and needed at one point to hire 11 women.
"But they've done a much better job the last few years hiring women," West said. "The worst department at the moment is psychology because the percentage of women in the Ph.D. pool is 60-70 percent and they would have to hire nine more women faculty to be at parity with the pool. And of course none of this can happen overnight because you hire very few faculty in a given year. The goals are a target."
West suggested that the university authorize faculty hires at the entry level (assistant professor ) rather than associate or full professor level. This would increase diversity and not incidentally save the campus a good deal of money.
"The first year the chancellor agreed with me but now we're back to the usual UC practice systemwide, with nearly 40 percent of hires being people with tenure at other universities," she said.
"Our leaders in academia have simply lost their courage and are catering to the current political pressure and are not speaking out on behalf of either white women or men or women of color," she added.
"I would like to see the campus publicize the fact that we are still bound by federal government guidelines. It's a way to educate the faculty about the lack of progress and give support to those of us who keep talking about this issue, which most faculty think has gone away. It hasn't gone away."
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