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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2010

Feminist & Anti-Racist Challenges

Judith Glazer-Raymo, ed. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press; 2008; 299 pp; ISBN: 978-0-80188-862-5, cloth $55 US; ISBN: 978-0-80188-863-2, paper $25 US.
Unfinished Agendas: New and Continuing Gender Challenges in Higher Education


This book is a collection of articles on women at various stages of their university careers in the U.S. The first chapter offers statistics on women in higher education. While a larger percentage of women than ever are graduating with doctorates — 45 per cent — overall, fewer are getting tenure-track jobs. For example, in 1975 more than 56 per cent of university faculty positions were tenured or tenure-track, but by 2007 that number had decreased to slightly above 30 per cent. Tellingly, women made up 25 per cent of full professors, 38.8 per cent of associate professor and 46 per cent of assistant professors.

In Canada, numbers tell a similar story. According to a recent CAUT report,1 women are outnumbered 5-to-1 by their male colleagues as full professors, and make up 35.9 per cent of associate professors and 42.5 per cent of assistant professors. As in the U.S., more than 51 per cent of women who teach in universities are ranked as “other,” meaning lecturers, part-time or sessional positions.

But Unfinished Agendas is more than just a book of indicators. It also shows how external
and institutional challenges threaten women’s advancement. For example, authors Aimee Lapointe Terosky, Tamsyn Phifer and Anna Neumann refer to women bumping against a ceiling made of “durable Plexiglas” rather than hitting a glass ceiling. They note, “Out­siders can look in, but gaining entry (into the university) is another matter.” (p. 53)

They suggest there is a different trajectory for women who gain tenure at their institution. Rather than being admitted to the “Plexiglas room” where meaningful scholarship takes place, women, after getting tenure, are often boxed into administrative and teaching roles that sideline their scholarly activities. We all know women in our workplaces who, after the first promotion and tenure, worked as department chairs, heads of units, coordinators of teaching and engagement committees and in other roles as administrative and organizational leaders.

Ana Martínez Alemán, in Chapter 6, frames the Plexiglas argument somewhat differently. She begins by saying women are more likely to be involved in teaching and less involved in research and that the issue of gender is missing from the discourse on productivity. Because of women’s historic role in the home, as teachers of their own and others’ children, Alemán reports there is evidence that university teaching is not evaluated in the same way that “production of knowledge” is.

For starters, writing books and articles is considered objective evidence of knowledge of a subject while teaching is not. Teaching is a “narrative of femininity,” or nurturing work, while men’s work is more in the production, the rational and the objective side of scholarship.

From the question of what constitutes meaningful scholarship, several authors take on the issue of women’s representation in senior administration and on governing boards. In Chapter 8, Judith Glazer-Raymo explores the history of women in universities. Despite the expansion of universities and a new em­phasis on coeducation during the post-World War II era, women weren’t making inroads into university boardrooms. The old feminist notion of just “add women and stir” (p. 189) meant that despite women having some teaching roles on campus, their presence had little or no effect on the culture of the institutions.

According to Glazer-Raymo, a 2007 survey of trustees at more than 1,000 U.S. universities conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 64 per cent were male, more than 89 per cent were Caucasian and nearly half were over the age of 50. What surprised me was the “old rule of thumb,” where trustees were expected to donate 14 per cent of a university fundraising campaign goal, had been superseded by a push from today’s professional fundraisers, who recommend trustees’ total gift amount represent up to 50 per cent. (p. 195) This suggests new recruits to university boards in the U.S., and likely in Canada, are solicited at least in part for their potential to make significant financial contributions.

In Chapter 10, “Women of Color in Aca­deme,” Caroline Turner explains that the invisibility of women of colour — as students, as professors and in leadership positions — creates “a void in the learning experience.” (p. 231) The diversity in society is seldom mirrored in the academy. She writes about her experiences as a person of colour from her undergraduate days in the 1960s. A debate in her dormitory hinged on why people were poor. The answer was “because they are lazy.” (p. 232) Her graduate advisor told her not to bother enrolling in the MBA program, as she simply would not “fit in.” (p. 233)

She cites the findings from interviews she and Samuel Myers conducted in 2000 with faculty women of colour, where five themes emerged: “feeling isolated and under-respected; the salience of race over gender; being underemployed and overused by departments and/or institutions; being torn between family, communit­y and career; and being challenged by students.” (p. 235–6)

As a white woman, I can identify with the last one — “being challenged by students” — as it recently took place in my human resource management course. We were discussing human rights laws across Canada and I gave the students a real-life case about a Saskatoon restaurant named Sambo’s Pepperpot.2 The restaurant’s name had been displayed on a sign along with a caricature of a small, beaming black man, dressed in a chef’s hat and a grass hula skirt. The restaurant’s slogan on the sign was “Jez Ain’t None Better.” The cartoon and the phrase were printed on matchbooks and car stickers as well.

I asked my third-year students if this sign was discriminatory. Virtually every student said it wasn’t, but merely “good marketing” practice. One student suggested the character on the sign could have been believed to be the owner making fun of himself. As I looked around the room, I saw the five black students with heads down, trying to be invisible. One line from Turner’s essay in Unfinished Agendas echoed in my head: “Where does such ignorance come from? Too many times, it is not unlearned in college.” (p. 232)

Unfinished Agendas is a worthwhile book. It shows that feminist and anti-racist agendas are works in progress. These issues will require action on our part, not just vigilance, to change.

Judy Haiven is a management professor and vice-president of the faculty union at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

1. CAUT Education Review. 2010. The Changing Academy? January, Vol. 12, No. 1, (accessed 9 Feb 2010).

2. Singer v. Iwasyk and Pennywise Foods Limited, (1976). This was an unreported case before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. See Queen’s Human Rights Bulletin #5, (accessed 7 Feb 2010).