Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick Or Treat At Tenured Radical: What Will You Be Wearing?

Will you get candy -- or a rock?  Illustration hat tip.
We at Tenured Radical, normally so generous to the constituencies for whom this holiday is the apex of the year (little children, gay folk, college students) detest Halloween.  We feel foolish when we dress up.  We think candy is too expensive.  Despite the fact that we are known to consume it, we also think candy is unhealthy.  We resent the vast federal subsidies that go to an already fiscally plump sugar and corn syrup industry at a time when ordinary Americans are losing their houses and the basic requirements for living a healthy life are so difficult for the poor to access.  In 2007, the Cato Institute estimated that sugar subsidies alone would cost taxpayers $1.4 billion over a decade; and that consumers of the numerous products containing sugar would pay a $1.7 billion annual surcharge because of these price supports.  Corn, from which high fructose corn syrup is made, is the top recipient of federal subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group, totaling almost $4 billion in 2009 alone.

And yet, despite thinking about what these dollars could accomplish for national health care, education or public transportation,  our self-righteousness falters.  We are unhappy when we think about the limits of our own politics as we turn our backs on people having fun.  We loathe ourselves as we avoid the children howling for candy on our doorstep -- children who have no health insurance, go to crappy schools and will probably have to enlist in the military to have a semi-decent life but who also just want to have a nice time one night out of the year.  Is that too friggin' much to ask?  And yes, we know that our annual Halloween donation to the American Diabetes Association is not what children consider an appropriate substitute for the pleasures of mainlining glucose that is packaged fifteen different ways.

On the other hand, we rarely stay blue for long at Tenured Radical, and we would also argue that building an entire child-centered holiday candy represents false consciousness of epic proportions.  We begin to understand why, during our over privileged suburban upbringing, cadres of stoned, vanguardist private school boys would roam the neighborhood tossing cherry bombs into pumpkins to indicate their disapproval for American capitalist investment in the sugar industry. Said pumpkins would explode in massive, pulpy orange carnage, a strategy intended to demoralize neighborhood families that would later be discovered and adopted by anti-American insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because we are a blog that stands firmly behind non-violent strategies for change, this year at Tenured Radical we are having a virtual Halloween, in which we are giving virtual treats and tricks to virtual folk who show up in costume at our blog.  If you recognize yourself, feel free to open your bag in the comments section, or alternatively, to egg our virtual car and toilet paper our virtual trees in the comments section.

If you come to our door dressed as an adjunct instructor, you will receive:  A treat, because unfortunately you have already been tricked into thinking that, if you followed the rules and kept your nose to the grindstone, that there was a job waiting for you as a full-time university professor.  Open your bag, and we will drop inside:  a law school application (complete with a letter of recommendation from Tenured Radical -- just fill in your name at the appropriate places); a free subscription to Adjunct Nation; and a two-year site pass to The Adjunct Advocate.

If you come to our door dressed as a Zenith student activist running an anti-affirmative action bake sale, you will receive: A treat, although we can't give you a copy of Zenith's affirmative action policy, because there isn't one.  Look in your bag after you leave our door and you will find a copy of Zenith's Diversity Policy and its policy on discrimination and harassment; and a personal introduction from Tenured Radical to Morton Blackwell, the former White House Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan, conservative youth organizer and the founder of the Leadership Institute, which runs your umbrella organization, Campus Reform. You will also receive a large bag of fresh popcorn, with all the nasty burned pieces that got into your bag unfairly having been removed by our staff in advance of your visit.

If you come to our door dressed as a graduate student in the humanities going on the job market this year, you will receive:  A trick.  Laughingly maniacally, we will drop a letter-sized envelope containing a copy of your student loan repayment schedule; a post card saying that we have received your application; a credit card statement in which you will see that you have already been billed for expenses attendant to attending the conference interviews that you may or may not receive; and a brief letter stating that of the 450 qualified applicants for all the jobs you applied for, you were not hired.  That letter will be dated July 15, 2011.

If you come to our door dressed as Historiann, you will receive:  A treat!  That's right, Halloween celebrants who show up in full cowgirl garb will receive a free copy of the winter number of the Journal of Women's History, containing a round table of feminist bloggers that includes Historiann's full account and analysis of what happens when you call a really famous and very sexist historian a tool.

If you come to our door dressed as Arne Duncan, you will receive:  A Michelle Rhee action figure.  As we go to press, we are not altogether sure whether this is a trick or a treat, but perhaps we will know more after the election next Tuesday.  In any case, this temporarily unemployed icon of neo-liberal school reform is sure to be a collectible item; as a bonus, she will do test prep for your children and may be willing to pay you off to give up your tenure.

If you come to our door dressed as GayProf, you will receive:  A treat!  Leaving our doorstep, you will find (to your great delight) a set of Wonder Woman bracelets in your bag which, according to our staff research assistant Wick E. Pedia, will "balance [your] Amazon strength with loving submission to the positive aims of civilization," and help you "deflect...all manner of attack."  The bracelets are a particularly critical item for women, queer faculty and faculty of color, but may be particularly useful for all of you planning to come up for tenure, or organizing your colleagues into a group capable of collective bargaining with the institution for which you work.

If these items do not please you, head over to Legal History Blog, where Mary Dudziak is giving away copies of the Constitution.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Department Of Economics III: The Latest On Salaries And Benefits

We at Tenured Radical are starting to collate some interesting information from this week's posts on faculty salaries.  Crunch the data yourself, but a few facts are revealing themselves:

The phrase "academic job market" does not describe an actual market.  Rather, it describes a frozen employment sector where a fair number of people who are fully employed are hanging on for dear life.  Only one commenter, Squadratomagico (who in addition to being a college professor also performs in a small circus, which I have always thought was interesting), is unperturbed by this situation.  You can read about her reasons, many of which I respect, particularly since she really doesn't seem to care about money. The only point in this post that I disagree with completely is that paying faculty a low wage is alright because "Higher education is a not-for-profit enterprise."  Such logic suggests that no wage is too low (the U.S. Army, for example, pays infantrymen less than $1500 a month; I'm not sure what nuns and priests earn.)  Does non-profit status give private institutions and legislatures the right to drive our salaries down, and require more work from us as they do?  Because honestly, no one said that in my job interview, and no Zenith administrator has used that as a reason for squeezin' us the last couple years.  The other reason I would disagree with the non-profit rationale is that, while this is not the case for colleges the size of Zenith, large universities are increasingly for profit enterprises that copyright the work of their scientists, profit from media contracts for the big business of sports, sell vast amounts of booster gear, and employ lobbyists. Furthermore, explicitly for profit institutions pay their faculty even less than the annual salaries many of my readers reported.

Vast numbers of us are very, very, ill-paid.  The magic number that pops us most frequently is $57K, which I think is interesting:  it is as if some Karl Rove employed in higher ed figured out that $57K is the absolute minimum wage at which you can flat line salaries and still expect your faculty to come to work at all.

Being in a union doesn't always help.  As several commenters have pointed out, it doesn't hurt either, but many of the campuses from which we are getting reports of flat salaries and escalating benefits costs are union campuses.

Consciously or unconsciously, a great many people idealize teaching in ways that do not correspond to the actual pleasures and discomforts of our labor, causing them at times to confuse college teachers with missionaries.  I was variously told that I should feel "lucky;" be "grateful" for my job; and that it is "such a privilege" to teach the young I should not ever imply that injustice touches my life or that there is any wage too low to sell my labor for.  Ever.  Good fortune is mine, and when I am not openly articulating my guilt for the privilege that is mine, I should just shut up. Well, that's not going to happen, but it's peculiar that teachers draw this "oh how sharper than a serpent's tooth" attitude (from other teachers, no less) when they try to adjust their working conditions and salary.  Anyone who has an analysis of this phenomenon is invited to contribute it in the comments section.

And finally:  As if it had been sent from the Goddess, yesterday featured a dramatic turn of events in the economics department.  Many of us at Zenith were stunned when our administrative staff received an e-mail from Human Resources telling them that the cost of their health insurance is going up dramatically:  our Admin expects to pay twice what she paid last fiscal year.  As their Union Steward wrote, less than a week before the election,  "I was informed today by (Big HR Dude) about the Health Insurance Premiums for 2011. As you know, in our contract, our insurance is scheduled to go up 18.5% to be at a level playing field with Administration which pays 33% of the premium. BHRD informed me that the increase for the Health Insurance Premium (that goes up every year around 3-5%) will be going up 14% mostly due to the Obama Health Care Reform Act. Therefore, we will not just have an increase of 18.5% but an additional 14% increase which will be rounded off to a total of 33% increase starting January 1, 2011."

As we know, the actual name of the bill is the Affordable Care Act, and the "Obama Health Care Reform Act" is a phrase disseminated by right-wingers who spread untruths about the bill to try to make vulnerable people afraid of liberal reform agendas.  Having been called on this by a storm of angry emails by staff and faculty, a message arrived today saying that this was a mistake made by the Union Steward (who, as of this morning, was not responding to emails.)  Big HR Dude is shocked, shocked! by this misunderstanding, and writes, "The Healthcare Reform Act"  (still not the right name!) "is a factor in the cost, but a very small one. Our open enrollment information references some minor adjustments to our plan to conform to the legislation’s requirements. The increase in this year’s rates is overwhelmingly due to a very high experience rating in our university-wide claims....And of course the last thing I ever intended was a political statement of any kind."  No data as to these excessive claims has been provided.

Perhaps it is so that this is all one big miscommunication, despite the Tea Party-ish stink.  And yet the lack of awareness of the timing, the language used, and the failure of HR to communicate directly with employees is worrisome, to say the least. And imagine how distressing to it must be to HR that those of us who pay for health insurance actually use it to pay for our health care.  No wonder they are frazzled.

On a lighter note, here's a cheerful cartoon sent to me by a grad student who has the heart, intelligence and wit of one twice her age:  it is a student requesting a recommendation for graduate school in English.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different: History Department Hosts Skull Session

According to a Salt Lake, Utah, television station, yesterday a package was received by the History Department at the Brigham Young University Campus in Provo.  Upon opening it, an unlucky employee found two skulls packed in bubble wrap.  Sent via USPS Priority Mail, and addressed to "historical department," there was "no explanation why two skulls were being mailed to the university."  The police were called, and the skulls have been shipped to the office of the state archaeologist for forensic analysis.  As KSL reports on its website,

The leading theory now is that the skulls are likely those of Native Americans and someone may have decided that possessing the skulls was a bad idea, especially with the recent artifact possession indictments in southeastern Utah. Investigators believe that by sending them to a university, the person thought someone on campus would know what to do with them.

"No note at all. It had a return address of Augusta, Montana, with the name of "Jim Crow," and that was it," [the police spokesperson] said.

The name of Jim Crow initially raised some concern due to its history with segregation in the South. Detectives have not found anyone with that name in the Montana town and believe it was a made-up name, like John Doe.

Jim Crow, John Doe -- whatever.  A little bit of research reveals that the Crow (Apsaalooke) Nation headquarters are also in Montana, slightly south of Billings:  Augusta is a four hour drive from there.  

The other important information is that, should your university, department, or local historical society be in possession of Native American artifacts or remains, this may also be in violation of federal law.  NAGPRA, which demands the cataloguing and eventual repatriation of objects, many of which are sacred.  Human remains have spiritual implications for the group in question and need to be properly interred, taken from indigenous people in the United States during the long colonization of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.   Remains improperly retained, I am also told by a Native colleague, can cause you to become sick.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Department of Economics, Part II: Organize, Goddammit!

Illustration credit.

This is a follow up to Monday's post, "Department of Economics," which  Historiann commented on today with a brilliant post of her own.

There is an outstanding comment thread to follow at both Tenured Radical and Historiann, much of which reveals that vast numbers of our colleagues in public education and small colleges have salaries frozen below, or well below, 70K.  For those of you who say we need a union -- I am on record as saying "union, yes" as well: I would *happily* trade tenure for a union, any day, any time. But you know why we have no unions? Faculty do not believe in the collective, and they are so easily divided by self-interest, envy and shame.  Our individualism, and our fear that if we organize we will lose the social respect that came with that PH.D., bites us in the ass every time.  Hence, those of us who can cut our private little deals and leave most of our colleagues in the dust.  

We are also a little starry-eyed about employers, and a profession, that doesn't treat us very well especially when we sacrifice for them and for students.  Note the vast number of people in both comment threads who think I should be "happy" about an escalating work load and a shrinking salary, and their only reason is -- I currently make more $$ and have a lighter teaching load than they do.  Listen carefully, for this I believe:  if privileged people like me are starting to notice a shift in the compensation atmosphere, if relatively wealthy schools that have a lot invested in the "prestige" of a traditionally tenured faculty, a 2-2 load, and a bank-busting annual fee for students think they donlt have to pay us any more -- well, many of you who are at the mercy of state legislatures ain't seen nuthin' yet.

I also think this question of salary rips off the cover off the fairy tale what we are sold in graduate school (particularly by Ivy League and Big Public Uni mentors who, my friends, make 2-4x as much as I do, at an earlier stage in their career, and have annual tax-free accounts worth upwards of 6K for research and travel to conferences) that all of us, when we leave graduate school, are really playing on the same level field. We are not the same, not by any stretch of the imagination, and the folks at the top do not think any of us are the same as they are. We get sorted into the masses and the classes in the job market, we more or less stay where we are sorted, and it isn't because some people are deserving and some people are not.  It's because of how we are paid and how hard we are forced to work for it. Have you noticed that we haven't heard a peep from any big-time RI people coming clean on what *they* make to lecture twice a week, manage a stable of TA's and teach a graduate class of 10?  No, you have not.  Now that doesn't mean they don't work hard:  it just means that if you are looking for Nicholas Romanov, he doesn't live at Tenured Radical.

But let's get back to the nitty and the gritty.  In what world is it too much to expect that a professional salary for someone in her fifties, who trained for eight years in graduate school and who has put in almost twenty years at her job, should exceed 107K? Take a look at the AAUP Annual Report On The Economic Status Of The Profession: for my category of school, I am very underpaid. That said, I think many of you are *vastly* underpaid, and I am truly shocked -- by that fact, and by the resignation to being underpaid that makes itself evident in the view that shrinking faculty salaries are an inevitable outcome of -- what?  History? Shrinking education budgets because we divert so much money to fight wars and politicians do not have the stones to tax corporations?

The neoliberal economic policies that are killing education are a cynical political choice, not a natural and inevitable force.  I find it staggering, for example, that we clearly have a generation of scholars (many of you) who may not be able to send their own children to college without taking out loans because tuition, even at public schools, keep rising exponentially but their own salaries don't even keep up with the cost of living over the long term.  I find it staggering that college teaching may soon, except for a sliver of the population, be something that a person can only afford to do if s/he has inherited wealth or a spouse with a good income.  I find it staggering that many of you who have worked so hard to get where you are could easily be bankrupted by a serious illness, because your benefits are probably as $hitty as your salaries.  For this you went to school for 10-15 years?  For this you took out loans?  Aren't you angry at someone other than me?

I think the other organizing problem is this: because I am better off than many of you, your attitude is that I *should* be happy and I must be whinging because all my upper-class friends from college are coining it. We aren't going to get a thing done about any of this until some of you stand up and say, "I'm getting screwed! Royally screwed!" Don't buy the "I'm so lucky to be teaching," or "I'm from a working class background and I could be homeless or working in a factory for minimum wage, but by some miracle I don't understand I get to teach." You earned the right to teach; and with that, you earned the right to respect from your employers.  Since when did teaching college become a lifetime job at a starter salary?  And since when did the "privilege" of shaping young minds (gag) pay the mortgage?

Have I changed my tune on this, as Historiann points out?  Two years after the initial economic crisis, as shrinking faculty salary pools, cutting back benefits and eliminating tenure-track lines has revealed itself as the long-term plan for education, you bet I have.  

Hey, Is This Going To Be On The Test? Confederates In The Classroom

Cartoon by Walt Handelsman.
Let's hear it for the Virginia Department of Education, which approved a textbook called Our Virginia: Past and Present for fourth graders in its public schools.   It features the information that, according to this story in USA Today "thousands of black troops fought for the Joy Masoff told The Washington Post that she found the passage on the Internet."  In case your brain is busy stereotyping Masoff as a renegade Daughter of the Confederacy, she is from Westchester, NY, and is the author of numerous children's books.

Masoff's Wikipedia entry has one account of the three Internet sources Masoff used that it claims link back to this document generated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group which works hard to separate the rebellion from the stink of involuntary human servitude.   One way to do that is to imply massive black support for states' rights (as opposed to the right of states to pass laws that enslaved people because of their race.)  One wonders if it was these lines that Masoff cobbled into that one pithy sentence:

"There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets...." Frederick Douglas, former slave & abolitionist (Fall, 1861).

How many? Easily tens of thousands of blacks served the Confederacy as laborers, teamsters, cooks and even as soldiers. Some estimates indicate 25% of free blacks and 15% of slaves actively supported the South during the war.

Young historians:  beware the ellipse.  And honestly?  If you didn't know who Frederick Douglass actually was, that first line is impenetrably confusing. 

This was brought to the attention of the authorities in question by our colleague, Carol Sheriff of William and Mary, whose child was assigned the book. "Sheriff says blacks occasionally took up arms to defend their masters, but it was illegal to use blacks as soldiers in the Confederacy until toward the war's end. None of those companies saw action on the battlefront and most worked involuntarily as laborers." Note:  Sheriff is not claiming that no black person did service that supported the Confederacy, only pointing out that thousands of enslaved people did not sign up to risk their lives with the goal of perpetuating slavery -- which is what Masoff's odd little factoid strongly implies.

Textbooks do make mistakes, and they can be corrected.  And yet, an erroneous fact like this one would be field-changing were it true, and Masoff has to be criticized for not recognizing that and pursuing the question further.  That the text also then slipped through nnumerous other hands before ending up in Virginia classrooms is a scandal.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Department of Economics: Observations On The Lack Of Raises and Thinking Out Of The Box

As if you didn't know
We are in a prolonged period in which suppressing faculty wages is the preferred solution (after firing the staff) to "controlling" the costs of higher education.  Although paid better than many colleagues at state institutions and community colleges, for my two decades at Zenith, the faculty has come to the depressing conclusion at the end of each year that we are more or less at the bottom of our so-called "peer group" of liberal arts colleges.  One year, in an attempt to raise our position, our peer group was adjusted:  several larger research institutions were removed and they were replaced with smaller liberal arts colleges.  This helped our ranking for a bit, but of course, university rankings -- whether they are compiled by U.S. News and World Report or by the AAUP -- don't pay the mortgage.

At age 52, I make slightly more than 107K, 16K less than the median salary at my rank at Zenith and, adjusted for inflation and health insurance, less than I made three years ago.  The actual number of my salary tells you little, since I am quite sure that salaries vary wildly at Zenith and that I make more than some people who have worked there for longer (colleagues are invited to contribute their own salaries, anonymously if they wish, in the comments section.)  What I also know is that we don't get meaningful raises any more, and that it seems unlikely that the wage gap will be closed except through the retirement and departure of better paid colleagues.  Two years ago, Zenith finally locked on to what the public and state schools have known for a long time:  pay your faculty less, and there isn't a damned thing they can do about it.  Year before last, we received no raises; last year I was pretty much at the top of the chart at slightly less than 2%; and this year's overall pool will only be increased by 2%.  Simultaneously, insurance costs and co-pays have risen, and our health insurers are reimbursing less than they did, mostly by fu@king up our paperwork.  Conference stipends no longer come close to covering the costs of conferences (sometimes they cover the plane ticket and that's it.) The teeny raises also mean we are getting smaller institutional contributions than we expected to our retirement savings and -- for those of us in our fifties who are at what we were led to believe was to be our peak earning capacity -- beginning to address mid-life financial responsibilities for our families with a diminished ability to meet them.

The only way to make more money is to work more:  we now have multiple opportunities to teach more classes, and be paid adjunct wages to do so.  This is called, for those of you unfamiliar with labor history, "speed up."  The idea is this:  the university needs more revenue, so regular faculty teach an extra class in our extension program, for which everybody in the class has paid $2,130.  Regular Zenith students pay $2600 for summer courses, plus a housing charge for dorm space that would otherwise be vacant.  The faculty stipend for any of these courses is around 6K (which is about 1K more than an ABD adjunct wage at Zenith and 2K less than what grad students are paid for their own courses at Oligarch); there are 15-20 people in the class.  You do the math here:  are Zenith faculty being paid a fair wage for this work?  No.  They are being paid a market wage -- and, my guess is, twice what adjuncts at the local state schools are paid.  And yet, increasingly, faculty are getting squeezed into doing this as their salaries flat line.

Here's the bottom line:  I am not unsympathetic to the financial problems in higher education, or to the important restructuring that is long overdue at my own institution.  But I refuse to sell myself for less; I refuse to sell myself for less than I am worth; I refuse to contribute to the casualization of academic labor; and I refuse to do what is essentially volunteer work for my employer.

As an aside, this also leaves your Radical -- who is, in fact, a devoted teacher, in the curious and ironic position of being asked to reverse priorities that were just recently reversed.  Having had a huge career crisis resulting from the error of over-invested in the institution to the detriment of my scholarly pace; having reversed that formula following my big crisis and entered into one of the most productive scholarly periods of my life; having had my salary suppressed as an associate because I did not publish as others did while I was institution building; guess what?  Faculty are currently no longer being rewarded for their scholarship -- unless it can be leveraged into an outside offer.  Instead, the only way to get a decent "raise" is to increasingly take on work to the detriment of one's scholarship.  I have more or less missed the train of history on this one, which is a stunning discovery, to say the least.

And yet, it is also potentially liberating and -- not to be mysterious -- it is a problem I am working on, because if I can't control the financial priorities of the institution, I can control my own choices.  If I am no longer really working in hopes of improving my economic condition, what am I working for, and how should I imagine what "a better life" means? What would it mean to exercise more choice over the job I am underpaid for, and simply create priorities that are independent of -- or selectively dependent on -- the priorities of the institution?  To do less institutional work for my flat lined salary as compensation for not getting the raises I should be getting for my accelerated scholarly activity?  To do another kind of institutional work that is wholly and completely chosen, and which gives prestige to Zenith in exchange for Zenith giving me my freedom to define my own priorities?

Or even to imagine leaving academia entirely and becoming a writer, full-time?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday's Blogger Works Hard For A Living

Photo Credit
In other words, all you get from me today is updates:  revisions, editorial duties, leaf raking and other forms of activity that drive the meat world forward are calling.  And yes, I have gotten over Blogger eating my post yesterday, but I still have no idea why it happened:  anyone who does, do get in touch.

Latest News On The Witch's Wit Beer Label Controversy:  Julie Landweber of Montclair State, who originally alerted us to this issue, writes (via H-Women):  "The latest from the brouhaha over the Witches' Wit beer label is that Vince from Lost Abbey emailed me, telling me that they made an ignorant mistake, and are happy to correct it. They're thinking of having a contest with people submitting ideas for an alternative label, and are working to get in touch with the right folks in the pagan and/or feminist communities that could help them do just that. Everybody won! The greatest part about this is that there's a decent chance that with Halloween coming up, they and we can get local press interested in the controversy and give us an opportunity to educate the general public about the misogynistic nature of the European witch burnings."  In case you are having the same idea I am, although it is tempting to do so, it would also be mysogynistic to send in a picture of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O' Donnell.

But my other thought is that, as Landweber implies, this is a great outcome, in part because of the graciousness of the brewer in the face of a feminist critique.  Something offensive that draws polite criticism (and no, in the end it doesn't really matter whether it was 100,000 women or 40,000 women because it is the same crime and they didn't stop because it was sexist and wrong, but because it was politically destabilizing) should then be followed by an apology and a correction based on inclusive consultation.   How refreshing.

Check Out the new CLGBTH website:  All those letters stand for the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, an American Historical Association affiliate.  Under the direction of Harvard University's Ian Lekus (known to his friends as the Great Leader), we have a gorgeous new virtual community.  Check it out.  Membership is still a smokin' hot deal, with a lifetime membership priced at $150.00 (about a tenth of what it costs to belong to the OAH for the rest of your life.  Full professors, pony up!

While We're On The Web:  The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians has completed a beautiful re-launch of its website. This was a priority for current president Kathleen Brown of the University of Pennsylvania (round of applause here), who wanted to make it a go-to site for everything women's history.  It's really set up to do that, and is the easiest to navigate and the most up-to-date we have yet had as an organization.  You know what else it makes it easy to do?  Join!  It will also make it easy for you to register for our triennial conference, to be held this summer at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, June 9-12.  Be there or be square, is my view.

And Since You Have Your Credit Card Out:  Consider subscribing to the Journal of Women's History, which has recently moved to SUNY-Binghamton, under the capable editorial leadership of Leigh Ann Wheeler and Jean Quataert.  Feeling pinched?  OK, well then, just reserve your copy of the upcoming winter issue so that you will be the first in your department to read the round table on feminist blogging featuring yours truly, Ann Little of Historiann and Colorado State University, Marilee Lindemann of Roxie's World and the University of Maryland (today you can follow the write-in gubernatorial campaign recently launched by one of its co-authors which may be a platform for the emergence of the grassroots Kibble Party), Rachel Leow of A Historian's Craft and Cambridge University, Jennifer Ho of the University of North Carolina, and May Friedman of York University.

Friday, October 22, 2010

WTF, Blogspot?

Just spent the morning working on a post about last night's transphobic Grey's Anatomy episode, and Blogspot -- which was treating me like a stranger when I tried to upload a picture -- ate the whole thing.

Thanks, Blogspot.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Weird History Department News: Thad Russell Has The Last Word

Angry young man? Photo credit
Today's HuffPo has a blog post by former Barnard adjunct prof Thaddeus "Bad Thad" Russell who, by his own account, was kicking a$$ in History and American Studies on the Upper West Side of Manhattan until his colleagues finally found out what he was teaching.  The story is a little murky, it's true.  Russell, who took his PH.D. at Columbia, describes himself as an "eccentric" and claims to have been highly influenced by his counter-cultural upbringing and education.  He gave a job talk which horrified his colleagues and their counterparts at Columbia and, after four years of impermanent work at Barnard, was not offered a tenure-track position.

If Russell's job talk was anything like this post about the job talk, I can see why.

What kind of a teacher/scholar is Thad Russell?  Again, not clear: some of his work is terribly conventional, some aggressively unconventional. He seems happiest proclaiming the qualities that make him unclassifiable as a scholar, listing the many varieties of academic cant on the right and on the left that he smashes every day before breakfast.  Not surprisingly, Russell claims to have been a very popular teacher whose devoted students labeled him "Bad Thad" for his out-of-the box ways.  Students totally dig cant-smashers, except for the ones who don't:  this fringey conservative student website listed him as an "enemy professor."  That's cool.  However, in his current "I hate everyone and everyone hates me" mode I have difficulty understanding what Russell is talking about or what he actually believes about history, even after having read his descriptions of his scholarship and teaching philosophy several times. It is within the realm of possibility that the people who heard his job talk may have had a similar problem as Russell performed a celebrity "Bad Thad" persona that seems to have been aimed less at reinterpretation than at letting "the establishment" know how boring and ignorant it is.  For example, as Russell writes,

My students were most troubled by the evidence that the "good" enemies of "bad" freedoms were not just traditional icons like presidents and business leaders, but that many of the most revered abolitionists, progressives, and leaders of the feminist, labor, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the cultures of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the flamboyant gays who brought homosexuality out of the closet.

I had developed these ideas largely on my own, in my study and in classrooms, knowing all the while that I was engaged in an Oedipal struggle to overthrow the generation of historians who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s, controlled academic history, and had trained me. They were so eager to make the masses into heroes that they did not see that it was precisely the non-heroic and unseemly characteristics of ordinary folks that changed American culture for the better.

Are you confused?  I am.  I just keep thinking, What is it that you do exactly? And, is anyone editing the Huffington Post nowadays? Go here to see a list of things that Russell has written, including a new book called A Renegade History of the United States, which is the only book I have ever known to be endorsed by both historian Nancy Cott and sexpert Susie Bright.  He is currently adjunct faculty "on special appointment" (whatever that means) at Occidental College, and seems to have transitioned to a freelance writing career.

A few lessons drawing on what I can understand from Russell's account of his unhappy termination at Barnard come to mind.  One is that senior people should never say, even lightly, that a visitor has has a good shot at making his or her job permanent.  It's very careless:  the visitor takes it seriously, and the people who say such things often have no power over that decision, no clue how it will be made, and no idea who the person they are talking to really is.  The second lesson is:  at life-changing moments, try to keep your pants on.  For example, when invited to give a job talk or any kind of scholarly presentation, going out of your way to show how unbelievably far out and unique you are can really backfire.  A group of historians is unlikely to start falling all over themselves with delight when they discover that a job candidate is a self-described eccentric who thinks his future colleagues are full of $hit.

The final lesson, I suppose, is a happier one.  If you think you have ideas, and you believe in yourself, when the scholarly establishment says "no," find a way to keep on writing anyway.  I had never heard of Thad Russell before tonight and now I have.  And so have you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Double, Double Toil And Trouble: Or, Why Images Of Witch Burnings Are A Bad Idea

Decades ago, feminists really cared about the casual use of images that exploited women's bodies or that used violence against women as a way to sell a product.  A billboard that went up on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1975 was the catalyst for feminists to form Women Against Violence Against Women, the first of numerous groups in the United States, Canada and England that began to link the anti-battering movement to images that articulated violence against women as part of the status quo.

By the 1990's, the feminist consciousness that promoted swift and effective action in such cases had gone under cover, due in part to profound disagreements about what constituted a radical feminist agenda and what women's civil liberties meant.  I am writing a book about why that was, so I won't go on at length, but you will be hearing more about this topic at Tenured Radical in the coming months.

In the meantime, I would like to pass on an email I received over the N-Net listserve from Julie Landwebber, assistant professor of History and Women's Studies, Montclair State University:

I would not ordinarily post a "take-action" request, but this particular issue hits home for historians of women and gender -- in particular, anyone working on late-medieval or early modern Europe, or colonial America.

Please take a moment out to send a note to, the founder of Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marcos, California. They have just released a new beer, Witches' Wit, featuring a highly disturbing image of a very décolleté woman being burned alive at the stake while hundreds of upturned men watch with interest. For those of you who are unaware of this unlovely chapter of European history, roughly 100,000 women were killed by the Catholic and Protestant churches in the 16th and 17th centuries for, most often, the crime of being a woman. I'm sure the creative team at Lost Abbey can come up with a lot of great medieval imagery that doesn't involve women being burned at the stake.

It's difficult to see in the picture at right, but you get the drift.  Let's underline the point here:  it's not the witch thing that is at issue, particularly since this is a seasonal beer that seems to be available in the fall, but rather, what is being done with the witch.  As you are trying to decide whether Tenured Radical is just another humorless feminist after all, try this consciousness-raising exercise:  given that thousands of men were also burned, beheaded and dismembered as heretics and witches by the church, would a beer company produce an advertisement depicting that? Would a beer company put a Jim Crow-style lynching circa 1925 on the label of a beer named, oh, say, "Baptist Brew"? And if not, why not?

A similar version of this post has been cross posted at Cliopatria.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why History? Four Careers You Might Want To Think About Pursuing With A History Major

There's nothing like the Early American survey to
help you decide on the perfect spring display.
If you are as old as I am, you remember when MARHO, the editorial collective that publishes the Radical History Review, used to hand out matchbooks at the history meetings that said:  "Be A Historian.  Make Big Money."  Because this is, sadly, no longer true, every once in a while the history department at Zenith holds an event for prospective and current majors where we try to explain the unique applications of the history major.  (Truth in advertising:  I have no idea why someone should be a history major.  I was an English major, ok?)  This usually involves bringing a few graduates back to Zenith, people who live in what our undergraduates like to call The Real World.  A prerequisite for getting one of these coveted invitations is to have done something other than be a history professor and being able to explain why being a history major matters to doing That Thing.  We do this to recruit new history majors and cheer up the ones we have.  I think the hidden agenda also might be to deflect our poor, innocent students (who joined us because they like to read, or because they are smitten with World War II) from trying to become history professors and unwittingly risking a terrible fate as lifetime inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.

So I did a little research (something you can learn as a history major!) to find successful folks who got the most out of being a history major, and I came up with four people who I would love to invite to a history majors' soiree.

Virginia A. Phillips, the District Court judge who just issued an injunction that orders the Department of Defense to stop enforcing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Not only was Phillips a history major, but she got herself a history husband in the process.  According to SignOn San Diego,  "At the end of her first year of law school, she married John A. Phillips, a rising star on the University of California Riverside’s faculty. Seven years older than his bride, Phillips had been hired in 1976 as a history professor at the age of 26. No one interviewed for this story could remember how the couple met, but his first years in the history department coincided with her time as a history major." And you are insinuating -- what?

Robert Kagan, who has, among his many accomplishments, served as a foreign policy advisor to Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), and to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during his recent campaign for President, was a history major at Yale.  We have to admit here that Kagan also has a Ph.D. in history, perhaps a prerequisite to certain kinds of Beltway action, and an example of how to convert that degree to a career without ever being interviewed at the AHA!  The author of several books, including Of Paradise and Power:  America and Europe in the New World Order (2003), Kagan is currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which I bet employs many history majors.

Martha Stewart was a history major. She got there by a rather complicated route (according to my fabulous research assistant Wiki P. Dia) which included a teenage stint as a model for the American Tobacco Company's "I'd Rather Fight Than Switch" campaign on behalf of their Tareyton brand.  You know the one:  women happily enjoying a cigarette, bearing a big black eye from some insensitive lout of a political science major having tried to make them "switch"? OK, so there was no such thing as feminist history yet:  cut the woman a break for having posed for ads best known for having rendered domestic violence and cancer hilarious.  Attending Barnard College on a partial scholarship, Stewart "intended to major in chemistry, but switched to art and European history, and later architectural history. It was around this time that she met and later married Andrew Stewart, on July 1, 1961. She left Barnard but continued her moderately successful modeling career, while her husband finished his law degree at Yale Law School. She returned to Barnard a year later, to graduate with a double major in History and Architectural History."

David Brooks who went to the public school I would have gone to had I not gone to private school, and would have graduated the year ahead of me, was a history major at the University of Chicago.  Brooks, a conservative commentator for almost everyone, made his argument for being a history major in an opaque article last summer about what he calls The Big Shaggy, by which I believe he means chaotic emotions that will be unknowable if you haven't read Tacitus or Jane Austen.  The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson thought Brooks was alluding to "some kind of secular stand-in for the soul."  I think maybe David has, like many of us, had an extremely embarrassing affair at some point, and was helped by having been a history major.  Why do I think this?  The upshot of his argument on behalf of the humanities, written in the aftermath of the married governor of South Carolina having run down to Rio-By-The Sea-O to visit his new love (but having said he was nipping down the Appalachian trail for a quart of milk), was that majoring in history or English, while it won't necessarily result in a career, might keep a person from self-destructing should s/he manage to acquire a career.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bro's Before Ho's and Fraternity Hazing Lows

"Spank him hard, but after each spanking make
 sure to caress his tender cheeks." Photo Credit.
By doing things like forcing your pledges/rooks to eat human shit or do an elephant walk you are basically saying, “Hey, by learning what your fellow bros’ shit tastes like you will be better bros,” and I have to say - I really respect that....Everytime I say, “I’m going to make your fucking life a living hell,” I still get a half-chub. Bros fucking love power. You know who else loves power? Slam pieces. By hazing the shit out of pledges/rooks in front of slam pieces, 9 times out of 10 they will go down on you immediately. The other time they will give it up doggy.  Bros Like This Site, July 23 2009.

Two days ago, residents of Oligarch University's historic quad, where all first year students are housed, were interrupted in their evening activities by a line of young men chanting. As the Oldest College Daily (OCD) reported,

At their pledge initiation....DKE members shouted phrases such as “No means yes, yes means anal” and “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac, I f--- dead women.” Some of the students were blindfolded and being led in a line with their hands on each others’ shoulders.

Perhaps even more stunning than the fact that any young man thinks that declaring himself a rapist is a reasonable prerequisite for joining a campus organization, was a senior DKE brother claiming in Thursday's story that the pledges, and only the pledges, were responsible for this incident.  Saner heads prevailed, or someone from the national and/or the university administration called with a stern warning.  As of today, the president of DKE has apologized for the chants.

The good news is that the Oligarch Women's Center went into action almost immediately.  The bad news is that, with the exception of SAE which has had a steep learning curve on hazing and sexual violence since an incident in 2008, the other fraternities still don't have a grip on what is wrong here.  According to the OCD,

When William Bradley ’12, president of SAE, heard of the event Wednesday night, he contacted the Women’s Center and the Pi Beta Phi sorority to express his regrets about the incident and apologize on behalf of SAE.  But Bradley referred to the pledge’s chanting of “SAE” during their initiation as part of the good-natured rivalry between the two frats and “friendly banter.” President of Sigma Nu Matt Chesky ’12 said he thought despite the campus reaction, DKE did not intend to offend anyone.  James Berry ’12, president of SigEp, said he did not see the issues of sexism and sexual violence as limited to Greek life at Yale, but rather as a larger issue that is not talked about enough.  Harry McNamara ’11, president of Sigma Chi, and Bill Toth ’11, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, declined to comment on the incident.

Some confusion in the ranks, isn't there? Wouldn't want to screw up pledging by deferring to a bunch of feminazis and their pu$$y-whipped male counterparts.  OK, let's get to the takeaways.

First, all fraternity members are always responsible for anything that happens in any initiation ritual.  Always.  Any fraternity chapter that does not understand this should have its charter lifted immediately. A hallmark of hazing, and a reason why it is against the law many places, is that it is a lot like rape.  Hazing depends on inspiring fear and humiliation by making people do dangerous, physically intrusive things against their will.  Because of this, unless tightly controlled by sober people who understand the elements of physical safety involved and the limits of consent, hazing becomes more and more extreme depending on both the tolerance/fear of the pledges and the new normals that are set as the hazing process escalates.  This is true whether you are talking about scavenger hunts, forced drinking or pranks (check out this one, where an SAE pledge at the University of Kentucky was set on fire, or this one in which a Sig Ep at Florida Atlantic was kidnapped, bound with duct tape, verbally abused and forced to drink until he vomited repeatedly and passed out.)

Second, a strong women's center, staffed by professionals, is essential to any campus that cares about preventing sexual violence against women or men.  The quick response, and prior organizing efforts, of Oligarch's women's center was important to initiating a positive and firm institutional response to this incident rather than the de-centered rage and tension that can sometimes obscure the issues at stake around sexual violence.  What is more important is that the university can only punish the individuals involved.  But a community informed by institutionalized feminism can do the kind of consciousness raising necessary to address the fraternity's underlying assumption that sexual violence can be "just" a joke, or worse, is necessary to men creating intimate bonds with other men and therefore isn't anyone's business but theirs. In fact, it is the cloistered quality of frat hazing, and its homoerotic content, that makes initiation violence so dangerous to the campus community as well as to individual pledges.  Consider the following suggestion for effective hazing rituals over at Frat Beat:

Inserting objects into a Little Brother's rectum is a tradition that stems all the way back to Prostatus Engorgum and his Unity of Anal Fixation. Keys, whisks, squash racquet handles, boots, bottles, whatever. It may pain him, but it will teach an important lesson: sometimes life hurts. Indeed, the Little Brother might even cry while learning this. He might fight the handcuffs and bleed, but you can diffuse his misery quite easily. Masturbate afterwards and this will show him how proud you are. Upon completion of your self-pleasure, mark him as your territory and he will surely squeal with delight. The two of you have a bond that can never be broken. So crack a beer and hit the sororities, dude!

Other suggestions include nipple torture, urine play and group-humping a water melon.

Frat rituals that turn young men into "bitches" are so powerful because of the pre-existing assumption that women and gay men are already "bitches" to proper men.  Even when hazings do not simulate S/M sexual practices that should only be attempted by highly knowledgeable and consenting adults, fraternity initiations are always, in some degree, sexually abusive to men.  Hazing  temporarily makes men into "women" and "queers;" it then recuperates them back to proper masculinity from what the ritual itself has articulated as a despicable and lowly socio-sexual position.  Until college and university administrations address the role male eroticism and sexualized violence have in fraternity and team hazings, they will not be able to come to grips with sexual violence and homophobia on campus either.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Straight People, Listen! Part II: The Homophobia News Of The Week In Review

Carl Paladino campaigning in New Paltz, NY after
his ill-chosen homophobic words.  Photo credit.
There is a lot going on in the gay world nowadays.

Following the suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers, the straight world has discovered institutionalized homophobia and is "shocked, shocked!" that gay youth are not only routinely bullied in school, but that teachers, principles and coaches stand around and watch while it happens.  They are even more shocked that to be the recipient of repeated homophobic bullying is so isolating and devastating to a young person's self esteem that death seems like a good option.

Before you decide to hang from the highest tree those Rutgers students who posted to the Internet a video of Clementi kissing a boy (the event that precipitated his suicide leap from the George Washington Bridge) or make your own "It Gets Better" video, consider this.  What if Clementi was relentlessly bullied and ostracized in grade school, middle school and high school, and every adult who should have helped him instead told him that things would "get better" in college? He may have been enduring some hell-hole of an adolescence with this hope, and instead college turned out to be exactly the same.  That could really push you over the edge, couldn't it?

It's the accumulated weight of homophobia -- or sexism, or racism, or the massive weight of all three -- that gets you in the end, not any one incident.  So one of the questions that we have to answer for kids subjected to homophobic bullying:  When?  When is it going to get better?  And how? In that vein, one of my commenters, of the heterosexualist persuasion, sent me a copy of a letter she sent to her kid's school principal asking him what he is doing about homophobic bullying.  Until straight people start organizing and taking the initiative like this, you know what?  It isn't going to get better.

This is not to say that Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, collected on a YouTube channel, isn't great.  It is, and those of you who haven't browsed around it yet should do so (you can skip the queer child of celebrities, who may have had one of the most gruesome tabloid coming out stories ever, saying over and over for three minutes, "It's going to get better....really.  It will.  Get better.  I mean it.  It does. Get better.  Really.")  Here's a link to a particularly moving message from Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire; and my all time favorite for parents, by Ann Pellegrini at NYU, which should be burned to a CD-ROM and sent home from the hospital with every baby.

Now, the question is, even though it has gotten better for some of us, why isn't it better, all these years later?

Let's turn to our other gay news then, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who launched an anti-gay rant last Sunday in front of a gaggle of Orthodox Jewish leaders in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t,” he said (watch the whole video here.)  One question New Yorkers might ask themselves prior to entering the voting booth is if they should have a governor who can't pronounce the word "pervert" correctly.  We at Tenured Radical are not sure why Mr. Paladino omitted a line in the original text --“There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual” -- but we think it might have been because the word "dysfunctional" had too many syllables.

Paladino's campaign manager says that the candidate is not homophobic, he's just Catholic.  As the Gray Lady reported:

Mr. Paladino declined a request to be interviewed after his appearance. His campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo, denied assertions that Mr. Paladino was antigay, and noted that he employed a gay man on his campaign staff.

“Carl Paladino is simply expressing the views that he holds in his heart as a Catholic,” Mr. Caputo said in a telephone interview. “Carl Paladino is not homophobic, and neither is the Catholic Church.”

“The majority of New Yorkers agree with him,” Mr. Caputo added. He said the campaign had done its own polling.

During his appearance at the synagogue, with reporters in attendance, Mr. Paladino said: “Don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie.”

Just dastardly.

No matter how much pride we gay people have amassed over the years, in how many parades, when we are publicly called dysfunctional perverts we know that someone has put a big target on our backs.  Paladino has apologized, has said his words were "poorly chosen," and that what he meant to say was that if elected, he would "fight for all gay New Yorkers' rights."  Which is funny, because if you watch the whole video, by no stretch of the imagination is he saying that.  He would have had to choose entirely different words, and a different topic.

Fool.  Because, of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that hurts homosexual people, and if you don't know that you don't deserve to be governor of anybody.  Carl Paladino doesn't have to be running around with his very own baseball bat to make the world more dangerous, and "less better," for queer folks.

For  the first installment of Straight People Listen!  click on this link.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What is Our Work? Towards A Feminist Future in Education

Ellie Smeal and Alan Alda, ERA rally
June 30, 1981.  Photo credit
This concludes a three part series on feminist education:  you may want to read Part I and Part II first.

Gender inequality occurs in educational, and subsequently professional, atmospheres in which we have substantial evidence that men and women are equally able. The gender gap in math testing is shrinking rapidly, and at the top levels, it is insignificant. But as  New York Times reporter Tamar Lewin noted in her commentary on “Why So Few,” a lack of faith in women’s abilities on the part of those who should be welcoming them to the next level of achievement may also reduce the confidence of even the top young female mathematicians. Hence, as Lewin concluded, “girls’ lesser belief in their own skills may partly explain why fewer women go into scientific careers.”

So returning to the question I asked in a different way --what is the role for a women's college in creating gender equality?  First and foremost, women's colleges create visible locations to find and connect to talented women are eager to be found and have their interests promoted aggressively.  Second, a woman's college is a critical institutional base for feminism.  Third, it is a location from which feminists have an obligation to articulate all institutional issues – scientific, commercial, political --as women’s issues.  

These are not tasks whose time has passed.  And at a historical moment where the wage gap between men and women has stalled at an average of .77 to the dollar for over four decades, the task is urgent.  The fact that this gap grows as the job itself requires more education and training makes discussion of this problem even more urgent for educators. Women's colleges have a special civic and an international obligation to be leaders in the debate over gender equality and wage gaps, in the United States and around the globe.  All feminists must support them in this task, holding conferences, creating forums, and generating policy papers that build on and reproduce feminism's successes while striving to correct its failures.

Science is just one important example of why an institutional locations for feminism matter, in the private and in the public university world. When I say “feminism,” I use that word as a historian who understands the range of political and social meanings that can have among women of different racial, class and national backgrounds. It is, by definition, an inclusive posture that articulates rights and responsibilities for women. As Nancy Hewitt has recently argued, there have been no “permanent waves” of feminism over the last 150 years, only tendencies that often compete with as much as they support each other. But all feminisms assume that the health of any social order can be measured by the status of women within it. Bettye Goldstein, who I introduced you to in Part I of this series, was an old Popular Front feminist who saw coalition as essential, even though it wasn’t something she was always good at achieving. She began NOW as an explicitly non-partisan organization, believing that feminism ought to cast its net as broadly as possibly in the interests of women’s equality. Hence, my feminism may be different from your feminism, but for the purposes of building and strengthening women’s colleges, let me make this argument: institutional feminism should be a broadly inclusive, woman-centered approach to pedagogy and community that recognizes and supports all women’s aspirations to equality.

This commitment to equality would include:

Recognizing a parent’s connection to (and often primary responsibility for) children and family. In the absence of universal daycare, it would endow a subsidized, co-operative 24-hr daycare center on campus where undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, administrators and staff could know their children would be safe and loved until they or their partners could pick them up.

Recognizing women’s rights – on campus, in the United States, in the hemisphere and around the globe – as a critical topic of study, both academically and as a co-curricular focus.

Aggressive affirmative action for demobilized veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and reaching out to women veterans, many of whom will leave the service deeply traumatized by their experiences in and around combat zones.

What this kind of agenda requires is close attention to the needs of the individual student who is seeking equality in a gendered world: it is the kind of work a feminist, women's college can do. Such spaces must be inclusive, places where feminists of many descriptions -- some of whom will be men -- can make arguments on behalf of women’s right to have access to everything.  The support of a like-minded community is important, but it is pedagogical, curricular, and practical reforms that will support women’s aspirations to scientific, or any other rigorous form of education. That might mean daycare, as I suggested, so that women can maintain an onerous lab schedule; it might mean enhancing mentoring. It might mean a center dedicated to women’s physical and sexual safety, where concerned men are included in a feminist project to prevent campus violence. It might mean a women’s gym, like Harvard has established, so that women who must limit their physical exposure to men on religious grounds may relax and be physically healthy.  It might mean a veterans’ center, where military women could be paired with mentors, have quick access to psychological support and tutoring, and from which a phone call would originate when a woman doesn’t show up for class, a phone call that would gently inquire whether she is sick, has missed her bus, or is just overwhelmed.

Equality is never a finished project. As women’s aspirations and achievements change, so do their needs. While a women’s college privileges a feminism that puts women at the center, we must remember the other piece of the gender equality equation that feminism attends to: providing spaces where men who care deeply about the advancement of women in science, or any other field, can come to recruit the best minds, to partner with them, to mentor them, and to learn from them. Gender equality is a project, and it is, as Mary Maples Dunn said to me, an unfinished one. But to believe and invest in a project like feminist education is to demonstrate optimism about gender equality by investing in the institutions that will create it. Gender equality is, in the most optimistic scenario, a feminist task that may remain unfinished as long as women continues to re-imagine and re-invent themselves to meet the challenges of their own generation.

This is, to paraphrase Katherine McBride, Our Work.

Cross Posted at Cliopatria.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Feminism's Unfinished Agenda: If Women Have Equal Opportunity, Why Are The Outcomes So Very Unequal?

Photo Credit
This is Part II of a three-part polemic about the need to sustain and expand women's education in the 21st century.  Read Part I here.

First and foremost, a women's single-sex college -- whether it is a private institution or a residential college lodged in a large public university or university system -- is about an institutional commitment to the success of female undergraduates. It is about a commitment to the young woman who will want to have a career, an intimate relationship and often children as well. This is feminism's unfinished agenda.

How to mix of career and family is one of our modern feminist dilemmas, one that extends to lesbians as well as heterosexual women as parenting has become legally and medically available to women who choose intimacy without men. This requires that those of us who are committed to creating spaces that privilege female intellects re-think the original women’s private college project to meet 21st century public challenges. In the 19th century, as many of us know, education for women was a privilege, but it assumed class and racial privilege as well. Women’s colleges were mostly white, middle-class spaces, and it was assumed that educated women would not need to seek the financial security of marriage: M. Carey Thomas, the founding president of Bryn Mawr College and one of the first women to take the PH.D., was famous for having pronounced that “our failures only marry.”

It would take over half a century and two world wars for married women to break the barrier of professional work. On Drew Faust’s first day at Bryn Mawr College in 1963, President Katherine E. McBride welcomed the incoming class at convocation with a lecture about “their work.” As Drew recounted this experience in 2001, she recalled:

I will never forget Miss McBride up on the stage telling us to be humble in face of Our Work. I had not before realized that I had Work. I had thought I did assignments and took tests and wrote papers. But Miss McBride's address instilled in me a new found reverence for learning and scholarship. My awe at being invited to play even a small part within that sacred and timeless world has never left me.

I mention this because it is a good example of how, through language, women leaders transform familiar and daily acts into ambitions and goals. Women also need female heroes. One of mine is my godmother, Mary Maples Dunn, who was probably at the convocation for Drew Faust’s class in 1963 as an assistant professor in United States colonial history (and in fact, became one of Drew’s mentors, as Drew later became one of mine.) Subsequently, Mary became a dean at Bryn Mawr and the President of Smith College.

Mary has shown me by example and by instruction how to be a woman historian, something there were very few of when she took up her first job at Bryn Mawr; how to be a tough and competitive academic in universities that are still more of a man’s world than anyone wants to admit; and later, how to be a fair-minded administrator. When I asked her prior to this interview at Douglass what the role of a women’s college was in today’s world, she gave me two thoughts. “A women’s college is the place a woman can learn what gender equality really looks like,” she said, and then she paused. “Women’s education is really feminism’s unfinished agenda,” she said.

So where does the women's college fit in this agenda?

We can point to the academy itself, where women are under-appointed, under-tenured, under-promoted, and underpaid. Although I have quite a lot to say about the failure of the social sciences to achieve gender parity, or to recruit sufficient numbers of faculty of color to their ranks, it is the persistently small numbers of women, and women of color, in science careers that will have the greatest impact on our competitiveness as a nation. Science is also a good place to look since most colleges and graduate schools have undertaken programs of various kinds, ones that often emphasize mentoring, to address gender disparities that are far more extreme than in other fields.

And yet, the need for such programs raises much bigger questions about why talented women are underrepresented in so many fields, and whether the sciences are the extreme end of a much larger problem. We all remember, of course, the storm that was unleashed in 2005 at Harvard when then – President Larry Summers, in a few ill-chosen words, left the false impression that innate biological differences between men and women accounted for the small numbers of women in science. A GAO report issued in 2004 further confused this issue with an argument familiar to those of us who have taught EEOC v. Sears (1986): women, the Bush administration explained, choose less demanding careers than men do. Other studies, similar to those that explore the racial “testing gap,” argue that women are sent explicit or implicit messages that they are unlikely to succeed in science and simply stop trying.

This is a clear example of a policy question that requires not just intervention, but ongoing public conversation. Colleges and institutions that devote themselves exclusively to women are key participants in such discussions. For example, in 2010, the American Association of University Women issued a report titled “Why So Few?” detailing women’s under representation in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Here are a few things they discovered: of industrial workers with doctorates in computer and information sciences, 17% are women, compared with 33% in the life sciences. The numbers are even worse in the university: 7% of tenured faculty in the physical sciences are women, compared to 22% in the life sciences. Harvard has just tenured its first female math professor – ever.

So what is the role of women's intellectual communities (whether colleges or learning communities within colleges or universities) in creating equality, other than simply supplying a stream of educated and ambitious women? We will discuss this tomorrow in the third, and final section, of this extended post.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Not Equal Opportunity, But Every Opportunity: An Argument For Single-Sex Education

A longer version of this post was written as a talk I gave at a large public university in spring 201 that has a small residential college dedicated to women.  

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes
Photo credit:  Sophia Smith Collection
Picture this. An intelligent and ambitious young woman leaves her home for a women’s college. Upon arrival, she finds a faculty committed to progressive internationalism, free speech, civil rights, feminism and anti-racism. She finds a campus where women are encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences, the arts and to make a difference in public life during an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Encountering the women and men on the faculty over the four years of her education, often in small seminar classes, she comes to understand what it means to dedicate herself to meaningful work. At a women’s college, this student comes to know, as the President of Mount Holyoke, Joanne Creighton, said to me recently, “what it means for a woman to have the right to be the center of attention.”

Being the center of attention isn’t easy, of course: it’s hard work. This young woman’s peers and teachers push her to argue her ideas with conviction in class and in the dining hall. When she joins the student newspaper, she engages forcefully with global politics, the politics of class and race on campus, and with the institutional challenges that an uncertain economy and a war present for her generation.

This young woman's education will be a platform for her to spend her life in journalism, labor organizing, civil rights, anti-nuclear politics, and feminist institution building, all the while wrestling with the complicated juggling act of combining an intense work life with community service and family. But because of this women’s college, the biographer of this woman will write, she and her generation of women will meet their destiny encouraged “to assume leadership positions and…take themselves, their ideas, and their ambition seriously.” On a campus dedicated to women, they will find “a world unavailable in their hometowns...where girls [can] become young women with a sense of independence from reigning social and political norms.”

The young woman I just described was Bettye Goldstein – perhaps you know her as Betty Friedan, a founder of the National Organization for Women and a Smith College graduate. But I could have been describing a woman leader from any class or racial background. She could have been Pauli Murray, the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School and also a founder of NOW (Hunter College); Madeleine Albright and Hilary Rodham Clinton, the first and second women to be appointed Secretary of State (Wellesley); chemist Patricia Smith Campbell, inventor of the transdermal patch (Douglass); Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female President of Harvard University (Bryn Mawr); or Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund (Spelman).

Many graduates of women’s colleges are more like me: trying to live life with integrity, write the best book on the history of feminism to appear in a decade, and thinking about the next career move. I haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize yet (only a few smaller ones), but having attended a school outside Philadelphia, founded in 1888 to prepare women for Bryn Mawr College, let me tell you I was educated to expect prizes. At my all-women’ secondary school, I had the astonishing good luck to be taught by feminists who never told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do anything because I was a woman. I had science teachers who responded to questions by creating research projects outside class; a Latin teacher who signed us up for citywide translation contests to make us work harder; a chemistry teacher who wouldn’t let us stop working on the problem sets until they were right; and history teachers who expected that all papers would contain primary research.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s being told, as a woman, that anything was within your grasp if you only tried, was a big deal. It happened only at private school and at the prestigious public Girls High in Philadelphia. Part of how the message of gender equality was conveyed was through rigorous competition and not being permitted to take refuge in any notion of female inferiority or weakness. I remember one moment, famous at our school, when a parent went to the headmistress to complain about an athletic contest played in the rain – something boys did routinely at their schools. It is said that this mother was asked firmly and politely in return: “Are you under the impression that young women melt?”

What I remember most about a single sex education was the assumption that we all would go on to do something significant. The ethic of our school was that women were entitled to labs, and languages, all the spots on the editorial board, all the parts in the play, as much math and science as we could learn, all the class offices and team captaincies, and the best colleges we could get into. The school’s web page says today: “Girls enjoy not just equal opportunity but every opportunity.”

One of the ironies of the educational achievements made by graduates of women's schools, both private and public, was their demise. In the 1970s, feminists made access to formerly male bastions part of their policy agenda. As women like me entered the Ivies, public and Catholic universities, women’s colleges struggled to recruit, and many closed their doors, became coeducational, or were absorbed by male schools as part of a coeducation project.

Arguably, however, something was lost: a set of institutions that nurtured a feminist vision. So tomorrow, let's talk about why there is still an argument for creating and supporting spaces for women's education.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.