The University Record, April 11, 1994

Harassment of female faculty ‘largely forgotten, ignored’

By Diane Swanbrow
News & Information Services

Nearly one of every seven women faculty members at American colleges and universities reports that she has been sexually harassed on the job, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The first large-scale, national look at the extent and effects of sexual harassment of women faculty, the study is based on a survey of a representative sample of nearly 30,000 male and female faculty at nearly 270 public and private institutions of higher education.

The survey was conducted by Eric L. Dey, assistant professor of education and assistant research scientist at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, and Linda J. Sax and Jessica Korn, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The number of female students who confront sexual harassment is startlingly large—about two million a year,” says Dey, who will present the study, titled “Betrayed by the Academy: The Sexual Harassment of Women College Faculty.” “But the challenges facing faculty women have been largely forgotten or ignored.”

About 7 percent of all faculty in the study said they had been harassed at their current institution, but the incidence was much higher among women faculty than among men. About 15 percent of the women faculty reported being harassed, compared with about 3 percent of the men.

Dey and his colleagues examined the link between academic rank and the incidence of sexual harassment, finding that women faculty who were full professors were much more likely to report having been harassed than women who were instructors or assistant professors. About 24 percent of full professors, compared with 9 percent of instructors and 13 percent of assistant professors reported having experienced harassment.

Since full professors had been at their current institutions much longer, on average, than faculty women of lesser academic rank, the researchers compared the incidence of harassment by years of service as well as rank. Once again, they found that full professors were more likely to report having been harassed—a finding that calls into question a common explanation of the dynamics of harassment, namely that the likelihood of harassment declines as one’s position of power in an organization increases.

“Although the dynamics of harassment are complex,” Dey says, “these results show that women faculty members face a continuing possibility of harassment throughout their academic careers. The problem is not confined to those women at the lowest ranks.”

The findings also show that Native American and Hispanic American faculty women are more likely to report harassment (20 percent and 19 percent, respectively) than white women faculty (15 percent), African Americans (13 percent) and Asian Americans (6 percent). After adjusting for length of service, the researchers found that African American faculty report more harassment than the other groups.

The researchers also examined the incidence of harassment in different types of institutions and in academic departments, finding that the highest harassment rate is reported by women faculty in public universities (18 percent) while those at Catholic four-year colleges reported the lowest (10 percent).

Across all types of institutions, the highest harassment rates were reported in departments of fine arts (22 percent) and English (20 percent), with the lowest reported rates in departments of mathematics and statistics (8 percent), the health-related professions (9 percent) and the physical sciences (11 percent).

“These findings are surprising,” Dey says, “since many have argued that a department’s gender balance influences the incidence of harassment, but those patterns are not immediately evident here.”

Finally, the researchers assessed the effects of sexual harassment on women faculty’s personal and professional lives. About one of five women faculty who has been harassed agreed strongly that “people here don’t treat each other with enough respect,” compared with about one in 20 non-harassed women.