The University Record, February 21, 2000

‘You’ve come a long way, baby, but . . .’

By Jane R. Elgass

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” but there’s still a long way to go, Provost Nancy Cantor said last week at a dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Academic Women’s Caucus and the presentation of this year’s Sarah Goddard Power Awards.

Commenting on a video that chronicled the history of the Caucus and the recent history of women at the University, Cantor said the accomplishments of the past 25 years are really quite remarkable.

Twenty-five years ago, “sexual harassment didn’t even have a name,” she said, noting that the first court case involving sexual harassment was heard in 1976 in Washington, D.C. “It’s on the books now. It was a huge task to get it on the books, and it is a huge task to translate what that means.”

About the time the Caucus was created, it was legal to pay a man more for the same work. “Things have changed, but again there’s a long way to go,” the provost noted.

Before the advent of Title IX in 1972, one of 27 high school girls played sports. Today that number stands at one in three. “This has fostered a great change in the landscape of our daily life.”

While there are laws on the books and the numbers are better, many of the norms, the culture and climate, have not caught up, and that is the primary challenge facing women today.

The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, was “one of the bibles of our lives,” Cantor noted. “I had a working mom, who’s still working. She just published a book. The teachers felt sorry for me when my mother didn’t make things for bake sales. I didn’t tell them she didn’t bake cookies at home.

“I did tell my mother that when I grew up I’d have five kids and stay at home. She still reminds me of that.

“There are a million stories like that,” Cantor said, “that reflect the dual worlds we live in, the double messages we receive. We’re not quite sure what world we fit in.”

While there have been strong gains in numbers of women faculty at the U-M over the years, “there are critical areas we need to concentrate on,” Cantor said. “I’m astonished at how few women chairs we have. And while we have five women executive officers in 2000, we need to be vigilant that this momentum is maintained.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but we must put our attention on chairs and on the people in positions that make a difference in our daily life. More important than the numbers, though, is the culture and climate. The strength of this institution lies in its history, a history of living with, debating, arguing and even sit-ins to address the issues facing women.”

At the core of this challenge, Cantor said, is the marginalization of women. “This is what we have to be vigilant about, examining what things looked like when the numbers were bad and what they look like when the numbers are good. We can still be massively marginalized on the inside, and I urge you to think about that.”

Cantor cited the Faculty Work-Life Study released by the Center for the Education of Women and the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education last November, noting that it presented much evidence of the special burdens imposed on women faculty by informal tasks, burdens that lie particularly heavy on minority women faculty and junior faculty.

“They spend more time advising students who are not their own,” compared with male faculty, Cantor explained. They spend more time on committees. They spend more time on curricular revisions and other everyday department work.

“That’s not good, but we don’t want to solve that by taking women out of these relationships. We need as an institution to value this kind of service, so that women’s work does not become drudge work that is not valued.”

With respect to promotion, “we need to understand how to get these tasks in the ‘valuable’ column,” Cantor stated. These informal responsibilities hamper women’s career work and limits other contributions they may wish to make. “We have to empower women so that they can select what they want to do. The women on this campus don’t feel it’s voluntary. We need to make sure we are bringing women onto the right, powerful committees, that we are using their time effectively and efficiently.”

The University needs to do three things, Cantor said:

  • As an institution, value women’s contributions.

  • Empower women to make their own choices.

  • Make certain that people in positions of influence make the right decisions with women, not for them.

    “We really do have work to do,” Cantor said, “to change the norms, the rules of the game. It’s not enough to just be at the table if we play the same old game. That’s just not satisfactory.”

    Cantor cited three areas in which she’d like to see changes:

  • Mentoring. Mentoring should not be about “listening to the received wisdom of those old guys,” Cantor said. “Mentoring is helping each other, a lateral relationship, not sitting at someone’s feet.”

  • Collaboration. “We don’t want ‘stapler’ collaboration, in which individuals soak up information from subordinates and then staple everything together. Collaboration should be a reciprocal, back-and-forth relationship. We don’t know how to do that yet.”

  • Changing minds. “We need people who are willing to change their minds, who are listening. We need a culture in which it’s all right to not get it right the first time, where you’re not disgraced for changing your mind.

    “What we need in the next 25 years,” Cantor said, “is a wonderfully flexible trajectory for careers that involves lots of mistakes. One should be able to change one’s mind about one’s life.

    “We need to stay at the table and make it a new game.”

    The Numbers

    “The percentage of women faculty on the Ann Arbor campus has remained fairly constant over the last 20 years,” Provost Nancy Cantor said last week, “but women as a percentage of the entire faculty and women as a percentage of full professors has more than doubled.”

    Here’s a quick look at some of the numbers over time.

    Women as percent of the faculty:






    Women as percent of junior faculty (percent of assistant professors/percent of assistant professors plus instructors):





    Women as percent of lecturers:





    Women as percent of associate professors:





    Women as percent of professors:






    “It is not so important that I be the provost,” Cantor noted, “but it is hugely important that a woman hold this post because of the opportunities the position affords to shape institutional policies and direction.”