In my recent article, “Homeward Bound” ( The American Prospect, December 2005), I propose that the low representation of women at the highest level of the American government and economy is due in substantial measure to a steady stream of educated women deciding to leave full-time work. Recent analysis of the opt-out revolution reveals that the only group of mothers not continuing to raise their work-force participation despite economic ups and downs is mothers with graduate and professional degrees. Their numbers are flat and have been for several years. Their decisions matter because their careers, if realized, would be influential. Their decisions are a mistake because they lead them to lesser lives, by most measures, and because these decisions hurt society. And their decision is not freely chosen, even if they “chose” it, as it is made in the context of an ideology that assigns childrearing and housekeeping to women, an ideology that, interviews reveal, they themselves accept.The solution will not come from employers, who have no motivation to change economically productive behaviors, nor from the government, firmly in the hands of conservatives, who believe in the ideology. Instead, I recommend that women start by refusing to play their gendered role, preparing themselves for lives of independent means, bargaining from this position of power with the men they sleep with, only looking for help to more distant sources as a last resort.
The readers of this Web site would largely fall into my definition of highly educated people, even though academics do not normally earn salaries as large as similarly educated people in more conventional market positions. And this site has devoted substantial space to the subject of the advancement of women’s careers and the role of the reproductive family, which also inspired my American Prospect piece, reflecting a widespread debate in the academy. Does my analysis apply to the world of Higher Ed?
Straight off I confess I did not interview many academics or former academics. My data included the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Survey, the media reports of anecdotal evidence, my personal experience as a university teacher, and my interviews with the couples who announced their weddings in The New York Times on three Sundays during 1996, which sample did include a couple of academic women. After I wrote, I reconfirmed my data against the findings of economist Heather Boushey regarding highly educated women, although her failure to break out full- and part-time work makes her findings of questionable relevance to mine. The academic literature, however, includes a rich trove of data about the matter. As one would expect from a world of researchers!
For example, the American Historical Association reported that although in 1988, 39 percent of assistant professors of history were women, 11 years later, as one would have expected some of that cohort to have raised the percentage of full professors closer, if not fully, to 39 percent, the full professor ranks were still only 18 percent female. In 2003 over 45 percent of Ph.D.'s were women, while only 36 percent of the hires at the University of California were women. Judith H. White writes in Liberal Education that “while in 1998 women made up 42 percent of all new Ph.D. recipients, the portion of women faculty in the senior tenured positions at doctoral research institutions had reached only 13.8 percent -- up from 6.1 percent in 1974.”
The same article reports that careful studies out of Berkeley show that academic women having children within five years of their Ph.D. fail at tenure vastly more often than men in the same parental position. Academic women who have children later succeed at tenure just as much as childless women do. But findings from the 2001 Journal of Higher Education ("The Relationship Between Family Responsibilities and Employment Status Among College and University Faculty") also suggest that the employment of women in non-tenure-track positions is attributable in part to their marital status. Although a smaller share of women than men junior faculty are married (67 percent versus 78 percent), being married increases the odds of holding a part-time, non-tenure-track position for women but not for men. This study suggests that married men faculty and male faculty members with children are also benefiting from their marital and parental status in terms of their employment status.
This is very valuable data. One of the hottest debates in gender politics today is whether women fail at work compared to men more because of workplace hostility and discrimination or whether they fail more because of their “choice” to take their financial support from their spouses and tend the babies or the husbands and the home fires. But common sense tells us that something besides marriage must be at work. Nancy Hopkins’ groundbreaking study of resource allocation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lifted the veil on an ugly part of what goes on -- plain old discrimination, conscious or unconscious.
In this, I suspect the academy is worse than the world of finance and medicine and the like where my research subjects had worked before they quit. While no sane woman I’ve ever met claims that there are workplaces completely free of sex discrimination (it is, after all, only 85 years since the 19th Amendment!), research on gender reflects that the arena for discrimination is greater where there is not a clear monetary measure of productivity. So the world of the research university is a perfect playground for subjective opinion, including ideas about women’s proper roles, conscious or not, and the powerful lure of autobiography in each hiring committee member’s inaccessible subconscious.
But you already knew that. Nancy Hopkins and all the others have been telling you that loud and clear for what feels like 85 years as well. Is that all there is? I think not. In American Prospect, I did a Larry Summers and said that the male dominance of influential jobs is partly due to elite women’s decisions to devote themselves to childrearing and housekeeping, an opting out that is not new, but has not subsided, either. Most of the Times brides I interviewed didn’t take their work seriously and had been preparing to bail for years before their kids came. My experience in a very liberal classroom was that a lot of the female students were already preparing ... to prepare to bail. And I said it was a mistake for the women to do that and that they shouldn’t be looking for help from Jack Welch or Tom DeLay. Aw, hell, nobody from the Harvard presidential search committee was calling me anyway.
Here again the academy may be different, but in this way, better. Women may not be as eager to leave academic jobs as their well educated sisters were to quit journalism, law and publishing. There are two reasons for this. One, the hours are better. While the business magazine Fast Company reports that a 60 to 75 hour work week is typical for business leaders, ladder rank faculty with children in the University of California study (according to their own self-reporting) worked 53 to 56 hours a week. Second, university teaching is really good substantive work, between the good students and researching things that interest you and making them real, even if just in a book (like some of mine) nobody reads but mom. So it’s understandable that women faculty are pressing universities to make it possible for them to have children and stay on track, through devices like extended tenure periods and the like. Moreover, the effort to extract help from the workplace may succeed better at Harvard than at General Electric, because, when clear, objective programs are proposed, nonprofits like Harvard are not up to their eyeballs in the Hobbesian world of globalized late capitalism, so it’s easier for them to yield a little.
But in the end, it’s a fundamental mistake to ignore the gendered family in favor of putting so much emphasis on institutional programs or policies. The University of California reports that young faculty women with children work 37 hours a week on family care; if they are 34—38, they work a self-reported but staggering 43 hours a week on family care. Young dads work only two-thirds as much (25 hours); in the 34--38 age bracket the gap is even higher -- dads work half as hard as their female counterparts. No wonder, when the University of California proposed one of the many initiatives surfacing nationwide of flex time for tenure decisions, 74 percent of women with children supported the policy, but only just over half the men did. The statistics exactly mirror the difference between the dads’ family care hours and the mothers’.
Commentators on the California plan worried about the reduction in faculty productivity, especially in teaching, and the substitution of increasing numbers of serfs from the non-tenure track. Where such policies exist, it is overwhelmingly the women who take advantage of them. Stopping the tenure clock is one thing, but, as one of the commentators also asked, what will the promotion committee do when, years later, it looks at a CV half again as long for the man as for the woman? The women’s own reports of their domestic arrangements clearly show that the main guy in an academic woman’s path may not be Larry Summers after all -- he may be her own husband.
Here’s an answer to the commentators who worried about the reduction in faculty productivity and the length of male résumés. Since young faculty fathers spend two-thirds the time on family care that mothers do, why not simply require faculty fathers to produce half again as much (teaching, scholarship, whatever) at each step of the way that the faculty mothers do, rather than lowering the requirements for the women? Demanding of these pampered fellas that they work as hard, over all, as their female counterparts do would add a salutary dash of reality to their perceived superiority to women in the workplace, level the playing field and create some job opportunities for ambitious women who want to do a little extra. A modest proposal. In the end, I contend, the workplace will never be a substitute for women standing up for what they need in the reproductive family. It’s not only the tenure clock that’s the villain here; it’s the guys on the couch 12 hours a week while faculty mom does the wash. As Mothers’ Movement Online’s Judith Stadtman Tucker said in an interview, “Women will take on the worst bastard in the world rather than ask their husbands to help out.”
A final note. When my American Prospect article was linked over to some of the many Stay at Home Mom Web sites, it generated a lot of commentary like “fuck you,” “you make me want to vomit,” “oh, puhleeze,” “she’s only looking for a book contract,” and similar well-reasoned responses. A brief look at the sources of these contributions to the discussion of this important issue revealed an alarming number of them came from retired or active female academics. I’m all for free speech, and I hope people who disagree will offer their views and critique my ideas, but a professional Web site like this one is normally blessedly free of such empty calories. I hope such will be the case again here. This is too important an issue for tactics like that.
Linda Hirshman retired as Allen-Berenson Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University.
Comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat, A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thougtfullest.... --Walt Whitman
Academia is my hometown. I was raised to believe in its fundamental fairness. And since I am lucky enough to have landed a good, tenure-track, first job, and young enough that earlier generations of women fought the real battles for me, I had never really questioned that faith. The academic men I have known from childhood through my Ph.D., as family friends and as teachers, have with only one exception taken me seriously. I never had a male teacher tell me, as one friend was told, that women should make babies instead of going to graduate school. Since I am in the humanities, I was never openly mocked in class, as a woman engineering student I taught a few years ago was. No female professor told me, as one told a colleague, that women had to choose between family and an academic career. The only male teacher who ever kissed me also encouraged my scholarship. So I have never felt that I was discriminated against on the basis of my gender.
But at my new job I have just completed two hours of required online training about how to prevent harassment on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., and as a result have been thinking over my experiences. Despite the draconian strictures imposed by the training course, I have colleagues of both sexes who have become good friends, and whom in social settings I am happy to put my arms around. But to the chair or dean who is serious about gender equality in the workplace, I commend the handshake. I realize this sounds crotchety and old-fashioned -- and it is true that I also resent strangers using my first name -- but I object to the prevailing culture of the hug. The handshake is, in my view, the best way to communicate greeting, congratulation, and good will among colleagues.
Consider this: when I had passed the arduous third-year review process at a small university with a nationally-recruited faculty better than most of its students deserve, my female colleagues came to my office one by one and shook my hand. Some then asked, "May I hug you?" By contrast, my senior male colleagues ignored the right hand I stuck out in front of me, and enfolded me in the embrace known as a hug. They were people of good will, whose feelings I did not wish to hurt, and so I said nothing.
It is not so long ago that job candidates at this institution were routinely taken to the Playboy club, but that does not happen nowadays, and my first hint that my gender might matter to someone had come only halfway through my first term. A student having made unspecified complaints about my class, the chair, a self-proclaimed "recovering sexist" asked the senior woman in the department to talk to me, declaring, "This is one for the knitting circle." One day when four department women were heading out together, we twice encountered male colleagues who blanched and turned tail. The new chair saw two of us discussing grading practices and asked jovially, "What are you girls chatting about?"
What does this all add up to? Maybe nothing. My colleagues and the new chair supported my work and were kind to my family. My constant feelings of insecurity as the tenure decision approached were shared by a male colleague on the same timetable in another department. How much should I read into the fact that a window office went to a man junior to me, supposedly because I was out of town for the summer when it opened up? I don't know -- but I do know that I carefully considered what I might lose by insisting on my precedence.
And I know I never had the courage to say anything about the hugs. The gender problems in the department came to the fore when a senior colleague's wife suspected him of having an affair with a graduate student, and demanded that he no longer work with her. Despite the fact that her thesis could not be properly supervised without him, the department -- I heard indirectly, since everything took place behind closed doors -- acquiesced in the demand, and worked out a deal that gave the student an additional year of funding and arranged for her to work long-distance with a comparable scholar at another institution. The department further agreed -- hearsay again -- that the man in question would never again work with female graduate students.
Naturally, the graduate bulletin was not revised, but this would mean that only men could be admitted to focus on a certain period in history, and that women who came to the department hoping to have this eminent scholar on their committee would be disappointed. I was outraged, but my senior female colleague advised me to keep quiet, since I did not yet have tenure, and the matter was never discussed in a full department meeting. Furthermore, the student herself, although an experienced lawyer, told me that she did not want to hurt her former advisor by making a fuss: the same mentality that kept me from objecting to those awkward, unnecessary hugs.
Chairs and deans who are serious about gender equality: I commend to you the handshake. From brief and frosty to warm and two-handed, the handshake is capable of expressing any feeling that should be expressed between colleagues.
Coral Hughes, who is writing under a pseudonym, teaches history at a research university.
As a kid, my favorite book in the world was E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics (1937). I must have read it dozens of times by the age of 14. One afternoon, coming home from the library, I could not resist opening the book to a particularly interesting chapter -- and so ended up walking into a parked bus.
With hindsight, certain problems with the book are clear. Bell’s approach to the history of mathematics was exciting, but he achieved that effect, in part, through fictionalization. We now know that embroidering the truth came as second nature to Bell, who was a professor of mathematics at the California Institute of Technology until shortly before his death in 1960. In addition to writing science fiction under a pseudonym, Bell also exercised a certain amount of creativity in telling his own life story – as his biographer, Constance Reid, found out through some detective work.
But another problem with Men of Mathematics only dawned on me recently. I hadn’t thought of the book in ages, but remembered it while reading while reading Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart, to be published next month by Basic Books.
The author is a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick in the U.K. The imaginary recipient of his letters is named Meg -- a nice departure from the longstanding and rather self-reinforcing stereotype of math as a man’s field. The idea that no gender has a monopoly on mathematical talent seems never to have occurred to E.T. Bell. (Nor, consequently, did it cross the mind of a certain young nerd colliding with stalled vehicles during the mid-1970s.)
Fortunately that situation has started to change. And the progress is reflected, in a quiet and matter-of-fact way, in Stewart’s Letters.
A story unfolds, chapter by chapter, as Stewart corresponds with Meg. In the earliest letters, she is still in high school. By the end of the book, she has tenure. It is, in effect, a bildungsroman at one remove. The reader watches over Stewart’s shoulder as the young mathematician turns an early talent into a stable professional identity.
There’s even a moment when, in search of an interesting project to test her abilities, Meg starts trying to find a method for trisecting an angle using only a compass and an unmarked straightedge. This is one of the problems handed down from ancient geometry. People “discover” solutions to this challenge all the time, then become indignant that mathematicians don’t take them seriously. (The proof of why it is impossible involves mathematical tools going way beyond anything available in antiquity.)
But most of the guidance Stewart offers is positive -- and some of it seems useful even for those of us without mathematical aspirations or gifts.
“My usual method for reading a mathematics text,” he recalls about his student days, “was to thumb through it until I spotted something interesting, then work backward until I had tracked down everything I needed to read the interesting bit. I don’t really recommend this to everyone, but it does show that there are alternatives to starting at page 1 and continuing in sequence until you reach page 250.”
The most surprising thing -- at least for anyone influenced by Bell’s romanticized account of the mathematical vocation -- is Stewart’s emphasis on the nuts and bolts of academic life. Letters is full of pointers on academic politics, the benefits and frustrations of collaboration, and how to avoid disaster at conferences. (“Never believe your hosts when they tell you that all the equipment will work perfectly,” he notes. “Always try it yourself before the lecture.”)
E. T. Bell told stories about mathematicians whose lives were shaped, in the final analysis, only by their own creative instincts. They might occasionally win a prize offered by a learned society, or feel driven to some breakthrough by the challenge of defeating a hated rival. But Bell’s men of mathematics were, on the whole, geniuses of the purest vintage. They had inspirations, not resumes. It is hard to imagine anyone trying to give Carl Friedrich Gauss useful career advice.
So does that mean that popularized accounts like Bell’s are something a young mathematician ought to avoid? I contacted Stewart by e-mail to ask his thoughts on the matter.
“I write a lot of books popularising math and science, so I may be biased,” he said in reply, “but when I was in high school I read all the books I could find about the history of math, about mathematicians, and about various topics in math. And those definitely had a significant effect on my interest in the subject. They made it clear that math has a long and fascinating history, that the great mathematicians were real people, not just obsessed geniuses who couldn't tie their own shoelaces, and that there is much, much more to math than the tiny part of the subject that we are all taught at school.”
Well, that’s a relief. There’s something to be said for idealization and hero worship, after all, in their proper season. You then have your whole life to become more realistic, not to say more calculating.
Until recently, the interests of graduate students have largely been ignored by university “family friendly” initiatives designed to meet the needs of women on the tenure track who aspire to be mothers as well as scholars. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Stanford University announced its new Childbirth Policy for women graduate students with fanfare, nor that it was positively received by the national news media. What’s puzzling is how little attention has been paid to the huge gap between Stanford’s aspiration and its accomplishment.
The rationale for the policy is exemplary: “Stanford University is committed to achieving a diverse graduate student body, and facilitating the participation of under-represented groups in all areas of research and graduate and postdoctoral training. To increase the number of women pursuing … advanced degrees … it is important to acknowledge that a woman’s prime childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school, doing postdoctoral training, and establishing herself in a career.”
Unfortunately, the policy itself -- which provides accommodation in the form of paid leave, extension of deadlines and reduced workload to graduate students “anticipating or experiencing a birth” -- sends an entirely different message.
While the phrase “anticipating or experiencing a birth” seems expansive enough to cover “anticipating” the birth of an adoptive child, that is not Stanford’s intention. Associate Dean for Graduate Policy Gail Mahood was brutally frank on this point: “The policy does not apply to women who adopt children.… Women can always put off adopting,” she told a reporter.
Apparently Stanford prefers grad students who create families “the old fashioned way,” leaving others to sink or swim without institutional support. So much for the message of inclusiveness and diversity! In creating this restrictive policy, Stanford seems to have lost sight of its original goal, confused means and ends, and conflated biology (childbirth) with social issues (family formation).
Ordinarily, women become pregnant as a means to start a family, not to “experience childbirth.” Other ways to accomplish this goal are adoption, surrogacy and becoming a foster parent. Absent some as-yet-undisclosed study linking female fertility to academic talent, it seems odd that Stanford would decide that only fertile women able to carry a fetus to term deserve institutional support for their decision to start a family during graduate school.
The privileging of birth mothers over adoptive mothers is as illogical as it is offensive to families who have struggled with infertility prior to adopting. Under the literal terms of this policy, whose avowed purpose is “to make sure that we retain in the academic pipeline women graduate students who become pregnant and give birth,” a graduate student who gives her child up for adoption immediately after birth could request accommodation, while the adoptive mother who cares for that newborn could not.
Equally, if not more disturbing, is the policy’s failure to support graduate student couples who want to share the task of balancing work and family, thereby promoting a traditional heterosexual family structure that has proved detrimental to women’s achievement. Recognizing that “[t]aking care of an infant is time-consuming and sleep-depriving so advisors need to have realistic expectations about rates of progress on research,” the policy denies the same compassionate recognition to other graduate student caregivers who might be equally in need of help -- e.g., biological fathers, gay couples, adoptive parents or biological mothers who used a surrogate to carry the fetus to term.
Thus, the only graduate student families who will benefit from the childbirth accommodation policy are those who choose to conform to the traditional gender role model of mom stays home to bond with baby while dad goes to work. This patterning of gender stereotyped roles is unlikely to prove advantageous to the woman’s future career.
One would have expected Stanford’s policymakers to heed the counsel of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist (a Stanford alumnus) on the importance of gender-neutral family leave benefits, in a 2003 case:
“Stereotypes about women’s domestic roles are reinforced by parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilities for men. Because employers continued to regard the family as the woman’s domain, they often denied them similar accommodations or discouraged them from taking leave. These mutually reinforcing stereotypes created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver, and fostered employers’ stereotypical views about women’s commitment to work and their value as employees.”
Finally, by excluding everyone but the birth mom from accommodation, the policy may even override the woman’s own preference in the matter: Stanford seems not to have envisioned the possibility that the birth parents might both be graduate students, and that a new mother-scientist at a critical research juncture might choose to return to her lab right away, if only the policy were flexible enough to accommodate her partner’s desire to stay home and tend to the newborn.
Stanford deserves some credit for being the second nationally prominent graduate school to attempt any accommodation for grad students who become parents. (MIT was the first.) But the progressive impulse that spawned this “breakthrough” has been undermined by using “childbirth accommodation” as a proxy for easing the burden on new mothers. If the goal is truly to achieve diversity by increasing the number of women pursuing advanced degrees, surely a Class I research institution can craft a policy more likely to fulfill its intended purpose -- one not limited to the “June Cleavers” in its grad student population, but generous enough to encompass 21st century parenthood in all its diversity.
Charlotte Fishman is a San Francisco lawyer known for her expertise in the areas of academic discrimination and gender stereotyping. She is Executive Director of Pick Up the Pace, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify and eliminate barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace.
In response to the scandal surrounding the men's lacrosse team, Duke president Richard Brodhead has initiated a "conversation on campus culture." The first installment provided little insight. To Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American Studies, recent events showed that "we need an innovative and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner." It's worth remembering that only two years ago at Neal's institution, a department chairman jokingly explained the faculty's ideological imbalance by noting, "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire." It seems rather unlikely that Duke's curriculum lacks a sufficiently "progressive" nature.
Indeed, far from needing a more "progressive" campus culture, the lacrosse scandal suggests that a considerable portion of the Duke faculty and student body need to reread the Constitution and consider the accused -- regardless of their group identity -- innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, if, as Duke officials have claimed, Brodhead seriously desires to use this event as a "learning opportunity," he needs to explore why voices among the faculty urging local authorities to respect the due process rights of Duke's students seemed so overpowered by professors exhibiting a rush to judgment.
In early April, prior to his peculiar commentary on campus culture, Professor Neal joined 87 other Duke professors in signing a public statement about the scandal. Three academic departments and 13 of the university'ss academic programs also endorsed the statement, which was placed as an advertisement in the student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, and is currently hosted on the Web site of Duke's African and African-American Studies program. That 88 faculty members -- much less entire departments -- would have signed on to such a document suggests that whatever plagues Duke's campus culture goes beyond the lacrosse team's conduct and the administration's insufficient oversight of its athletic department.
Few would deny that several players on Duke's lacrosse team have behaved repulsively. Two team captains hired exotic dancers, supplied alcohol to underage team members, and concluded a public argument with one of the dancers with racial epithets. In response, Brodhead appropriately cancelled the team's season and demanded the coach's resignation. Yet the faculty members' statement ignored Brodhead's actions, and instead contributed to the feeding frenzy in the weeks before the district attorney's decision to indict two players on the team.
The 88 signatories affirmed that they were "listening" to a select group of students troubled by sexism and racism at Duke. Yet 8 of the 11 quotes supplied from students to whom these professors had been talking, 8 contained no attribution -- of any sort, even to the extent of claiming to come from anonymous Duke students. Nonetheless, according to the faculty members, "The disaster didn't begin on March 13th and won't end with what the police say or the court decides." It's hard to imagine that college professors could openly dismiss how the ultimate legal judgment would shape this case's legacy. Such sentiments perhaps explain why no member of the Duke Law School faculty signed the letter.
More disturbingly, the group of 88 committed themselves to "turning up the volume." They told campus protesters, "Thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard." These demonstrators needed no encouragement: They were already vocal, and had already judged the lacrosse players were guilty. One student group produced a "wanted" poster containing photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players. At an event outside a house rented by several lacrosse team members, organized by a visiting instructor in English Department, protesters held signs reading, "It's Sunday morning, time to confess." They demanded that the university force the players to testify or dismiss them from school.
The public silence of most Duke professors allowed the group of 88 to become, in essence, the voice of the faculty. In a local climate that has featured an appointed district attorney whose behavior, at the very least, has been erratic, the Duke faculty might have forcefully advocated respecting the due process rights of all concerned. After all, fair play and procedural integrity are supposed to be cardinal principles of the academy. In no way would such a position have endorsed the players' claim to innocence: Due process exists because the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition has determined it elemental to achieving the truth. But such process-based arguments have remained in short supply from the Duke faculty. Instead, the group of 88 celebrated "turning up the volume" and proclaimed that legal findings would not deter their campaign for justice.
When faced with outside criticism -- about, for example, a professor who has plagiarized or engaged in some other form of professional misconduct, or in recent high-profile controversies like those involving Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado -- academics regularly condemn pressure for quick resolutions and celebrate their respect for addressing matters through time-tested procedures. Such an approach, as we have frequently heard since the 9/11 attacks, is essential to prevent a revival of McCarthyism on college campuses.
Yet for unapologetically urging expulsion on the basis of group membership and unproven allegations, few professors have more clearly demonstrated a McCarthyite spirit better than another signatory to of the faculty statement, Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies. Lamenting the "college and university blind-eying of male athletes, veritably given license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech, and feel proud of themselves in the bargain," Baker issued a public letter denouncing the "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us." To act against "violent, white, male, athletic privilege," he urged the "immediate dismissals" of "the team itself and its players."
Duke Provost Peter Lange correctly termed Baker's diatribe "a form of prejudice," the "act of prejudgment: to presume that one knows something 'must' have been done by or done to someone because of his or her race, religion or other characteristic." It's hard to escape the conclusion that, for Baker and many others who signed the faculty statement, the race, class, and gender of the men's lacrosse team produced a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality.
Baker's attacks on athletics added a fourth component to the traditional race/class/gender trinity. It's an open secret that at many academically prestigious schools, some faculty factions desire diminishing or eliminating intercollegiate athletics, usually by claiming that athletes are lazy students, receive special treatment, or drive down the institution's intellectual quality. In fact, with the exception of the two revenue-producing sports (men's basketball and football), the reverse is more often true at colleges like Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford, or the Ivy League institutions.
I admit to a bias on this score: My sister was a three-year starter at point guard for the Columbia University women's basketball team. Seeing how hard she worked to remain a dean's list student and fulfill her athletic responsibilities gave me a first-hand respect for the challenges facing varsity athletes at academically rigorous institutions. In addition to the responsibilities sustained by most students (challenging course loads, extracurricular activities, often campus jobs), athletes in non-revenue producing sports have physically demanding practice schedules, in-season road trips, and commitments to spend time with alumni or recruits. They play before small crowds, and envision no professional careers. It's distressing to see that many in the academy share Baker's prejudices, and view participation in college athletics as a negative.
With the most vocal elements among Duke's faculty using the lacrosse case to forward preconceived ideological and pedagogical agendas, it has been left to undergraduates to question some of the district attorney's unusual actions -- such as conducting a photo lineup that included only players on the team, sending police to a Duke dormitory in an attempt to interrogate the players outside the presence of their lawyers, and securing indictments before searching the players' dorm rooms, receiving results of a second DNA test, or investigating which players had documented alibis. In the words of a recent Newsweekarticle, the lawyer for one indicted player, Reade Seligmann, produced multiple sources of "evidence that would seem to indicate it was virtually impossible that Seligmann committed the crime." To date, the 88 faculty members who claimed to be "listening" to Duke students have given no indication of listening to those undergraduates concerned about the local authorities' unusual interpretation of the spirit of due process. Nor, apparently, do the faculty signatories seem to hear what The Duke Chronicleeditorial termed the "several thousand others of us" students who disagreed that "Duke breeds cultures of hate, racism, sexism and other forms of backward thinking."
The Raleigh News and Observer recently editorialized, "Duke faculty members, many of them from the '60s and '70s generations that pushed college administrators to ease their controlling ways, now are urging the university to require greater social as well as scholastic discipline from students. Duke professors, in fact, are offering to help draft new behavior codes for the school. With years of experience and academic success to their credit, faculty members ought to be listened to." If the group of 88's statement is any guide, this advice is dubious. Even so, Brodhead has named two signatories of the faculty group to the newly formed "campus culture" committee. Given their own record, it seems unlikely that their committee will explore why Duke's campus culture featured its most outspoken faculty faction rushing to judgment rather than seeking to uphold the due process rights of their own institution's students.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.
There's been a fair amount of attention over the last week to the issue of hazing and women's college sports teams. The Web site badjocks.com published a number of photos depicting the Northwestern University women's soccer team conducting an initiation for new players. The women are shown being forced to chug beer, give lap dances to members of the men's soccer team, all while various words and pictures are drawn on their bodies. Then the same site followed up with pictures from a dozen other colleges and universities, almost all of which focus on hazing/initiation rituals involving various women's sports teams. All of the colleges involved have anti-hazing policies, and all (naturally) prohibit underage drinking.
In the national media, the faces of the women involved are obscured, but on badjocks.com, they are in full view. Though it was obviously foolish for the teams involved to photograph their hazing rituals and post the pics on the Internet, I grieve for the embarrassment the young women involved must now be feeling, and I have no interest in staring pruriently at the various details of their humiliations. We must remember the intent of those who uploaded the photos to sites like webshots.com; these pictures (often showing students in their underwear) were for the enjoyment of a select few, not a huge national audience. Foolishness on the part of those who don’t know better doesn’t excuse leering on the part of those who do.
What I've seen tells me what I already knew: the kind of hazing that takes place on contemporary college campuses is more or less identical to what happened when I was an undergrad 20 years ago. The essentials, then and now, are these: forcing the pledges/initiates/rookies/frosh to undress (at least to their underwear); forcing them to consume large amounts of alcohol; asking them to "perform" sexualized dances in front of members of the opposite sex. The Northwestern women were required to give lap dances in their underwear in front of members of the men's soccer team -- while the Quinnipiac College men's baseball team is shown on the site stripping and dancing for a group of unidentified women.
As an adult who struggled with problem drinking for years, I am of course greatly concerned by any ritual that requires that folks consume large amounts of booze in a short period of time. I have no sympathy for those who see binge drinking as an essential rite of passage; I've seen the damage it can do to lives and bodies.
As a feminist, I'm grieved to see that ritualized sexual humiliation is still such a vital mainstay of initiation practices. It's not new, of course. When I was a freshman at Cal, I flirted with the idea of joining a fraternity (one to which my grandfather, a great-grandfather, and numerous uncles and cousins had belonged). In the end, I decided not to, both for reasons of principle and because I worried that I wouldn't fit in with the fraternity culture. I had lots of friends in the Greek system, however, and I heard their initiation stories. One of my former wives was a Pi Phi in the late 1980s; she told me that she had never gotten over her hazing. She recalled being stripped to her underwear, at which point all the "actives" (members) of her sorority took magic markers and wrote on her body -- circling areas that they thought "needed work" and writing commentary about her attributes. She said she laughed at the time -- but years later, she would still sometimes gaze at those parts and think about the criticisms and obscenities she had seen written there.
I'm a fierce fan of intercollegiate sports. With the possible exception of golf, I love to watch men and women play any NCAA sport. I know the good that sport has brought to my life, and I've seen it bring discipline, health, camaraderie, and character to a great many young people. I'm not one of those professors who "goes easy" on the jocks, but I'm not someone who wishes that intercollegiate athletics would disappear, either. And as a fan of sports -- and former athletic department tutor at UCLA -- I've got at least a passing understanding of how vital it is to build close community on a team.
I think initiation rituals can be very valuable. Requiring frosh or rookies to go through a series of steps before they are accepted as full-fledged members of the team is healthy. It is axiomatic that to suffer together is one way to build community. But not all suffering is the same. Forcing the frosh to run extra laps or do extra push-ups or go through a weekend of brutal fitness camp can build community and fellowship just fine -- all without a drop of alcohol and without a single lap dance. Requiring frosh to put on silly skits that don't involve vulgar humor, nudity, or intoxication (or asking them to memorize all the verses of an ancient school fight song) can have a similar bonding effect. The problem is not with the nature of sports teams/fraternities/sororities, or with initiation rituals -- the problem is with a culture that connects that valuable process of initiation to ritualized sexual degradation and binge drinking.
Too many university policies (such as Northwestern’s) confuse the positive effects of team-building exercises with destructive and humiliating hazing. As quoted on the badjocks Web site, the NU policy reads in part:
The university defines hazing as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off university premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities and situations may include but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of the university; wearing apparel that is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in stunts and buffoonery; requiring sleepovers or morally degrading or humiliating games and activities.
Banning all treasure hunts, quests, and road trips along with underage drinking and strip shows demonstrates a complete disregard for the potentially positive aspects of initiation rituals. There are countless physical challenges that can be offered to frosh that allow them to retain their clothes, their dignity, and their sobriety -- all while pushing them beyond their limits. Hazing can degrade, but healthy and constructive games and rituals go a long way to building that precious sense of camaraderie which is such a vital part of the college experience.
But a call to recognize the positive aspects of some traditional initiation rituals is not a defense of what we apparently see in the pictures from Northwestern. This sort of hazing troubles me so much is because it is so fundamentally antithetical to what sports can be in women's lives. The beauty of sports for women, at the high school or college level, is that it teaches women that their bodies are not merely decorative objects to be gazed at. It teaches women that their sexuality and their potential reproductivity are not their greatest assets. Sport -- at its best -- teaches girls that their bodies are strong, and powerful; it teaches the athlete that she can transform and control her flesh for her own delight as well as for the good of the team. It turns objects into subjects, turns the passive active. I've seen sports from softball to track to soccer to basketball do that for countless women and girls in my life, and I rejoice in it. And thus I grieve when I see young female athletes forced to use their bodies so differently -- as objects of public, sexualized ridicule -- all for the sake of creating community that could so easily be created in a different way.
Hugo B. Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. He teaches and blogs about such issues as the interplay of faith and sexuality, American history, and masculinity.
Roiling the blogosphere with opinion mostly favoring the Duke University lacrosse team players, the aftermath of the now notorious party has shaken up Duke with charges of sexism and racism on one side and outraged declarations calling for campus administrators to support "our students" on the other. The furor has distracted attention from the misogynist sexual culture on display at the party. Regardless of the outcome of the legal case against the indicted players, the question raised by an administrator regarding whether Duke intentionally or unintentionally promotes "a culture of crassness" remain.
In its coverage a Newsweek reporter wrote: "It is hard to know just how deep the culture of crassness runs at Duke, but one wonders after reading an e-mail sent from one of the lacrosse players' address an hour or so after the party." In this now infamous e-mail the author told his buddies that after the party he wanted to hire some strippers and skin them and kill them while he ejaculated in his Duke-issue spandex.
Leaving aside the question of whether a sexual assault took place at the party or whether the district attorney botched the investigation in ways that may have forever hurt both the accuser and the accused, there are some undisputed facts in the case that do not speak well for gender and racial parity in the Duke student culture. A large group of white male students at a wealthy prestigious university that claims to teach students to respect one another didn't give a moment's thought to hiring two minority "exotic dancers" to perform for them. One of the women attended the historically black college on the other side of town. The degrading e-mail message sent after the performance mirrors an evening of excess and debauchery. Based on my studies of gang rape on college campuses I suspect that there is a grain of truth in the messenger's fantasy about reliving the excitement of the evening.
The eye-witness accounts of campus gang rape I present in Fraternity Gang Rape and A Woman Scorned provide powerful testimony of the depth and breadth of the problem, including the degradation of women, the bragging, and the urge to make a record for future reference. The unfettered expression of male sexual dominance first came to my attention in the winter of 1983 when a student in one of my classes at the University of Pennsylvania who had a drinking problem went to a fraternity party where she was raped by a number of brothers in what they labeled an "express" in the minutes written for their next meeting, playing on the word "train" used for group sexual activity in which males mount a woman sequentially. According to various eyewitness and hearsay accounts of what happened that night, Laurel (pseudonym) was incapable of consent due to her drugged-drunk condition. The next day, based on what she had observed of Laurel's behavior at the party a woman friend of the brothers angrily told them that it was rape when they bragged to her about their sexual escapade the night before. The local DA for sex crimes came to the same conclusion after hearing the facts of the case.
Few of the males involved in this and the other cases that I have studied know or even care to know that legally if a woman cannot consent to sexual intercourse, it is rape. Males who feel sexually entitled see nothing wrong with taking advantage of a woman's physical helplessness or inability to consent. A woman who gets drunk is "asking for it." This is true despite the fact that they may have made the woman's drinks "really strong to loosen up some of those inhibitions." Fraternity brothers have told me that the goal of their parties is to "get em drunk and go for it."
All of this would be classified as a felony in the Pennsylvania rape law, which states that a person who engages in sexual intercourse with a person "who is unconscious" or who "has substantially impaired the complainant's power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance," commits a felony of the first degree.
Rape is not necessarily the only offense committed in the group sexual degradation of women. I know of cases in which there was no rape but there was sexual abuse. I am not surprised that the rape charges were dropped in the Duke case in light of the absence of DNA evidence. Indeed they should have been dropped much earlier. While rape is defined exclusively in terms of "vaginal intercourse" a sexual offense refers to everything else including touching, using objects, or anal intercourse. It is noteworthy that the sexual offense and kidnapping counts have not yet been dropped.
Another case I followed closely parallels the charges in the Duke case in that it also involved members of a lacrosse team, a black complainant, alcohol, kidnapping, and sexual offenses short of rape. This case was widely referred to in the news as the "St John's Lacrosse Team Sex Assault Case." Getting a woman drunk to have sex in a show staged for one's buddies was tragically evident in the testimony heard in a Queens courtroom in 1991-2 after indictments were issued against six members of the St. John's University lacrosse team for acts ranging from unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse to sodomy. A seventh defendant pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for immunity.
The complainant was a young black student. I call her Angela in A Woman Scorned, a book devoted to the legal and cultural history of sexual culture in the United States. She had imigrated to the U.S. with her parents from Jamaica when she was in elementary school. A student at St. John's, she accepted a ride home from school from a male friend, Michael. On the way, he stopped at the house he shared with members of the St. John's lacrosse team, ostensibly to get gas money, and he invited her inside. At first she refused to go in but upon his insistence accepted the invitation. Inside she met his roommates. Left alone in a third floor bedroom, she accepted a drink from Michael. The drink tasted terrible. Based on the symptoms she displayed throughout the evening, many involved with the case suspected that the drink was spiked with ketamine, a drug that other rape cases demonstrated caused a separation of mind and body so that the ability to feel and control one's body is blocked, but this was never proved.
After Michael plied her with three drinks, which she could barely swallow, Angela passed out. Testimony in the courtroom revealed that Michael then proceeded to engage in oral sodomy watched by three house members. After Michael finished, these three took their turns while visitors invited over from another lacrosse team house watched. Angela was unconscious through most of it. When she awoke, it seemed like there were five or more boys in the room. She was propped in a sitting position, but her head wouldn't stay up. The leader, who was addressed as Walter and was later prosecuted as was Michael, held her cheeks to force her mouth open so his friends could slap their penises against her face or put it in her mouth. She tried to get up several times. Once, her nails scratched Walter. He slapped her hands. She passed out again. When she came to, she screamed. When Walter put his hand on her neck, she knew that she had to be careful not to upset him. She didn't know what he might do to her. Dazed she fell back on the couch. She felt Walter pushing her down on the sofa. One of the guys in the room left and she heard someone say, "Her pupils are dilated. She doesn't know what's going on." She was then taken to another lacrosse team house. There, for the first time in the gruesome experience, one of the players challenged the others and told them to stop.
The steps taken by the St. John's administration after Angela went to a trusted member of the administration were unusual at the time. The university turned the matter over to the police and suspended the alleged abusers, pending the legal outcome of the case. At the end of the legal proceedings, which resulted in a number of convictions, St. John's took the additional step of expelling all but one of the students who asked for reinstatement, on the grounds that they had violated the student code and displayed, in the words of the university's president, "a serious lack of respect for others and even one another." The one student whose request for reinstatement was granted had cooperated with the authorities.
Although separated by more than a decade and differing in details the overarching commonality in these cases is the use of a visibly incapacitated woman as a tool for male bonding in a game of sexual dominance. Alcohol played a central role in all three cases. At the Duke lacrosse party both of the exotic dancers were given cups of "a drink" after they arrived at the house while they were in the bathroom getting ready for the strip show. Only one drank the contents. The other dancer gave the cup to her partner who began acting strangely soon after. According to the dancer who did not take the drink the accuser was sober when she arrived at the house. It was when they began their strip show that she "began having trouble," she later told the press.
The scenario is one of privileged males proving their manhood by staging live porno shows for one another involving a wounded young woman. She is the duck or the quail raised and put in place for the hunter. Who she is doesn't matter and she is quickly forgotten after it is all over – sloughed off like a used condom. The event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of a powerful manhood -- in unity against women; one against the world. The patriarchal bonding functions a little like bonding in organized crime circles -- generating a sense of family and establishing mutual aid connections that will last a lifetime.
The gender picture that emerges from these cases mirrors the double standard of the 19th century: Nice women wait to get married and elite males sow their "wild oats" on party girls who are demeaned as the males demean their own sexuality. If the males are prosecuted they defend themselves saying "she asked for it;" "she is a woman scorned;" or "she wants money." Most commentators in the blogosphere, on news programs, and in the media are convinced that the latter motivated the actions of the Duke accuser. I'm not so certain. I am inclined to think that her impaired memory and immobility provides evidence that she was incapacitated.
It is a shame that the commentary focusing on the legal issues and the alleged ethical violations on the part of the DA has obscured the broader cultural issues such as the impact of alcohol in this case and more broadly on college campuses. It is now well known that there is a high correlation between campus rape and alcohol. The 2004 study by the Harvard School of Public Health involving 119 colleges and 23,000 students establishes this beyond a reasonable doubt. Another important finding of this study indicated that the highest rates of rape are found on campuses with a lax alcohol policy.
In its report the faculty panel charged with reviewing the Duke lacrosse culture stated that "alcohol is the single greatest factor involved in the unacceptable behavior of Duke students in general and members of the lacrosse team specifically, both on-and off campus." The report indicated also that "the university's ability to deal fully with the problem of alcohol is undermined by its own ambivalence toward drinking and the conduct it spawns." The report expressed "deep concern" with this finding saying that by its "lack of leadership in this area" the university is "implicated in the alcohol excesses of lacrosse players and of Duke students more generally." This kind of honesty provides the sort of moral leadership that can turn the tide on campus from the culture of crassness into the culture of character and gender parity.
Every time a college drops an athletic team, and every five-year anniversary of the law, the cycle starts up again. Newspapers publish a spate of stories, some praising and some condemning the law. Someone files a lawsuit or a federal complaint. A few Web sites and radio shows weigh in. Right now, we’re just past the 35th anniversary of Title IX, and you need only turn to Google News to see where we are in the cycle.
The points are always the same. Proponents say that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 -- which bans sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal funds -- is written clearly and merely needs to be enforced to ensure equity for women without endangering men. Opponents say the government has created incentives for colleges to drop men’s teams in sports like wrestling and and the regulations for the law are based on unrealistic expectations of women’s interest in athletics.
Proponents say that if colleges just didn’t spend so much money running football teams and hiring high-dollar coaches, a whole raft of sports for men and women would be affordable. Opponents say that the market should dictate what sports colleges offer, and that many more men are interested in varsity sports than women. Proponents respond with the “Field of Dreams” argument -- “if you start teams, women will come.” Opponents want to know why colleges should be forced to dash the dreams of dedicating young men to give hollow opportunities to women who don't really want them.
This argument then gets circular or it gets vicious, and either way, I’m tired of it. On the one hand, I’m frustrated at seeing so many of the track teams I raced during my college years dropped. On the other and much more pertinently, my eight-week-old daughter is trying to settle down to sleep in the next room, and I want to know how this debate is going to help her realize the benefits we all know come from participating in sports -- youth sports, high school sports, and perhaps at the college level.
Right now, the situation is getting us nowhere. Ultimately, all we ever talk about is the number of men and women playing sports at a given institution, and whether the women's number is as high as it ought to be. Raw participation numbers occupy a pretty small portion of the U.S. Department of Education's Title IX regulations, but the overwhelming majority of news stories, debates, and lawsuits filed in this area -- as well as recent research published by the Government Accountability Office -- can be reduced to counting ponytails. Meanwhile, disparities between men's revenue sports and all other sports continue to grow, while participation opportunities for women have stagnated.
Enough. Parents, coaches, and athletics administrators need to take a fresh look at what gender equity really means. Rather than focusing on participation statistics, it would be helpful to remember that Title IX forbids denying anyone the benefits of such a program or subjecting them to discrimination on the basis of gender, not merely excluding them from participation. If policy were based on the assessing the benefits of participating in sports -- measuring the quality of participation opportunities, not merely the quantity -- we could move a long way toward fulfilling the promise of Title IX.
We in higher education aren't very good at assessing student outcomes, and we're desperately worried that someone (i.e., the government) is going to make us start. In athletics, though, any institution can take a discrete group of students and test the hypothesis that participating in sports teaches skills and shapes attributes that can be invaluable in later life: teamwork, self-discipline, confidence, and leadership skills, to name a few. I know I learned those traits as a college athlete, as did my teammates.
Nobody has developed, or at least popularized, a credible way of assessing whether a given coach is actually teaching these lessons to his or her athletes, or how well a particular athletics department is doing in this regard. But one of the key issues should be whether women are getting meaningful experiences in athletics, not merely participation opportunities.
To this point, both critics of Title IX and athletics directors note the difficulty in finding women to compete. Women, they say, won't stick with a team if they aren't starting or in key roles, while men are happy to stand on the sidelines as fourth-stringers. Some teams, however, do have success in attracting and keeping women, even those in non-starting roles. I interviewed a coach once who regularly had 30 women or more on a varsity soccer team, and this coach told me about valuing the contributions of each one.
We need to figure out what makes teams successful at providing positive and meaningful experiences for young women--as well as for young men. It may well be that different styles of coaching, different college and departmental environments, or different recruiting methods and philosophies produce more or less successful experiences for athletes. We don't know, because these issues have not been studied systematically on a large scale. There have been some descriptive studies that touch on these issues, notably that published in The Game of Life and Reclaiming the Game, both written by William G. Bowen and his former colleagues at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the unpublished SCORE and GOALS projects conducted by the NCAA.
Where we find differing outcomes for male and female athletes, we will find Title IX issues, and these issues are likely to go beyond head counts of athletes. We would find inferior coaches for women's teams. We would find disparities in equipment budgets, practice schedules, and facilities. In short, we would find the many everyday instances of discrimination that are overlooked in favor of debating ponytails.
More to the point, we also would find what makes the best coaches as good as they are, generating pedagogical research that would benefit other sports and indeed many faculty members, if they would deign to recognize that they have much to learn from their colleagues in athletics.
During research for a book on Title IX a few years ago, I found countless examples of sports becoming a job -- for girls and boys alike. At the high school level, kids compete on school teams, club teams, perhaps in Olympic development programs, and with private coaches, all for a shot at the all-important college scholarship. The time commitment can run to 40 hours a week or more, on top of school, and that doesn't count driving all over town in rush hour.
This does not seem to be the model that best teaches all the skills and traits we want to give young athletes. It may (or may not) be good at developing elite athletes, but we see too many players being run off in favor of the next hot recruit. Too many kids quitting sports cold when they get to college, out of exhaustion or burnout. Too many colleges making decisions on coaches, game schedules, and other athletic operations based on marketing potential rather than athlete welfare.
Higher education needs to learn how to assess student outcomes, and athletics programs need to learn how to assess athlete outcomes. The good part is that some mechanisms in athletics are already in place for this kind of work. First, of course, are graduation rates, which despite the NCAA’s best efforts to obfuscate them are the most obvious measure of collegiate success. Many if not most athletics directors conduct exit interviews with outgoing seniors, and academic tutors and life-skills counselors get to know athletes quite well over the course of an athletic career. What is needed is a way of systematizing this knowledge and using it intentionally to evaluate coaches and operations. This would be a good opportunity for scholars of education and management to work with athletics to improve and document practices.
This is the road to gender equity. The more we base decisions on improving the experiences of individual athletes, the more we come to see men and women as students in different classes in our athletics programs.
This may sound ridiculously naive, but it isn't. Colleges won't stop throwing good money after bad in the quixotic pursuit of prominence in football and men's basketball, and non-revenue sports for both men and women will continue to suffer in the current system. In the short term, my proposal can't address problems like sports being dropped, rosters being capped, and the ongoing disparities for women. In the long run, however, coaches, athletics directors, and college presidents will learn which athletes are benefiting from their experiences and which ones aren't, and hopefully why.
That knowledge can help improve the experiences of current athletes and, over time, cement beliefs the educational value of participating in sports. With an increasingly skeptical public and Congress, the best chance we may have of preserving college sports is to apply rigorous standards for education and equity.
As parents, my wife and I aren’t going to push our daughter into anything. But as athletes ourselves and as students of Title IX, we’re going to make sure that she knows her options and, hopefully, that she can tell the good options from the bad. And that she won't be counted merely as a ponytail.
“Spousework” is my term for a range of tasks that the spouses of college presidents perform or may perform. There is the involuntary role (being seen as an ambassador for the institution the partner leads). Every spouse is stuck with this. There are voluntary roles that could also be delegated to many people other than the spouse -- helping the leader by performing tasks that impact the couple (such as planning events at the official residence, running the leader’s personal errands) or helping with institutional efforts that do not directly impact the leadership couple (such as serving on the recycling committee). There are also voluntary roles that only a select few people could fill -- acting as a confidante, sounding board, extra pair of eyes and ears, source of new ideas and different point of view. And there are voluntary roles that no one other than the leader or the spouse can play, such as lobbying for the needs of the family and of the couple, jointly and individually.
The most fundamental kind of spousework, just like housework, will never go away. It comes with the territory when you share your life with an academic leader. And as long as we spouses are seen as living logos of the institutions our partners serve, we will need to adapt our behavior in certain ways. We are not pledged to serve, but it is, and always will be, incumbent on us to preserve the good name of the institution.
With regard to the other types of spousework -- the artful kind, which implies supporting the leader in a skillful, intelligent way, and the active kind, which implies a significant commitment of time -- the future may not be so secure. Artful, intelligent spousework, for me and for many others, is the good stuff. It is complex and challenging, and the work can become its own reward. It is what some of us instinctively hoped for, even if we couldn’t exactly define it. It is what we searched for until we discovered it, or it discovered us. And that’s the problem. Though this kind of spousework has been around a long time, it remains a quiet, unrecognized achievement. I have no doubt that some people wrap up their years in the spouse’s role without ever suspecting that there was a whole level of spousework they never glimpsed.
In the past spouses were women who were locked into marriage and out of personal careers. They had little choice but to persevere in the spouse role, and I suspect many of them became skilled in giving artful, intelligent support. Today women spouses have more options and can put their energies elsewhere, without ever learning what spousework might have to offer them. As more women are appointed to leadership roles, the number of male spouses is burgeoning. These men are not generally expected to make themselves available. Since a certain level of engagement is almost a prerequisite for intelligent spousework, many male spouses could also miss out on its rich possibilities.
This type of spousework could flourish, I believe, if academia came to recognize what it entails. One welcome byproduct would be that an institution that hires a leader who does not have a spouse would be in a good position to analyze the kind of support it might want to offer that leader.
About active spousework -- taking on tasks that either the couple or the institution needs to get done -- I'm less sanguine. Personal career choices will always impinge on active spousework. Fair enough, I say. More problematic is the lingering culture of expectation. Some decades ago a sociologist named Hanna Papanek, writing in the American Journal of Sociology, coined a phrase, “the two-person single career.” The two-person single career is a “combination of formal and informal institutional demands which is placed on both members of a married couple of whom only the man is employed by the institution.” You would think that the women’s movement would have killed this phenomenon dead by now. Not so. The “formal and informal institutional demands” still lurk in the corners.
At many institutions today, search committees and boards of trustees assure incoming spouses that their active participation will not be taken for granted. But there can be problems with these assurances. Some of us find that expectations are still harbored elsewhere. The word that spouses are free to choose hasn’t yet reached all campus stakeholders; their attitudes are conditioned by their experiences with spouses from the past -- perhaps a very distant past, in the case of older alumni. Recently I have met people, members of one constituency or another, who expressed surprise that I had chosen to be “involved”; they honestly did not expect it. But that liberated attitude, though refreshing, is still exceedingly rare. In addition to the problem of lingering expectations there is the fact that some spouses still feel pressed to take on unwanted tasks. Many leaders find there is simply not enough support staff to help take care of the house and/or the entertaining load that come with the job. They may not have time to run their personal errands or to help with family responsibilities. Spouses step into the gap, sometimes with reluctance; they become actively involved under duress.
Expectations -- the kind that weren’t supposed to be around any more -- can make us feel trapped, particularly if they are ones we really don’t want to fulfill. Quite naturally, we want to escape. Sometimes escape seems too complicated, causing more trouble than it might be worth, so we cave in. I have done this many times, but not so readily now that I recognize that, by doing so, I am helping to perpetuate the culture of expectation. I am only making it harder for the person who might follow me. How we spouses deal with the lingering culture of expectation will have an impact on the future of spouses’ participation.
When unwanted expectations are a problem and saying “no” doesn’t seem to be an option, some spouses find ways of taking themselves off the available list. They take new jobs or throw themselves more completely into their own careers.
They may decide to live separately. Other kinds of difficulty can also cause spouses to veer away from active involvement in their partners’ careers. An official residence that affords little comfort or privacy, the realization that their partners are not going to have much time to share with them in the foreseeable future, feelings of isolation -- these things also drive spouses to look for solutions that, in the end, take them away from active involvement. Some of these coping mechanisms, while helpful, are Band-Aids applied to problems that need to be addressed. Even worse, a particular solution may address one problem while it creates another, and in the final analysis it is not always clear that there has been any net gain. And when spouses make deliberate efforts to distance themselves from institutional life because of some discomfort with the situation in which they find themselves, the institutions themselves are diminished.
Personally, I remain committed to an active role. I help with the entertaining and the management of the residence. I show up at all kinds of functions on campus and accompany my husband on some of his travels. I do my homework before I meet new members of the various constituencies. I stay involved in these ways even though it cuts into the time I might devote to my own interests. I stay involved even though I am an introvert who would rather curl up with a good book than attend an event. I stay involved even though it irritates me when I am treated like a non-entity or a figurehead. I do it to help my husband. I do it so we will be closer as a couple. Somewhere in my brain the pros and cons, with regard to my own well-being, are under continual, if unconscious, assessment. The positive experiences that have accrued from active spousework continue to outweigh the tedious and unpleasant ones. I know that if I had dropped out years ago, as I once was sorely tempted to do, I would have missed many wonderful friendships, many memorable experiences. I believe that dropping out would have, in the long run, damaged my marriage.
I am continually amazed by the slowness with which the culture of expectation is changing. Conditioned attitudes are part of the problem, but I think there is something else that is less innocent. From the institution’s point of view, those of us who cooperate willingly in the “two-person single career” model of academic leadership, who take up the tasks that leaders simply can’t manage, are handy folks to have around. It may appear that the academy has a good deal going, and why, then, should the impetus for change come from that quarter? I would argue, however, that it could have an even better deal going, that institutions are not profiting as much as they might. The spouses are a talented group, and in many places their talents are being squandered on mundane things, their energy depleted by the exasperation they feel when their partners aren’t provided with the support staff that is needed. Since the academy is the biggest loser when spouses drop out or never get involved in the first place, it might well start looking at how to keep them engaged.
Institutional Care for the Spouse. Some spouses love their situation, some are passably comfortable and others put up a good front. Some are, for career or family reasons or purely as a matter of choice, completely out of the picture. There will probably always be a mix of this sort. The spouse group is, as I said at the start, a very mixed bag. But boards of trustees need to realize that spouses can start out with friendly feelings toward the institution and end up exasperated, resentful, even hostile. That is not a healthy state of affairs for institution, leader or spouse. Boards must be truly attentive to the spouses, as opposed to merely courteous; real effort is required. Spouses will not be openly candid in response to a casual “How’s it going?” Like the leaders, they quickly learn to say what they think the constituent wants to hear. They will be more patient and trusting with interlocutors who can exhibit some understanding of the issues that spouses face.
Early intervention is always the best, and in this regard institutions can get off to a good start by developing a direct relationship with the spouse. In The President’s Spouse, David Riesman suggested that, when a new leader is coming from outside the institution, the search committee should work with the incoming spouse until after the leader has been installed, usually a period of some months. Alternatively, a special transition team might be given this responsibility. I think that’s a terrific idea; I wish I knew how to foster its implementation!
Spouses who are brand new to their roles should receive special attention. From the start they are one huge step behind. Their partners, the leadership candidates, become well-acquainted with the institution’s history, its hopes and its needs during the interview stage. They develop a good understanding of what the job is going to entail. They have been building the requisite skills for years, if not decades. The spouses, on the other hand, have probably not been prepping themselves for the new life that now looms before them. Their personalities may suit them well for the role of leader’s spouse -- or perhaps not. As job candidates are interviewed their spouses may be kept on the sidelines, with little opportunity to learn about the institution and the job at hand. If the search committee brings them into the negotiations at all, it is usually in the final stages of the search.
I have often thought that trustees should offer to assign one of their body to act as a liaison to the spouse during the transition period, especially if he or she has no prior experience as the leader’s spouse. Personally, I would have welcomed that sort of connection, especially if the trustee was someone who, through experience or study, had a good understanding of the impact of an academic leader’s job on his or her family. A little sensitivity toward the spouse’s unique situation and the sizeable adjustment that is involved would, I believe, go a long way toward keeping spouses engaged in positive ways.
Identifying the Needs. Another way for the institution to get off to a good start with the spouse is to analyze what the leadership position might require in the way of support staff. Some institutions have begun to supply their leaders with extra support staff to help manage the residence and the entertaining, and they should be congratulated. But others are still leaning heavily on the spouses in these areas, perhaps not realizing it. When a married leader is set to retire or leave an institution, the trustees might ask that leader’s spouse to list any tasks that he or she performed on the leader’s behalf. These will generally be tasks that could just as easily be handled by hired staff.
This exercise would highlight the areas where the institution might need to provide increased support to ensure that both office and residence function smoothly under the new administration. It is the only way I can think of to overcome the persistent problem of expectations being passed along from one spouse to another. It would also alert the board to the special plight of a new leader who does not have a spouse who is able or willing to task-share. Perhaps a house manager would be needed, to oversee the maintenance and frequent repairs that a larger, older residence might require. Perhaps an events manager should be provided, someone who will remember to notify the gardener ahead of time when an event is scheduled at the residence, someone who can be on the spot when the flowers or the folding tables or the bar supplies are delivered. A spouse who doesn’t want to take on these responsibilities will benefit from this kind of help, as will a leader who has no one else to whom they can be delegated. From personal experience I can honestly say that having staff available to help keep matters at the official residence organized is priceless.
Spouse to Spouse. When I think of the many leaders’ spouses I have met over the years, it strikes me that, as a group, we do not give ourselves much credit. The reason is, perhaps, not far to seek. We are a shadowy bunch, doing some of our best work out of sight, behind closed doors. Also, some of our work is, or soon becomes, second nature. It is tied to our marriage vows. The bottom line is that we are simply supporting the ones we love, and perhaps it strikes us as unseemly to congratulate ourselves for doing that. But I would argue that good spousework is hard-won and an effort in which we should all take pride.
If we who have already accrued some experience in the spouse role can begin to give ourselves a little more credit, benefit will accrue to those who are just entering this role. Spousework is complex and unsung; there is an art to doing it well, and it is an art which we all must teach ourselves. It is like parenting -- the pay-off for good parenting, as opposed to careless parenting, is huge. The same is true for spousework. Partners of newly-appointed leaders need to know all this. They need to be supported in the early days so that they don’t turn away in frustration and disappointment before even giving spousework a chance. Before the new leader takes up office, before the family moves into the official residence, these people need some preparation, some insight into the changes and challenges they are going to face. By and large, they are not getting it.
The National Association of Independent Schools and the Council of Independent Colleges are among a handful of organizations that are reaching out to spouses and helping them connect with one another. However, many of us are at institutions that do not belong to any national organization that recognizes spouse issues. While I laud those groups that show some concern for spouses, I feel that much more could, and perhaps should, be done, considering the impact that the leader’s career has on his or her family.
What a delight it would be if a network of spouses was available to all of us. Is it too ambitious to suggest that there should be an organization for spouses alone, no matter what groups their institutions or their partners belong to -- an organization that is designed primarily for us, rather than the academic leaders? Imagine typing “supportingspouses.org” on the computer and coming up with texts of a dozen discussions of pertinent issues or the names of spouses around the country who are interested in networking. Domestic partners, gay and straight, could connect with each other and share their concerns. Spouses who are blazing new trails, finding new ways to make worthwhile contributions, could share their stories. I think the time has come for something of that sort.
Society is largely ignorant of the way spouses contribute, the problems they tackle and the changes they accept. We are not the only group about which one could make such a statement, and I don’t make it because I want to label us as suffering victims. But this is not a healthy situation for us, our partners or the academy. It is because of this lack of understanding that search committees and boards of trustees are making promises on which they cannot deliver. Spouses are not, and perhaps never can be, entirely free to behave as they like. They have implicit responsibilities toward their partners and the institutions their partners serve. And while, strictly speaking, they may be free to choose their own level of involvement, they might have to fight for the right to choose, over and over again.
In many places and in many ways the spouses of academic leaders are still expected to pour tea, and some of us continue to allow ourselves to be pressed into service. The era of “no expectations” will never come if the spouses sit and wait. Spouses need to make their institutions aware of the problem, if unwanted tasks are falling to them because there is no one else at hand. Somehow members of all constituencies should be given to understand that when we spouses are actively involved, whether it is planning events, caring for official residences, or standing in receiving lines, it is by our own choice -- that we might at any time say “no” and do so with the board’s blessing. There is some risk in this; we might be considered selfish, unpleasant, demanding, even unsupportive. But nothing risked, nothing gained. Our freedom to engage in spousework on our own terms will never be real until we make it so.
Teresa Oden has been engaged in active spousework since 1989 at the Hotchkiss School, Kenyon College and currently at Carleton College. This essay is adapted from her forthcoming book, Spousework: Partners Supporting Academic Leaders.
"I can never lay eyes on the boy without wanting to give his face a good going-over with a hot flannel." So speaks the voice of sexual repression in the person of Barbara Covett, the narrator of Zoe Heller's novel, Notes on a Scandal. (Judi Dench plays the role with such authority in the movie she was nominated for an Academy Award.)
Not so Barbara's fellow teacher, subsequent friend, and finally tragic victim, Sheba Hart. (These symbolic names!) Sheba finds the same 15 year-old boy alluringly fresh and clean. She proceeds to have sex with him.
As readers, we ally ourselves most uncomfortably with Barbara, sublimely unaware of her existence as a sexual being. Which is worse for a teacher, the novel asks: to hate students or to desire them? As adult readers in higher education, does the question get more comfortable for us since the students are older, and therefore have more agency? (Such agency is usually the case in academic novels, ranging from J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.) Or does Heller's narrative pose the question of sex with students -- any students -- so bluntly that our official mandates against it seem evasive, joyless, and disingenuous?
Interestingly, Barbara will have none of "any sentimental notion about the innocence of everyone under the arbitrarily age bar of 16 years." Although she has no quarrel with the law, she maintains that students who become involved with their teachers "possess some instinct, some natural talent for sexual power play," and in this case she supposes that the boy actually wielded more power than his teacher. Usually such wisdom is dramatized rather than argued in academic novels where students and teachers have sex. Notes on a Scandal sits rather oddly alongside these novels, because simply the fact that it is set in a secondary school makes a college setting appear more adult.
Furthermore, the student-teacher sex in a college setting appears more, if not consensual, at least less in need of "sentimental notions," either about the innocence of students or the mysteries of sex. Sheba herself is married to a former professor. "But you were 20!" he exclaims, after she attempts to ally the affair the two of them once had with the one she has been having now. No further argument. Compared to 15, 20 seems a lot older. Notes on a Scandal makes us realize that the narratives of academic novels where the "innocent" is 20 are strangely implicated in quite other narratives where the same student is in fact 15, or younger.
Have the explicit sexual harassment rules and sexual conduct codes of recent years in higher education come about at least in part because of their incomparably less elaboration in secondary education? Probably not. And yet, in fictional terms, we know far less about what is going on between students and teachers in high school than we do between them in college. Heller's narrative is cleverly situated, looking down to a period of life when students are presumed to be "innocent" and when sex by an adult with them is a criminal offense, while at the same time glancing up to the next period of life when students are not so innocent and when, legally, they are adults.
Why in the first place is Sheba married to her former professor? So that Heller can include a bit of mockery derived from the behavior of his friends, most of whom, according to Barbara, are "academic types ... all terrified at the thought of being 'cheesy' or insensitive.... Even if they told you that your dress was nice, they put it in quotation marks in case you took offense and slapped their aces." We poor academics! We have been so careful during the past decade or two not to get our faces slapped! (We males, that is. Barbara speculates on how different the public reception of Sheba's affair would have been had she been a man and the boy a girl. "In the end, I suspect, being female will do nothing for Sheba, except deny her the grandeur of genuine villainy.") Result: our sexuality -- at least on the evidence of fiction -- gets displaced onto students, where in the end we only get variously slapped anew.
Notes on a Scandal is set in an England no different in its sexual mores or gender dispensations than the United States. How different in other countries! I chanced to read the novel while teaching in Spain. One day a young Spanish colleague wore a particularly attractive dress. "Maybe I can say that's a nice dress,"? I hazarded. "But you know that if you were an American woman I'd be afraid you might accuse me of sexual harassment." She laughed. "You don't have to worry about that here. Have you ever heard of piropeando?" I hadn't. It seems the male practice of "throwing compliments" extends from mild remarks on dress to more emphatic catcalls. To this woman, and to many Spanish women to this day, the practice is not pejorative.
Back home, we are only allowed quotation marks. And so it's no surprise that Notes on a Scandal can be understood as the latest in a stream of academic novels where an affair between student and teacher is at the center. The affair never comes to any good. Indeed, it's a scandal, each time. However, since Heller's narrative is set in secondary school, its difference from narratives set in college is that the scandal gets to be public, complete with vulgar television reporters and sensational newspaper headlines. We are, through Barbara, revolted. Trouble is, given her own severe sexual repression, on what clear basis can we distance ourselves from the scandal?
Academic novels don't put the question this way. And yet if we read these novels from the perspective of Heller's we can understand why: There abides in them the presumption that sex between students and teachers is exciting, transgressive, liberating. Of course this is why it must ultimately be punished. But first the sex can be explored, and not only through irony. (For an irony-only example, see Francine Prose's novel, Blue Angel.) Heller, on the other hand, can't really explore the sex between the boy and Sheba. (Mediated through Barbara in the novel, not mediated through her in the movie.) So Heller becomes finally complicitous with her narrator.
That is, the sex between student and teacher in Notes on a Scandal is too scandalous -- which is almost the same as being left with no other position than the following one: sex itself is scandalous. This would be Barbara's position. We can't see around her enough to be able to form another, although we certainly can see through her enough to be able to understand the sexual repression that drives Barbara into her own "sentimental" relation with Sheba. And if we insist upon having another view of sex? In the novel, we have only one alternative space available: the quotation marks of Sheba's husband and his friends.
These, in turn, have one especially ironic consequence, which the setting of academic novels explores in more detail: the sex between students and teachers may in fact be caused by the very codes that aim to police it! Far from being a imperious, irrational force, these codes comprehend sex as a negotiable, rational behavior. The excitement of sex? It has to transpire exclusively within legal boundaries. The power of sex? It must be equal, and take place only between- -- or among -- equals. Never mind that to much of the rest of the world such notions about sex are fatuous. (How many other countries have produced even a handful of novels about affairs between students and teachers?) These notions are what our own social and political sexual history has given to us.
Sheba's affair is a product of this history, especially, I would argue, its development within the academic culture whose end result is the quotation marks of her husband and his friends. The novel never clarifies such an explanation. But it suggests it (and is arguably more provocative for only doing so). The foundation of Sheba's affair has to do with something that threatens to burn quotation marks away: passion. Compare when at one point Sheba tells of one of her husband's colleagues -- from Finland -- who once made a "fairly unambiguous" pass at her. At her failure to respond, the man becomes nasty and accuses Sheba of being a "tease." How well feminism has taught us to know this male ruse! As Heller writes, it was "as if he begrudged her for having the power to attract him."
I take the author rather than her narrator to be making the point because the narrator is blind to the possibility of her own placement (later made manifest) in this same dynamic. In any case, we're not blind. We know all about the ruses of sexual power -- including how women act to efface the ruses as well as how men act to condemn them. We know it's better to hate students than to desire them if the choice comes to that, although we have the considerable resources of our irony to forestall such a painful choice. Indeed, we know everything about sexual power -- “ours as well as theirs -- except, well, its power, which is of course the very thing that Notes on a Scandal is all about.
No male, Finnish, or academic nonsense about Sheba's 15-year-old, who is in thrall with his own sexuality and feels no need to be apologetic about it. He was, Barbara reports Sheba as maintaining, "either too young or too obtuse to appreciate the outrageous of his ambition." Moreover, she continues, "he didn't tie himself in rhetorical knots trying to be equal to her beauty. When he looked at her, it was as if he were gobbling her up," Barbara reports Sheba as adding "like a peach." We might ask: how dare he? Or: how dare she? But it seems to me we might also ask: how dare we ignore the human cost being exacted each time we ourselves look at our own students and, if we look with desire, reach instead for a rhetorical hot flannel?