WOMEN IN CUNY: THE NUMBERS TELL THE TALE

By Beatrice Kachuck, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center (emerita)

CLARION

MAY 2001

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Different pictures emerged from Councilwoman Helen Marshall’s April 10th hearing on the status of women in CUNY.  They varied with the source of the information.

Louise Mirrer, CUNY’s Executive Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs, testified that the University is comfortable for women, a place of “extraordinary hospitality to women scholars, truly exceptional in the United States.” In reply to Councilman Bill Perkins’s question on whether women are in lower level positions, Mirrer cited CUNY’s 643 women full professors, and said that a third of distinguished professors are women.

But CUNY’s Affirmative Action Summary Data of Fall 2000, consulted after the hearing, presents a different portrait for both faculty and staff. Volume I for Instructional Staff turns up a problem that Mirrer did not discuss: the higher the full-time faculty rank, the fewer the women. Women are actually 26 percent of distinguished professors, not one-third as Mirrer stated. They are 32 percent of full professors, 45 percent of associates, 51 percent of assistants, 57 percent of instructors and 53 percent of lecturers.

This pattern recalls 1983, when Judge Lee P. Gagliardi of United States District Court in Manhattan upheld the CUNY Women’s Coalition’s charge that the university discriminates against women in the instructional staff. This class-action suit was known as the Melani case, after lead plaintiff Professor Lilia Melani of Brooklyn College, and the size of the $7.5 million award was unprecedented in university discrimination litigation. Despite that cost plus the expense of fighting the suit for 10 years, the biased outcome of hiring, tenure and promotion persists.

Councilwoman Annette Robinson’s question on diversity elicited Vice-Chancellor Mirrer’s explanation that the research is holistic. But this does not mean that CUNY’s administration examines how identities of gender, race and ethnicity are intertwined. CUNY’s data keeps these categories separate: it counts females and males apart from seven ethnic categories—White, Black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Asian/Pacific Islander, Italian American, American Indian/Alaskan Native—and avoids the word “race” altogether.

But clues to the effect of intersecting identities can be found in CUNY’s data. Considering all those referred to by CUNY as  “minorities” together, the data reveal 15 percent distinguished, 23 percent full, 35 percent associate and 39 percent assistant professors; 43 percent are instructors and 56 percent are lecturers.

According to the Fall 2000 report, women are 44 percent of all faculty; minorities even less, 32 percent. The stratification in ranks for both groups applies university-wide, and spikes on some campuses.

It is evident whether they are full or part-time adjunct faculty, in the Dean and Administrator Series or College Presidents. The Chancellory group diverges from the pattern with 56 percent women and 44 percent minorities. However, policy-making functions vary considerably at this level. The chancellor and vice-chancellor for academic affairs may influence the policies that the trustees appoint them to implement; the other seven mainly see to compliance with laws and budget decisions.

A form of subranking surfaces in CUNY’s tiered college system and in employment full- or part-time faculty. More women are full-timers at community than at senior colleges (49 and 40 percent respectively). They are more apt to be adjuncts at the latter (54 percent) than at the former (45 percent). The magnitude of difference for minority full-timers in the two tiers is about the same as for women, 39 percent, in the lower and less, 31 percent, in the upper. As part-timers, the difference is smaller but in the same direction. As adjuncts minorities are 34 percent of the faculty in the lower tier campuses and 37 percent in the upper. The community colleges have only one distinguished professor, a non-minority male, and no visiting professors.

Women and minorities are more represented among non-faculty instructional staff. They are almost half of the top level of the Higher Education Officer series, 46 and 47 percent respectively; in the three lower ranks they comprise the majority, peaking at 69 and 68 percent respectively in the lowest. At the hearing, Emily Nammacher, retired last year from Lehman as Associate Director of Admissions, a job title in the series, testified that these employees are colleges’ workhorses and that women’s positions have deteriorated since 1990 at Lehman. In the College Lab Technician series, minorities are the majority in all levels university-wide. Evidently most are men; women peak at 31 percent of the lowest rank.

The data presented at the April 10 City Council hearing was thin on CUNY’s instructional staff. Completely undiscussed was the status of women among employees defined by CUNY as “classified staff”—clerical, secretarial and building workers, and so on. Students were also not discussed in much depth. CUNY’s written testimony defines women’s studies programs not only as majors and minors in a few colleges and a couple of courses in a few departments on a few campuses, but also as including token events during Women’s History month.

The April hearing was not well attended and few people testified, perhaps in part because it was scheduled during CUNY’s spring break. As a result, the City Council will hold a second hearing in June, at which a fuller picture of women in CUNY may emerge.

If you would like to attend or testify at the June City Council hearing on the status of women in CUNY, contact Councilwoman Helen Marshall’s office at 718-507-0813.