Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part I: Buffalo shuffling off women faculty

cowgirlhayoopsYou be the judge, and be sure to read the comments–the first one is from a SUNY Buffalo faculty member.  Here are the numbers for tenure and promotion at SUNY Buffalo, where according to Inside Higher Ed, Provost Satish Tripathi has tenured 90% of male candidates, but only 75% of female candidates from 2003-08:

[Sex bias] is not [restricted to] an isolated incident at Buffalo, according to a group of professors who recently studied campus data about tenure considerations spanning 2003 to 2008. They say their analysis, released in February, shows that the provost and president have favored awarding tenure to men at a higher rate than to women.

During the five-year period, 144 non-tenured assistant professors — 91 men and 53 women — were considered for tenured associate professor positions. Nearly a quarter of all female candidates were not promoted, in comparison with 10 percent of all males.

Of the 50 women who gained approval from the president’s review board, the provost then denied tenure to 9 (18 percent). In contrast, he denied tenure to 3 of the 76 men (4 percent) who had board approval. He also overturned the negative recommendations for 9 of the 15 men (60 percent) who had not been approved by the board, effectively granting them tenure. He did not do the same for any women. The president has never reversed the provost’s decision.

Got that?  He reversed positive  tenure decisions for women who had won tenure votes in their departments, colleges, and then from the president’s review board.  Conversely, he reversed negative decisions against male candidates!  Patriarchal equilibrium, much? This tracks exactly with comments from Nancy Hewitt published on this blog in one of my very first posts from January 2008:

[S]ex alone appears to correlate with being denied tenure, especially in the Dean’s or Provost’s office.  Hewitt related some recent tenure cases involving some of her former students.  The details varied, but all three women were denied tenure by administration higher-ups even after winning departmental support (and in two out of three cases, it was a unanimous vote by their departments.)  I’ve heard dispatches from the front that sound quite similar, and Squadratomagico has blogged about the same disturbing trend in her department’s recent tenure cases.  Hewitt followed up in further comments that “it seems clear that there is a growing backlash–especially at the dean’s and provost’s level–against women faculty and women’s history [or] women’s studies at many institutions.”   

Historiann has her own strange, sad experience with this phenomenon–but I’ve got to bale some hay right now so I’ll tell you all about that in Part II, tomorrow!  Stay tuned, kids–as they say, “same bat time, same bat channel!”

0 thoughts on “Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part I: Buffalo shuffling off women faculty

  1. But XY chromosomes make better scholars: the provost knows this, and knows better than departments, schools or even the President’s review board, who is good enough.

    This is SO depressing.


  2. Well, DUH Susan! The menz will always come out on top, because someone will always make sure that happens.

    And as you suggest, even leaving the issue of sex discrimination aside (as IF!), Buffalo faculty and other administrators have real reasons to worry about the value of faculty governance and departmental sovereignty with a guy like Tripathi overturning their decisions willy-nilly.

    If I were on the committees that had duly read candidates’ files, discussed them, and voted on them, I would be extremely angry that my work was summarily rendered irrelevant. What’s the point of taking T & P seriously, or of departmental Chairs and Deans taking their letters of recommendation or even annual reviews of faculty seriously, if all of that work gets chucked because Satish Tripathi says so?


  3. I have to admit that your latter comment is really important, Historiann. It’s not just about gender discrimination, but about faculty governance, and clearly strikes against faculty of both genders. But what I find really weird is the number of negatives overturned. I mean, in how many cases across the country are people turned down for tenure by their colleagues and immediate supervisors without good cause, I wonder? Perhaps it’s just my naivete, but I sort of thought that one of the reasons such decisions normally got overturned was when there was a suspicion that there was some sort of discrimination of personaity issue at a lower level.


  4. The “pipeline” is filled with women. But women are not making it to tenure. This is one example of why. Not good. Buffolo appears to have big problems with faculty governance.

    One thing though, both male and female administrators can behave this way. I know of several such situations where the female provost simply did what she pleased.

    Then there’s the female administrator that just overlooks egregious chauvinistic behavior and protects the offender. And the low level female bully who makes life hell for other women around her.


  5. Aurora–yes, patriarchal equilibrium is enforced by women and men alike, sadly. This is not a simple story of men against women. I’ve personally been afflicted by women administrators–come back tomorrow for a story about my own experience with T & P. It’s clear that both women and men collude in a system that privileges men over women. This was a harsh lesson I learned early in my career.

    And, ADM: it may be the case that Tripathi reasonably saw “discrimination of personality issue” in the negative votes he overturned. We can’t know what exactly was in the files he reviewed–I’m fully willing to presume that the men who were initially denied tenure by their departments or Deans were deserving people. But we can say that in the data set presented here, such extraordinary charity towards male tenure candidates was clearly not extended to women candidates.

    I agree with you (ADM) that disrespect for faculty governance and departmental sovereignty hurts both male and female faculty, but the effects of this cavalier disreguard are clearly unequal, as documented in the T & P stats presented above. Women are more disadvantaged than men–and indeed, Tripathi’s intervention clearly benefited a few men in particular (although I’m sure the departments that voted not to tenure them were displeased with the intervention.)


  6. We need more data. The women’s files would have to be compared against the men’s for publications, service, teaching. Are feminized contributions like service not counting as they should? Are women underpublishing relative to men because of the inordinate demands placed on them by family duties, by the feminization of service and concomitant casualization of feminized labor? Or are women’s publications being discounted disproportionately to those authored by men?

    The full complexity of the situation is doubtless even more appalling than what appears at first sight, patriarchal-equilibrium-wise. But in order to understand what’s going on here, we need those data. Straightforward prejudice – “they like tenuring men more than they like tenuring women” – is too easy to argue around.

    But it’s great that this work is being publicized, and I love that the feminist blogosphere is all over keeping this discussion vital.


  7. Moira, I think Buffalo needs to look at the data you suggest, but I don’t think we need to. Discrepancies in T & P rates are alarming enough and are dispositive of sex bias.

    All of the factors you mention can be blamed on individual women–she *chose* to get pregnant, she *chose* to do all of that service, etc. That’s how institutions continue to justify disparities of outcome: “Women are just making crazy-assed decisions about their careers! We can’t help it! We WANT to tenure more women, but they continue to behave irrationally! It’s not our fault!” When, in the end, it’s the outcomes that matter.

    I once had a job in which I was the fifth woman in that tenure line, and none of my predecessors had been tenured. I was told very logically and with great seriousness that every single woman before me had individual, specific reasons why she failed to win tenure or why she decided to resign because the university, or the job, or the location, etc. was just all wrong for her. There was clearly no sex bias in any of these women’s decisions to resign or in the decision not to tenure! Move along here, nothing to see.

    There are always B.S. “reasons” or “justifications” for individual cases. It’s the outcomes that matter.


  8. The bulk numbers show strong evidence of sex discrimination. However, when looking at the number of negative decisions which the provost reversed, another possible confounding factor did occur to me. I don’t know how the process works at Buffalo, but according to our faculty manual, your tenure review process is generally over, as soon as you receive a negative evaluation at one stage. Only if you file a request to continue, in spite of the negative recommendation, will your file go on to the next level. (If I recall correctly, practically nobody gets a negative decision reversed; indeed, many of the documents—apart from the official faculty manual—describing the tenure and promotion process imply that it is not possible to be tenured this way.)

    Under this system (and I should point out that I don’t know whether or not Buffalo operates this way), women may be more discouraged from continuing through the tenure and promotion process, in spite of a negative review. (And given the generally iniquitous treatment of the female faculty, such discouragement might be justified.) So the provost may never see the files of many women who are turned down at earlier stages in the process.

    Apart from this, however, I too am troubled by the large number of decisions being reversed at the upper levels. The power of the provost or president to unilaterally approve or disapprove tenure decisions seems like a pointless, Napoleonic holdover from a much earlier time. In fact, even the justification I was given at my new faculty orientation a few years ago for having tenure and promotion decisions reviewed at the university level was spectacularly unconvincing. In this case, I am not actually opposed to having a university-wide T&P committee. However, the criteria the committee was described as using seemed extremely poorly thought out. (From talking to committee members though, I believe the operation of the committee is actually better in practice than in principle.)


  9. I agree that outcomes matter, but *also* that we desperately need more data. Liz Lunbeck’s excellent 2005 report on women’s progress through the academic ranks (http://www.historians.org/GOVERNANCE/cwh/CWH-Report_5.20.05.pdf) suggests that there is a serious bottleneck for women in the historical profession at precisely the stage we are talking about — from assistant to associate. And things only get worse after that. I wonder if other disciplines have done similar studies, and who out there might be gathering all the results? AAUW? Anybody know?

    But, bottom line (it seems to me), we need much more data from other institutions like SUNY Buffalo to make the amplitude of this problem clearer, and we need to know when the women are getting lost, at which stage, and why. And then — no excuses!– we need to do what it takes to force governance to recognize that a “meritocratic” and “peer-reviewed” system that consistently returns unequal results for men and women is not o.k.


  10. Over at Shakesville, they discussed a recent study publicized in the Boston Globe in which women and minorities performing the exact same job in the exact same way as white men and were judged worse on service (so were the establishments in which they worked). The study authors found that women and minorities needed to perform 25% better in a job in order to be judged equal to a white male in the same position. (Here’s a PDF of the research paper, itself.)

    Patriarchal equilibrium for the win!


  11. I have to disagree with some of the commenters. We do not need more data.

    I’m with Historiann on the importance of outcomes. The outcomes are screaming so loud, more data is either 1) of academic interest (in the real sense), 2) a distraction, or 3) a delaying tactic for some people (not anyone here).

    There are always excuses for every individual case. Nobody ever discriminates. Nobody is prejudiced. The pattern only ever emerges *in the outcomes*.


  12. Sigh. It’s not news exactly, but encountering these stories again and again is still depressing. Thank you to the women faculty members who are fighting this. (I notice that the one woman is staying on using her grant money since she is not getting salaried right now — and that sucks, but it’s also worth noting that faculty in the STEM disciplines have that as an option whereas humanities faculty would be up-and-out, presumably not in a position to do a legal challenge.)

    That makes me wonder if the women being denied tenure are in specific disciplines or scattered across the university? Another pattern to think about.


  13. Janice and Ann–my apologies that your comments got held up in moderation. That baling took me 4 hours out in the warm-to-hot sun!

    Brett, your question is an interesting one, but I’ve never heard of that kind of a process (in which people who are turned down for tenure must appeal to have their case moved up the line.) Our cases all get the full treatment, whatever the decisions at any level, and I think that’s probably best for the institution and the candidates involved. As you say, it could be the case that men are encouraged to pursue an appeal. But as I understand it, the Provost was the first and only negative vote for many of the women’s cases–they had been approved and moved up the line in the process.

    Ann O’Nimes’s point is a good one, but I think one of the frustrations expressed about the 2005 report (expressed by Lunbeck herself at a plenary session we had at the Berks last year) was that the same reports with strikingly similar data and the same policy fixes were submitted the two previous times the AHA commissioned a study on the progress of women (in 1970 and in 1984). Lunbeck’s comment was “This is not a supply problem–we’ve had the supply for 25, 30 years. . . . We are stuck, we have been stuck at the same place for 25 years.”

    So, that’s why my appetite for data is pretty limited–I think that we know what the results are, and have been for 25-30 years! Notorious asks a good question about the progress from (I think she means) Associate to Full. That’s something that I think has been stalled too, although it seems like more people are looking into it.


  14. In my observation, overturning a tenure vote (positive or negative) above the level of the dean is quite rare, and it usually means someone, somewhere is gonna get sued. Tripathi is engaging in high-risk behavior, which makes me question his judgment on yet another level–beyond the one revealed by the gender bias in his decisions. Who hired this cowboy? (Apologies, Miss Historiann, if that use of the term “cowboy” is inappropriate.)


  15. Mamie–no apologies needed! There’s good guys and bad guys ridin’ this range. I agree with you about the high-risk behavior. One must wonder what his relationship is with the President–presumably the President knows about this now, if he didn’t in the past. Was he doing the President’s bidding? It seems unlikely that the President didn’t know what his First Mate was up to.

    (Sorry to mix the naval and the western metaphors here!)


  16. I get the frustration; why do more studies when all the data going back a generation say the same thing? Isn’t it just stalling?

    But here we are, the proverbial “choir” of people who read a feminist history blog and the people commenting here raise great questions:

    1) Is the pattern more intense in specific kinds of institutions (e.g. more in Research I’s vs. colleges)?
    2) Does it continue across Humanities and Social Sciences and Sciences? Professional schools? In equal proportions? Or are some disciplines “worse” in their records on this factor?
    3) How many women remove themselves from the tenure track before P&T committees ever see their files (a pattern bemoaned to me by sympathetic male senior faculty several times when I was on the job market)? I mean, the Buffalo data suggest that nearly twice as many men as women were up for review in the first place. While in history, at least, women in 2005 had a slight statistical advantage in landing the coveted tenure-track job. Perhaps that’s not true in most disciplines. But don’t we need to know?

    These data are not of merely academic interest. Because they will reveal how the oppressive patriarchal equilibrium disguises itself as “oh, really, her case was a special one.” And they will help the women involved navigate the shoals better and put their own experiences in perspective. And they may help those of us who play a role in making these systems fairer have better arguments to make our case. And they will SHAME some people and institutions. And shame can be a powerful thing.

    So, absolutely *outcomes* matter, but how do you work to remedy the problem if your only argument is “women should be tenured and rise to full in equal proportion to men”? The outcomes may “scream loud” as Quixote suggests, but what are they screaming for?


  17. The university that hired me for my first tenure-track job had a history of not reappointing women in the third-year review, but extending tenure decisions by three years for men. The person (male) who held the position before me was not tenured, nor the person (female) after me. I (female) wasn’t reappointed after my three-year review, though I had won an internal fellowship, an NEH fellowship, published two articles, and had a book contract. In the same year two male colleagues in the department were given tenure extensions because the books weren’t done. Another colleague told me that 12 of the 15 persons not offered reappointment in Arts and Sciences were female. Hopefully, a change in administration will tenure the good person now occupying that faculty line.

    I’m one of those women who has chosen to leave a dysfunctional department and a problematic administration of a regional comprehensive university. Before that I decided to leave I had decided not to stand for promotion to associate (though, in the weird way of the university, I achieved tenure). Beyond the abuse, it had become increasingly clear that I could not achieve my professional goals at this institution, and I was alarmed and saddened by some unethical behavior and cowardice by my colleagues. Women in the administration and the faculty are leaving in great numbers from the university, so I’ve given some thought to the changes in “administration think.”

    I am constantly dismayed in the negative decisions given without reason at the provost and president level. At the two universities at which I worked, no reasons were given for such decisions, and more often than not these decisions were in cases of women and persons of color. (At my first university, the dean actually gloated that no reason need be given–even as he had recommended my reappointment!) It’s plainly power.

    And an unstated definition of “team.” Given who I am (or, according to those in power, what I am), I can never be a member of that team. When I served on a college-level RPT committee, I was one of three women (of about 20 persons). My female colleagues and I, along with a foreign faculty member and person of color, were not-so-slowly segregated in the meeting room. A female colleague attempted to move around the table by placing her notes and gear at different places, only to return from getting coffee to find her materials moved to her “place.” Though several committee members had served for years, they had to be reminded again and again about what could and could not be asked or considered. And they couldn’t understand why, for example, historians revised their dissertations for their first books. These guys couldn’t really be bothered to think beyond their own departments/disciplines. But these are also the guys that apply to be union president or dean or provost.

    When the word got out that I had resigned, the responses of men and women were stark in contrast. More often than not, the women called me “brave” and said, after knowing how badly I had been treated for so long, “it’s about &^%$ time!” Men, on the other hand–even those who counseled me when I suffered attacks by colleagues–looked at me askance and said, nearly to a person, “Well, I know you’ve put a lot of thought into your decision.”

    Right. I’m an hysterical female, and I just flew off the handle. It’s as if I was criticizing their identity (as father, as brother, as male) rather than walking away from an abusive environment and bullies and five deans in 13 years. So easy, then, for them to say that I didn’t fit and resort comfortably to their sense of professional (masculine) self. Add to this that the only people who have left my former department have been only women, persons of color, and foreign-born persons, and what you have is a dismal record. But let me tell you I got into trouble for pointing that out.

    Sorry for the lengthy post–I tell stories rather than make points, and can be accused of using anecdote rather than fact. Then again, as an historian of women and of social and cultural history, what one group thinks of anecdotal is telling evidence for another.


  18. One of my favorite articles on the subtle ways that recommendation letters can differ for women and men: Exploring the Color of Glass: Letters of recommendation for female and male medical faculty (2003). F. Trix and C. Psenka. Discourse & Society. http://www.cwru.edu/president/aaction/Exploring%20the%20color%20of%20glass.pdf

    Thanks to lots of hard work (by a historian who shall remain nameless), my research U has had a “diversity” category added to our review forms for teaching, service and research. So you have an opportunity to list all the ways that you have helped to increase diversity at our land grant institution. It not only points to the often uncredited work that many female faculty do, it becomes an institutionalized category that you can point to as a University value.

    That said, I’ll also say that of all the people I’ve seen have problems at tenure, almost all have been women or people of color. Sure, lots of individual reasons, blah blah blah, but outcomes are what matter.


  19. Shaz–great points/ideas. I have observed differences in the tenure file evaluation letters written on behalf of women and men candidates.

    Ann O.: I like your point about shame. I wish it were more powerful more of the time! I think it’s quite easy for institutions to turn evidence of sex bias into individual failures on the part of tenure candiates, rather than looking at the sum total of the results of the process and deciding that they have a sex bias problem.

    I think you’re right that data is important locally, so that people in a given uni can target the specific problems or the specific places that women faculty are being hung up. After all, locally is where the action is on this front. In her presentation at the Berks on the 2005 AHA report, Liz Lunbeck said, “we know all the reasons” women lag in tenure and promotion rates–she listed the ususal suspects, then added that she thinks that “institutional cultures matter, and leadership matters.” At her uni, women are paid 101% of what men are paid–because a Dean there and department chairs make it so.

    A comment Lunbeck made that really stuck with me is “I’m struck by how we’ve been drawn in repeatedly [by a whig narrative of progress for women]. . . when the situation remains the same.” That might resonate with historymaven’s career and experiences.


  20. Pingback: Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part II: Historiann says, “Make my day.” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  21. At my university, the new provost said outright in her first departmental meeting that the College of Arts & Sciences *tenures too many faculty*, with the underlying hint that this would change on her watch. I found this comment stunning, since I was under the impression (clearly delusional) that universities wanted to tenure faculty they had mentored for 3 to 6 years. Was she saying that people who were not qualified had been tenured? Or just that it “looks bad” if the tenure rate is 90%. I wouldn’t be surprised if administrators applied some kind of half-assed “quota” system to tenure cases (only so many can be approved every year) and then it’s no surprise that women and people of color are the ones who don’t “make the cut,” regardless of the excellence of their files. And of course by what criteria would people be denied tenure? While it’s true that some faculty get into trouble and can’t finish their books, or make other kinds of mistakes (no book, bad teaching evals, little service) the vast majority (85%?) meet the requirements.

    Believe me, I’m not a litigious person – but here’s what I say all you tenure-track women out there – if you’re denied tenure after being approved by your department GET A LAWYER. If anybody denied tenure at SUNY Buffalo is reading this: GET A LAWYER. You have the data you need to prove systemic discrimination. (At my old uni there was a bitter tenure battle – female [need I say it?] faculty approved by department but denied by provost. She lawyered up, and they came to a “compromise” – ie she got an extension and they didn’t get sued. She got tenure the next year; I don’t know if she’s recovered yet from the bitterness of the experience.) I know the expense and psychological drain of a lawsuit isn’t something everyone can do, but consider it. The old white boys’ club is not going to throw open the doors spontaneously.

    Will I get tenure at my school w/ this new provost? Who knows. We’ll see how the 3rd year review goes (I have a book contract, so . . .)

    (I also agree with everyone who remarked on the governance crisis at universities. The idea that a provost or president would overturn a faculty decision made by faculty is outrageous and a sign of complete administrative failure.)


  22. Historiann — I never meant to imply that the decisions at Buffalo didn’t seem fishy as hell to me — just that I wondered about why so many decisions would have been overturned…


  23. Hey yall,

    I’m one of the Buffalo malcontents who are going after the administration on this, and I’m XY (hell, probably even XYY, or so my lawyer insists). If you’d like to look at the report we drew up, it’s available online at
    http://thebrodskyblog.com/. Look for “the struggle for gender equity at UB.”

    I appreciate the intelligence and solidarity of these comments. I’ve just written my union discussion list linking them to this one in order to shame them into some vocal solidarity.


  24. Howdy, Jim! Thanks for your comment, and for the link to the report. I wish you good luck in forcing UB to live up to American values like fair play and a square deal. And, thanks for your activism on this issue. (No, not special thanks because you’re XY, but thanks for all of your hard work, because I know what a pain in the butt committee work is even when it’s uncontroversial!)

    Feel free to send us updates or shoot us an e-mail on your progress.


  25. Reality check: Talking about objecting to “outcomes” as the basis for rejecting evaluation systems gets one nowhere in the world of the current Supreme Court (cf. the recently-decided New Haven fire-fighters case of Judge Sotomayor fame).

    What is compelling about the Buffalo cases, it seems to me, is precisely the fact that the top administration interferes with the processes — for men and against women. There is no reason why a provost should feel comfortable substituting his judgment for those of the department and university-level committees (other than for major fiscal crisis reasons, as provided for by AAUP principles, which are clearly not in play in these Buffalo cases).

    This leads me, for one, to suspect that things at Buffalo are, in fact, worse than they appear. That, indeed, back-door politics and horse-tradings are operative at all levels of the tenure-process as an “old boys’ network”, with a wink and a nod, presses the administration to retain its favored men and not the women. Indeed, some of these dealings may involve “faked” positive votes by these “power-brokers” when they serve on these tenure review committees, confident of their “in” with the administration to effect the decisions which they mutually agree upon.

    In fact, the “yes” votes are there at the lower levels precisely to stave off the charge of discrimination. The top administrators make and take the hit because, as more “removed” from the details, their decisions may be argued before the courts as “objective” and not “systemic” — especially since discrimination as “systemic” within an institution is very difficult to prove to any Federal court’s satisfaction.

    These sorts of decisions by top-level administrators will likely be argued in the courts as the simple exercise of the “academic freedom of the university” — with which the courts are less likely to interfere. And recall, too, that since the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, any public employee may be discharged for virtually any “management of the state” reason at all.

    No, Buffalo’s “administration end-game” is shrewd — and I would say that it is intricately-conceived on many levels (even to the point of having a high-placed female administrator to “shield” the top-level male power elite).

    Yes, women can resort to the courts but, for all of the reasons outlined herein, it will become increasingly difficult for women to prevail there. It is becoming, therefore, more and more important for women (and minorities and those with diabilities) who have experienced discrimination to have the Fourth Estate shaming the perpetrators of these acts — and for faculty to do what those brave ad hoc committee members at Buffalo are doing: Standing up and saying “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more” (with thanks to Paddy Chayefsky).


  26. It’s disgraceful that our tax dollars go to publicly supported state universities in which gender equity runs ruampant. Many legal actions have been brought forth, but this does not seem to deter them. The University at Buffalo suffers from the illusion that they don’t have a gender gap. They do, have studied it, admitted to it and then tried to correct it, and then admitted that they failed!
    The courageous ad hoc committee, which had as many men as women beating this drum, is not giving up. I applaud and support them. UB should be placed on a list of female unfriendly institutions of higher learning. The only place they are “higher” is on that list. Way up at the top.


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