Women in Catholic higher ed: do we exist yet?

Mary, Please

Historiann friend and commenter Rad Readr passed along this obituary for Mary Daly, which puts her academic career and struggles at Boston College front and center.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Daly and the remarkably brave stands she took in her career as a feminist theologian at a Jesuit college, especially as a feminist who although not Catholic has taught at two different Catholic universities in my (still relatively brief) career. 

As this article suggests, women at Catholic institutions still struggle for tenure and to make their mark on these schools.  The linked article reports that at DePaul University this year, seven out of 33 tenure applicants were denied, and of those seven, five were women, including (for example) a women’s studies professor who was asked by the tenure review board how many men enrolled in her classes.  This is eerily significant, especially since Daly’s “retirement” was precipiated by a final showdown with BC over her policy of refusing to admit male students to her classes.  (H/t to Fannie of Fannie’s Room for sending the DePaul article on to me.)  The gender breakdown is pretty stark when you look at who was tenured at DePaul:  16 of 18 male applicants were successful (88.9%), whereas only 10 out of 15 women applicants won tenure (or 66.7%).

I haven’t written about my experiences at Catholic universities before, because my research right now focuses on a Catholic religieuse in the eighteenth century, and I’m loathe to give voice to anything that might be interpreted as breathing life into anti-Catholic stereotypes, especially since I’m not a Catholic myself.  Part of my first book and recently published work is an exploration of English and Anglo-American anti-Catholicism in the eighteenth century, which was not just rhetorically vicious but sometimes literally murderous.  I’ve come to really admire the early modern version of the institution because of the different roles and opportunities it preserved for women in Catholic countries.  Also, I think the traditionally protestant and male-centered Anglophone history of education has systematically left out the vital importance of Ursulines and other Catholic women religious in the history of the education of girls and women–but I digress.  

Because I’ve taught at two different Catholic institutions of higher education for a total of 5 years–although neither of them were Jesuit, they were founded by or closely associated with men’s religious orders (Paulists and Marianists)–Daly’s struggles at BC resonate with me, and I wonder if they resonate with some of you who were or currently are affiliated with Catholic schools.  I’ve had my struggles as a woman and as a feminist at both private Catholic and secular public institutions, and in fact, at my last Catholic employer, the priests (and one nun) I worked with were the most reasonable, open, fun, and intellectually lively people I knew there.  (As it happened, the people who were hassling me were mostly secular protestants who were unhappy in their work and resentful of the Catholic identity of our employer.)  So, I don’t want to suggest that Catholicism necessarily equals antifeminism or antiwomanism–it’s clearly not that simple at all. 

But, when I went to teach at a Catholic university, it was the first time in my life where I felt invisible, marginal, or just beside the point as a woman.  On a fundamental level, I got the feeling that I didn’t really exist in the Church’s world of male clergy and masculine hierarchies.  It was strange, because as a young secular feminist from a protestant background in the mid-1990s, I had always conceived of patriarchy as something that men do to women (for the most part, although my own work investigated how patriarchy was something that everyone does to everyone else, although it results in different outcomes.)  That is, I thought that sex discrimination was an intentional effort by one person (or an institution) to interfere with another.  But, working at a Catholic university, I understood that there was another way that patriarchy works, and that was as a system that ignored or denied the existence of women.  It’s hard to explain specifically how this worked–although I suspect that if you’ve ever had the experience of being a minority amidst a large working majority who has most of the power, you might be able to relate.  (Just one small example:  the “women’s room” in my academic department still had a urinal installed in it, although the university had been coeducational since the 1920s.) 

At the second Catholic university I taught at, which was also coeducational since the 1920s, my office was in a new building, so the women’s room didn’t have 70+ year old vestigial urinals in them.  But, there was an emphasis on obedience and deference there that I’ve never felt anywhere else–I should say too that everyone was expected to obey and defer, not just women, but since women occupied none of the higher administrative positions in the university, well–you can guess how that worked, with women clumped in the lower ranks as contingent faculty or Assistant Professors.  The few senior women faculty were isolated from one another, and were even hostile to each other.  For a university that rhetorically compared itself to a family or a close-knit community with shared values, that wasn’t my experience of the place.  Everyone in my department–men and women–had been damaged by the tenure process and by each other, so they were fearful and protective of themselves, and unable to be generous to others.  (There were a few exceptions, for which I was grateful, but it wasn’t enough.)  

In an echo of BC’s and the DePaul tenure board’s deep concern that male students weren’t being served by feminist faculty, I was told that my service on the Women’s Caucus, to the nascent Women’s Center, and to the Women’s and Gender Studies Program there wasn’t regarded by my colleagues as “legitimate” service to the university, but rather as “self-service.”  That is, although I was hired as the American women’s historian, it wasn’t enough for me to focus my service work on women’s groups or issues.  What I thought was a reasonable way of managing my service load by engaging in activities that supported my intellectual and pedagogical agenda was read as self-serving.  Mind you–none of my activities were gender-exclusive, and we never chased away men.  But my service was concentrated in activities that were called “women’s” this or “gender” that.  (If it wasn’t all about teh menz, it was necessarily suspect, as at DePaul and BC, I guess.)  I learned there to be wary of that rhetoric of family and community–it’s usually only hauled out when the administration wants to extract more unpaid labor from its employees, but if you’re a student who has been raped by another student, or if you’re a junior faculty member whose career is in jeopardy–well, so much for relying on your “family.”  Some members of the “family” were there to serve, others to be served, and that was a rigidly gendered distinction. 

So, in the end, that’s why I appreciate Daly’s career.  Hers was a lifelong struggle to make the point to the Church and its hierarchy and institutions that women exist, not as imperfect men, not as problems to be managed, or as people who should always step aside to serve men.  I see her decision to keep male students out of her classes (although she offered to tutor them individually) as her protest against the invisibility and marginality of women in the Church and in Church institutions.  Ultimately, as the linked obituary says, she gave up on the Church, but she kept up her struggle for the visibility and importance of women at BC. 

Finally, a little fun:  Liz Phair’s song “6’1″” came up in a thread at Clio Bluestocking’s place recently, suggested by Notorious Girl, Ph.D.  Here’s another song by Phair I used to scream at the top of my lungs in my car on my commute to and from my previous university.  It’s called “Help me Mary,” also from Exile in Guyville (1994).  It was originally written about a bad roommate and her horrible friends, but I thought it said a lot about my department and work situation at the time.  (“I practice all my moves, I memorize their stupid rules/I make myself their friend, I show them just how far I can bend.”  The song ends with a plea that her disgust for her antagonists turns to “fame/And watch how fast they run to the flame.”) 

What are your experiences at Catholic universities, or other sectarian schools?  Do you exist yet?

0 thoughts on “Women in Catholic higher ed: do we exist yet?

  1. I adjuncted at a Jesuit uni, and was always surprised that there was a very vocal GLBT student group and that there were some very vocal and well-respected feminist medievalist faculty (and actually, all of the women faculty I knew were outspoken feminists). There was definitely dysfunction at the Dean and upper admin level, but I never got the feeling from my FT colleagues that it was anything different to what administrative asshattery is at secular institutions. It’s certainly nothing like the feeling I got from talking to friends who have taught at non-Jesuit Catholic campuses. Hmmm … I sometimes wonder if part of it is the structure of the Jesuit order compared to other orders and another part down to the reputation of the Jesuits for managing to remain very orthodox while also intellectually demanding?

    I sometimes do research at the closest Jesuit uni to me here in Dabbaville — the only large research uni willing to let me use their library for a relatively small fee — and I have a feeling that it is a bit more of a toe-the-line kind of place, but even there, there are un-defaced, and yet worn, STD and family planning line stickers up in the women’s rooms. Some of those are on-campus services, some not, but it seems that they do have fairly comprehensive health services for women. So … i dunno.


  2. ADM–interesting points about the ways in which different orders surely influence their campuses. I wonder if some Jesuit campuses are freer to indulge anti-Orthodoxy because Jesuit schools tend to be at or near the top of the prestige hierarchy? (That is, I wonder if status has something to do with this as well.)


  3. I adjunct at a Catholic university and I don’t experience any of what you’re talking about. There are women in upper admin positions, although there are more men at that level. I don’t think the imbalance is out of the ordinary, though. I only teach intro courses, so I don’t know what it would be like to do feminist work here while trying to get tenure. I suspect the environment is not inhospitable. This is the kind of place where they’ve set aside a designated space for muslim prayer in a main administration building.

    One can usually determine how open/not open a Catholic institution is based on whether they’ll hire a non-Catholic in the religion or theology department. That means any Catholic institution that would hire me, as a protestant, to teach theology is probably at the more open end of the spectrum. And I think that openness extends to areas like accepting and acknowledging women. The place I work hired me but there is another Catholic uni within an hour that will not hire non-Catholics in the department of theology. I suspect it’s a less friendly place.

    I think that’s true in general, actually. Church related schools that hire an interdenominational religion faculty without requiring adherence to a statement of faith are probably more hospitable across the board.


  4. Anastasia–good points. However, I should note: one of my universities was more officially orthodox–it grants degrees in Canon Law, so I don’t think there’s anything but Catholicism going on in Religious Studies. The other university I taught at hired Protestants and taught religions other than Catholicism in Religious Studies.

    I agree with you that those things can be telling, but in my experience it didn’t make a decisive difference. There were same weird fears, at coeducational institutions, that we have to be sure to be serving the men men men, and that serving women students wasn’t enough.


  5. I’m not at a Catholic institution, but I have two good friends who are at Catholic SLACs affiliated with female orders, and it’s my impression that what my friends (both female) experience in their jobs (where most administrators – and esp. high-level administrators are women) is very different from what you described as your experience. I’m not sure that women are so invisible in “The Church” in all contexts, I guess, or that all women experience the Church (whether as students or as professors) as alienating to women or as silencing women. Though perhaps that’s because I was educated K-8 in a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame?


  6. Dr. Crazy–of course you’re right. As I indicated in the paragraph about my own work, I see women’s orders as spaces of resistance to the schools and universities run by men’s orders, and think their history has been overlooked. But most Catholic colleges and unis in this country are run by men–as were the two I worked at.


  7. H – I did notice that paragraph about your work. I just thought it would be useful to note that this isn’t just a historically significant phenomenon but a (limited) contemporary one as well. I do take your point, however, that most Catholic institutions are male-affiliated/oriented.


  8. Here in Canada, we don’t tend to have separate religious foundations but colleges within universities that are religious. So my university has three religious colleges within the institution: one Anglican, one United Church and one Catholic. They are fiercely protective of the independence that they have under the agreement that created the university and I’ve watched as, in the last ten years, the Catholic college has become more demanding of doctrinal conformity in those aspects that it can govern.

    That said, I have a relative who taught at an evangelically-denominated institution in the states. Let’s just say that biology as an academic discipline and anti-evolution rhetoric from the church figures don’t make for a healthy mix whereas at least the Catholic hierarchy has come out in support of teaching and believing in evolution.


  9. My first job was at a Catholic (Franciscan) school and my experience there was very much along the lines of what Historiann described, or perhaps worse. I was given large classes, and ignored when I requested the occasional seminar. I was asked to bring baked goods to meetings (I don’t bake). When I complained male faculty asked if I was having my period (funny!). And when I finally escaped to a much better (and secular) job one male faculty member said I got it “because I was a girl.” I should say, for context, that just prior to my hiring a bunch of faculty (including tenured faculty) were fired because of “financial exigency.” The perception was that only older men were fired to avoid lawsuits, so the hostility towards me was heightened. A group of these fired men filed their own lawsuit saying the university had discriminated against them. The school settled out of court and the very few women there became targets of hate. I came close to leaving academia as a result of this, and am so grateful for the terrific job I have now. Clearly, the fact that the university was Catholic wasn’t the only factor involved–but their mishandling of the initially firing and resulting male backlash did (I think) reflect a lack of respect for women. That said, the nuns I met there were some of the most wonderful women I’ve encountered–brave, smart and challenging.


  10. I spent a considerable amount of time at Prestigious Catholic University as a student. Since it was a basic requirement that the president of the university to be a priest from the founding religious order, the ultimate opportunities for women in the administration were always already curbed.

    But let me tell you, if you think being a woman is tough at a Catholic university, trying being openly gay (and I would imagine being openly lesbian must be akin to torture).


  11. @gayprof – try being a woman and a lesbian …

    I withdrew my candidacy for a position at a Catholic institution after the head of the hiring committee, a woman, insinuated that she would vote against me b/c of my “liberal views” on feminism, politics, sexuality, and the priesthood. She felt that I would set back women’s rights on the campus by “proving the pt” that feminism was baaaadddd & made u a lesbian. I can’t say what she went through as a woman working there (where most of the admin were men, and more than half the faculty were as well) but I do not think it excuses her internalizing-turned-externalizing sexism or her homophobia & I wondered abt what that meant for the colleagues around her. (meaning, what kinds of sexism had she experienced to join in on the policing in the name of extending women’s rights on campus)

    Perhaps it is b/c I am Catholic, but I did not find the Priests I interacted with there to be the problem, the lay folks seemed much more invested perhaps b/c they felt less legitimated by a system in which priesthood was ranked at the top.


  12. Widgeon: I’m sorry you had such a bad first job. The context of the massacre that preceded you is important, but the expectations of you (baking, PMS, etc.) were ridiculous (and yes, sadly familiar sounding to me.)

    Institutionalized sexism is a problem at public, secular unis too, but in my experience, people at secular institutions are cannier about how to talk to people. Whereas at Catholic institutions affiliated with a male religious order, there’s just a lot of aggressive cluelessness about what’s acceptable in the modern workplace. So people will do things like expect you to bake muffins, ask you if you have PMS, or give you unasked for marital advice when you inform them you’ve won a major fellowship.

    Here’s another example: when I worked at the second Catholic uni, after 1 year there I cut my hair from a chin-length do to a short-short cut. (Think Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby–like that.) An extremely clueless and stupid man in the Philosophy department saw me one day and said, “You cut your hair!” in a tone like you might use when you say to someone, “You cut your arm off!” I said, yes, I got a hair cut. He then asked, “What does this MEAN??” Uhhhhh. . . it means, I GOT A HAIRCUT. What did he think I would say? I’m starting my noviciate? I’m leaving my husband and turning gay? To be a young woman in that environment was to be the object of constant scrutiny and speculation.

    GayProf: I had zero out gay colleagues at either institution, but of course worked with a lot of gay men. (Of course, they all had collars!) Susurro, I can’t tell you how familiar that conversation with a senior woman sounds to me. A senior woman who mentored a friend of mine sounds exactly like that. She actually said one day, “I’m being so hard on you because that’s what the men will do. We both know you’re going to be held to a higher standard, and I want you to succeed.” Yeah: no thought given to ensuring that standards were fair, just work work work and be who we want you to be so that you can “succeed.”

    And, Janice: I had no idea that there were any sectarian schools in Canada (outside of Quebec, that is.) Interesting–I think the trend you’re seeing is happening at many (but not all) American Catholic unis. It’s the way the Vatican has been pulling Catholicism for the past 30 years. I think most of the hierarchy would like to reverse just about everything about Vatican II.


  13. Is it possible the Catholic institution tends to pull the university towards a male-dominated/conservative agenda even while individuals resist to pull in the opposite direction? Versus at a secular university, you could infer education and innovation might pull the university to a more diverse place and yet can still have a significant clog of individuals in power who might resist and pull towards male-dominated/conservative. I think there’s definitely an effect that the institution has on the university, but I’m not sure the end result is any different from any other university. I suspect the few extreme-protestant universities would be the worst because there would be no balance with individuals and institution both pulling for patriarchy.

    Historiann, were those two Catholic institutions the first two you taught at? I’m curious if all your anecdotes are due purely to the culture at those places, or if it might be influenced by who you were at the time (young and a woman) and therefore repeatable at secular institutions as well, where likely similar levels of sexism occur, though perhaps in different ways.


  14. Of restroom reliquary: at my secular public institution, I don’t and can’t know what relics or vestiges there may be in the women’s rooms. But with an old public school building, we have requisite vestiges such as clangy, paint-chipped lockers, terminally-yellowed linoleum floors, and two-inch thick blondwood restroom doors with guilded lettering that says “Girls” and “Boys.” The former is modified by a plastic sign high above that says “women.” The latter is unmodified. So I guess teh menz are either slacking off on upholding the privilege or maybe just kicking back and enjoying the infantilization part. Infantilization is what I’ve always thought it was about. We also have no elevators, so if a seriously mobility-impaired person wheeled hirself into the interview tent at the AHA, it would be… interesting, to say the least. Gender troubles, yeah we have some. We’ve had sustained runs of hiring swinging in both directions during the past generation, but the overall ratchet is toward what might be called the 1950s look. And when somebody came across as too assertive (not to mention too well-published) on a phone interview for a one-semester replacement gig, she was labeled “crazy” by a member of the committee. Alas.


  15. Kinda-sorta tangentially, do people feel these things happen more often or less often at Jesuit places than at schools under the aegis of other male Catholic religious orders? All of this is way out of my realm of experience, but a number of my Catholic friends have (rather affectionately) remarked that Jesuits are, as they put it, “one step removed from atheists” in comparison to other orders. I gather that, at least for people who have been socialized to Catholic educational institutions, Jesuits seem progressive, intellectually open, and non-misogynistic in a way that no one has ever described to me another male religious order. What do you who have experienced these places first-hand think?


  16. FrauTech: good questions. I think you’re right that youth and inexperience as well as sex had a lot to do with my impressions of my work environment. For example: at the first Catholic university, I was always asked if I were a graduate student. At the second Catholic uni, I was asked if I were a secretary. That never happened to me after I came to my current job, when I was in my early 30s. I’m no longer in my early 30s, which is part of the reason I think those questions stopped, but not the only reason.

    The Catholic institutions I taught at were not my first or only teaching experience. I TA’d at my graduate (private, secular, elite) institution for 2-1/2 years, teaching 3 sections of 20 students each per week. Then in-between the Catholic institutions, I taught for one semester full time at a “Seven Sisters” college, which was very much like but not identical to my undergraduate college (in that it too was one of the 7 sisters that’s still all women.) So, my teaching experience was pretty extensive and varied by the time I started my first tenure-track job (at the second Catholic institution).

    Prof. Koshary–I’ve never taught at a Jesuit institution. I was hoping I’d hear from people who are affiliated with Catholic institutions in this thread–if you’re out there, please speak up!


  17. The worst sexism I have experienced in school/work was at a school with Protestant roots, and at my current one, which is not religious but is in a very Catholic area with a lot of local Catholic men in charge. No problems being a _student_ at Catholic schools but I think it’s different when you’re a student; also these particular Catholic schools were really good Jesuit schools in enormous, sophisticated cities in Latin America, so they weren’t provincial at all or insular, which always helps.

    Personally I find all Christianity and Christians quite sexist, no matter what the sect, and I am grateful to be secular, me.


  18. I’m a woman who had a 1-year position at a Jesuit university 2 years ago. I liked it a lot — possibly because it was private, not public. But the Jesuits had lots of money for nice things like wine receptions for new faculty. That school treated me well, never asked anything about religion, and I felt welcomed and accepted. However, note that I was not trying to negotiate the tenure and promotion process there. I knew it was for only 1 year and so didn’t spend a lot of time trying to form connections. I confess to a bias against overtly religious schools, but I personally make an exception for Jesuits, because I feel like they value scholarship and critical thinking. Of course, I did leave and now am employed at a public university.


  19. My first job was a temporary gig at an evangelical school in the Bible belt.

    (….pause for laughter from those who know me….)

    It was, in brief, a Very Bad Fit. At the time I mostly chalked up my alienation to cultural and religious and conservative-political factors, but it’s true that the administration there was extremely powerful (very little faculty input on governance) and all male. And my male department head was just a total dick in every possible way. I still recall the *amazing* prayers with which we began every all-faculty meeting. Wow.

    When I got my position at OPU, I couldn’t believe my good luck! The place certainly has it’s down sides, but over all I’ve enjoyed working here. I seldom think about That Place… makes me feel lucky all over again to do so now.


  20. I’ve never taught at a Catholic institution, but I’ve known both women and men religious who were affiliated with educational institutions. And anyone who I know well is likely to be on the liberal end of the spectrum, but I had a very clear sense that the culture of the *community* running the university mattered a lot. If the community was open, the odds are that the university is. I’m always intrigued at how universities manage “catholic” values/principles.

    Also — one of the funny things that has happened is the expansion in hte number of evangelicals who go to Catholic colleges because they are religious. I suspect that shapes student culture a lot.


  21. I’ve logged a total of 9 years teaching, in one capacity or another, at three different Catholic institutions. IMHO, sexism is more prevalent at Catholic institutions than at others, naturally flowing from a narrower (i.e., less progressive) social viewpoint. (My most recent Catholic institution did not even have a maternity leave policy!) But I think we are talking about differences of degree rather than kind.

    In my experience, sexism exists at Catholic universities as a more extreme version of a general marginalization of what the president at my last institution, in his usual Nero-esque manner, referred to simply as “the help”–i.e., everyone who works to further the lifestyles of those who own/run such institutions. I lost count of the number of meetings I’d been in where decent and competent professionals chose not to speak up and propose and idea or challenge a policy for fear of upsetting Father or Sister. And in this the Catholic university is often simply a product of the larger institution of the Church; its members, fearful of reprisals, are often deferential to the point of creating institutional ossification.

    As others have noted, the relative strength of the individual university, as well as the ethos of the particular order that founded/governs a given uni, matters greatly in shaping the institutional culture. The well-known national Catholic universities are such big dogs on the Catholic porch that they can afford to think and act like some some of their secular counterparts (much to the horror of Rome). In truth, they could sever their Catholic ties and still sail with a good wind. The smaller, more regional, less financially secure institutions tend to be more concerned with the “brand” of the small Catholic college, and thus tend to assume a rather defensive (in its own way offensive!) position on any number of issues, looking wearily at those who might enter the community (or the family, as it were) for fear that they might upset the delicate imbalance of power within the college walls

    Sorry I’m late, Historiann. Syllabi needed work, and a room needed painting. But thanks for the post. I’ll retire tonight with happy memories of great dinners and terrific conversations from not so long ago….


  22. Thanks, everyone, for your further thoughts. I’m very glad to hear from you, Harry–I hope everything is going well at your happy home. I think you’re right: there may be differences of degree rather than kind. But I (unfortunately) totally hear what you’re saying about the obedience culture you’ve observed. People at my secular public uni–in my experience–seem to be much more willing to let it all hang out and say what they really think. (This is not always good, but I think it’s better than the automatic deference and obedience.)

    I’m totally surprised to hear that Squadrato used to teach at an evangelical college! I don’t know you at all outside of blogs, but I have a hard time picturing you holding hands and praying at the start of a faculty meeting. (Many of us may send silent prayers heavenward for a brief meeting, but I’ve never seen a prayer in a faculty work situation, even at my Catholic unis.) As Prof. Zero suggested–it may be the sectarian nature of these unis and not the particular confesssion or denomination that matters so much. (Except Quaker colleges, which are orthodox groovy, for the most part.)

    The particular orders involved have a great deal to do with setting the tone, as Susan suggested. I thought Harry’s description of the Big Dogs was funny–maybe true in the case of a few, but I don’t see Notre Dame going off the porch any time soon. And BC is really roped in with the Boston archdiocese, right?)

    Maggie, I’m glad you didn’t share any of my experiences, but as you say (and as someone else upthread suggested), you might not have seen the entire picture b/c you were not on the tenure track. Still–good to hear those Jesuits are up for a lively exchange.


  23. Prof Koshary – I was going to make the same point about Jesuits. Not to suggest that their institutions may not be sexist, only that the Catholic Church is not a monolithic entity as sometimes we imagine it. The folks running the Vatican these days are very conservative, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of all members of the global Catholic church. Jesuits and Franciscans in particular have participated avidly in social justice movements to help the poor and marginalized, and are often viewed, as Prof K. viewed by more conservative Catholics as basically atheists. My only point is that there isn’t really “one” Catholicism. That said, I do believe that the hyper intense homosociality of the Church and the religious orders in particular often (usually? always?) create a climate where women are marginalized in specific ways. I think this is especially true these days as female religious orders are shrinking and being increasingly silenced by the PTB at St Peter’s.

    I have friends that teach at Jesuit schools and I’ve never heard them complain or express worry about their tenure and promotion prospects. Is this an issue at Georgetown, for example? Sadly, the statistics that Historiann cited are not far off other, secular institutions – like the infamous SUNY Buffalo situation we were talking about months ago (if I had the technological know-how I would create a link). But again, I am not surprised in the least to hear about patterns of discrimination and inappropriate behavior at religiously-affiliated institutions of all stripes. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if women at Catholic institutions fared better if they were “good girls” – ie married and producing children, rather than single and childless, let alone queer. As Historiann noted, all the gay men I know at Catholic schools are wearing a collar.)


  24. As a non-Catholic, I have learned that Catholic colleges vary widely depending on whether is owned by the diocese or a particular order and even the disposition of the presiding bishop.

    I taught, was tenured, and served as dept. chair at a Catholic women’s college owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. It was the best teaching experience of my life. I would have stayed there but I was finally able to secure a job that ended 15 years of a commuting marriage.

    The commitment to both social justice and empowering women at my Catholic college was palpable. The sisters provided a great role model of activist women–who, like most women religious, are now subject to investigation by the Vatican. The college had a number of out LBT faculty, staff, and students (including a president of the student government). Interestingly, it was my conservative students who felt they had little voice on campus.

    There was almost a daily discussion around what it means to be a Catholic college. While some advocated for a totally secular environment, others felt we were not Catholic enough. The College’s president was a strong advocate for open inquiry in the classroom, but debate centered around co-curricular activities which were more apt to be governed by religious doctrines. “Flying under the radar” of the bishop became an art form.


  25. I’ve read this thread with great interest, and just wanted to reply to one point that Historiann made about prayer in a work situation. At my large Jesuit institution, History Department faculty meetings used to begin with a prayer. Some of us objected to the chair (after we got tenure), since attendance at faculty meetings is required, and we were a captive (and squirming) audience. This effort to stop the prayers upset some faculty who wanted them. No one ever wanted to discuss this issue openly in a faculty meeting, so a compromise was reached by one chair, who had a prayer only at the first meeting of the semester to launch our deliberations. Mostly a Jesuit offered the prayer; I’m told that before I joined the department the chair used to invite lay colleagues to offer the prayer, and these prayers tended to be rather sectarian. The Jesuits are more skilled at a broadly inclusive prayer for divine guidance in department deliberations. The current chair has fortunately abandoned this practice, and I am hoping it will not return, but from 1995 until 2008 faculty in the history department could count on a prayer at faculty meetings, if not at every meeting then at least at the beginning of the semester.

    This was not, I might add, a university policy, and colleagues in the Theology Department, for example, used to find this to be an amazing practice.


  26. The prayers at the school I was affiliated with were offered at the beginning of meetings of the entire faculty (a few hundred people, since it was an evangelical SLAC). Although there was an open hiring policy, and some faculty were non-Christian or non-Protestant-evangelical, the prayers were always very much in that tradition. I remember the first meeting I attended, I was surprised when the prayer was announced, but expected something vague and inter-denominational about how Our Heavenly Father loves and guides us. Instead, it was a very intense prayer about Jesus bleeding and dying on the cross, all because of our personal sinful, fallen natures. I have never been present at prayers like that before or since.


  27. @historiann – yep, it’s true we still have a long way to go in moving past internalized stuff and how it shapes women’s advancement; I think it is worth some thought (in the context of where it comes from – male power over – and how it is carried out – female internalizations) in perhaps a different thread.

    @Frautech – thanks for complicating things. I don’t think we really can center any 1 type of institution as the greatest source of conservativism or sexism in academe, while some (like Pat Robertson’s Regent’s Uni) may seem like good targets, the push-pull you identified is certainly everywhere and not all schools are set up to be open and questioning even when secular in nature.


  28. Meander and polisciprof: thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences. I’m not surprised to hear that a Catholic women’s college was a more open place. Catholic women’s education has always been potentially subversive–with respect to the Church and society at large. (And frequently is WAS subversive, if not always; it’s been held in suspicion by the Church at various times through history, such as our moment in which North American nuns are enduring an inquisition by Rome.) I have to say that I’m surprised to hear that the Jesuit/Catholic identity of Meander’s uni is that strong, at least in the History department. I’m guessing that hir uni is one that Hotshot Harry and I would call one of the Big Dogs of Catholic higher ed! (Funny that Theology squirms at the notion of a prayer before faculty meetings, whereas in History it was a ritual practice.)

    Perpetua: I think you make a good point about “good girls,” but I don’t think it always stacks up so neatly. I knew a lot of “good girls” (me being one of them) who tried to conform in every way to the expectations of their colleagues, who were served the same way as women whose lives were less traditional. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a magic formula of life choices, personality, and career choices that protects anyone from irrational bias.


  29. Susurro: “not all schools are set up to be open and questioning even when secular in nature.”

    True ‘nuf! Beyond the religious denominations and the particular orders that founded different unis, there’s also a micropolitics in each department: how they understand and execute their work. One of the things I’ve concluded, and it’s quite worrisome, is that I think it’s much, much easier to take a nurturing, kind department and turn it into a destructive one, than it is to take a toxic department and turn it into a nurturing one. This is a problem in departments and universities worldwide, regardless of the identity, size, mission, etc. of the schools.


  30. Perpetua alluded to problem unis for women’s advancement that we’ve discussed here. I thought I’d provide a list of links for those of you interested in these past discussions. The list is diverse–public unis, protestant unis, and now with DePaul, a Catholic uni too!

    University of Buffalo

    Baylor University: multiple links here because Baylor has been a bad, bad uni–scroll down for the data on women and tenure in 2008.

    And in case any of you can’t get enough of hearing about my personal battles, here’s a round-up of some links about my second Catholic uni employer, and a little more here, and here’s a tale of sex bias at a large public uni.


  31. Teaching other religions is not as significant as hiring non-Catholics. And even hiring non-Catholics can come with a clause requiring faculty to uphold the mission and teaching of the Roman Catholic church. There are shades of difference. All of that is to say nothing of hiring non-Christians.

    I agree that it isn’t anything like a definitive dividing line. I do think that the situation for faculty in the religion or theology departments at such places is often telling. Baylor isn’t a bad example. Baptists are non-creedal so there isn’t a statement of faith but religion faculty must be active members of a Baptist congregation and job seekers must provide proof of that.

    I commented on this because navigating religious affiliation on the job market is something that is more at the forefront of conversations in my field. A person can be denied consideration for a job based on religious affiliation if religious affiliation can be construed as a bona fide job requirement. Even if it isn’t that overt, I know that I was a better candidate for the t-t job I turned down two years ago because the school was affiliated with the same denomination as the seminary I attended. We all go to seminary before we start a PhD. I think those of us in religion take these things for granted in a way people in other fields don’t necessarily–I’m speaking from my experiences discussing these issues with my husband’s colleagues in philosophy.


  32. I attended law school at a large Catholic school and it was somewhat, and surprisingly to me, progressive. At least to students. It has a thriving public interest law program. And, for the most part, the faculty and administration was supportive of a student LGBT group and the National Lawyers Guild, and allowed us to hold many debates/presentations on same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

    As for the faculty composition, however, female professors were largely relegated to the so-called pink ghetto of Legal Writing and courses that were “_____ and the Law” (Feminism and the Law, Race and the Law, etc) whilst they hired (mostly white) men to teach the “Real” Law courses like Property, Civil Procedure, and Torts. When I was there, there was one openly gay male professor. I think the situation has somewhat improved in recent years. But at the time, it wasn’t very inspiring for an openly lesbian law student. It was hard to reconcile how the school could be so progressive in some ways and so archaic in others.

    Re: Daly and her exclusion of men from her courses.

    I think it’s interesting that when the Catholic hierarchy excludes women from the clergy, that is considered “God’s” plan. We are supposed to view that as right, moral, and holy.

    Yet, when a women’s studies professor excludes men from her classes, it is outrageous, unfair, and sexist.


  33. Fannie: now you’ve got it all figured out! Exclusion of women: God’s plan. Exclusion of men: Satanic!!!

    I think you hit on an important difference re: equity in universities. I think we’ve done a much better job ensuring equality of opportunity for students than for faculty. (As the article you sent me about DePaul suggests yet again, quite strongly.)


  34. “One of the things I’ve concluded, and it’s quite worrisome, is that I think it’s much, much easier to take a nurturing, kind department and turn it into a destructive one, than it is to take a toxic department and turn it into a nurturing one.”

    I’m going to be thinking abt this a lot over the next few days espec. since I have often been hired as a consultant to do just that in both academic and social service agencies. It’s been particularly frustrating lately (see my “last night there were skinheads on my lawn” post for example) so seeing this written out so succinctly is making me really do some radical re-thinking on the issue.


  35. But my service was concentrated in activities that were called “women’s” this or “gender” that. (If it wasn’t all about teh menz, it was necessarily suspect, as at DePaul and BC, I guess.)

    This is ubiquitous in higher education. Service that serves the overwhelmingly white male majority is simply “institutional service”, while service that serves underrepresented constituencies is a “special interest”.


  36. Pingback: DePaul University: safe for white male scholars only? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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