Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Picking a fight 

The American Association of University Women has announced a new study on the disposition of lawsuits for female faculty who are denied tenure and decide to fight the decision. Its press release carries the title, "Sex Discrimination in Academia Robs Female Professors of Careers, Students of Educators."

Research shows that in an academic setting, women earn less, hold lower-ranking positions, and are less likely to have tenure. Of the faculty at colleges and universities offering four-year degrees, only 27 percent of those awarded tenure are women. While women make up more than one-half of instructors and lecturers and nearly one-half of assistant professors, they represent only one-third of associate professors and a mere one-fifth of full professors.

Unfortunately, these battles are nearly impossible to win, since the odds are largely stacked against plaintiffs. Of the 19 AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund-supported cases described in the report, eight (42 percent) plaintiffs lost, seven (37 percent) settled, two (11 percent) won, and two cases are ongoing.

Further, according to the AAUW report, the costs of challenging sex discrimination � both financially and emotionally � are enormous. �Litigation expenses are huge in terms of both time and money, and the odds of women prevailing in court can seem insurmountable,� said Michele Warholic Wetherald, president of the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund.

The AAUW has listed a set of recommendations for senior faculty and administrators as well as for junior female faculty. The latter list is actually good advice for any junior faculty regardless of sex.

What their report is less clear on is that the 19 cases are a subset of 60 cases that their legal fund has supported, according to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only). The report, CHE reports, includes a statement "Pinpointing sex discrimination amidst the tangled web of subjective judgments behind a tenure decision is a Herculean task." One wonders if some selection bias lies behind the inclusion of these 19 cases.