Shattering the glass

Feb 022004
Authors: Kyle Endres

Some professors feel the invisible glass ceiling for faculty

hasn’t broken yet at CSU, but fingerprints are beginning to


Some female professors at CSU say the university still needs to

work on its gender equality, but they also believe there is promise

for the future.

“I just think that women fight the old boy network on this

campus,” said Kathy Partin, an associate professor of biomedical

sciences. “I think that many people in the administration want to

see it change, but it’s not clear how to change it.”

There is quite a disparity in the ratio of female to male

professors in tenure-track positions at CSU, with lower percentages

of females holding high-ranking faculty positions and the

percentages increasing as the rank gets lower.

CSU breaks its professor faculty positions into three levels:

professor, associate professor and assistant professor. It takes

about six years on average to be promoted between the professor

levels. Associate professors and full professors usually have


Women made up only 12.5 percent of the university’s total number

of full professors last year, according to the Office of Budgets

and Institutional Analysis. Women made up 32.7 percent of associate

professors and 42.6 percent of assistant professors.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Partin said. “I

guess I’ve been lucky that my department is pretty


One of the major benefits of tenure is that professors have

academic freedom to speak without fear of being fired.

“Each department has to have a code that describes the criteria

they’re gonna use to evaluate that faculty member, and it’s going

to be centered around teaching, research and service,” said Faculty

Council Chair C.W. Miller, a professor in biomedical sciences.

Assistant professors must excel in two of these criteria to

become associate professors, and associate professors must excel in

all three to advance to professor.

Some people say the disparity between different women professor

rankings is a result of the fact that women were not as involved in

education until recently. The almost 50 percent of women at the

assistant professor position could support this notion.

“It certainly does take a long time for the academic community

to change,” said Joan Ringel, spokesperson for the Colorado

Commission on Higher Education. “Attention to diversity really

didn’t start taking place until the late ’70s.”

Keith Ickes, associate vice president for Administrative

Services and director of the OBIA, agreed with this view.

“I think the reason you see disparity in the ranks is reflective

of the hiring that’s taken place over a different period of time,”

he said, adding that since more women are getting doctoral degrees

and are in the undergraduate program, this is beginning to change.

“I think the evidence would indicate we were not being as

aggressive as we could’ve been. I think there’s evidence that it’s


Partin maintained that the low numbers of women are

representative of the people in power.

“The fact of the matter is my department head reports to a male,

who reports to a male, who reports to a male,” she said. “It’s

harder to feel comfortable schmoozing when you’re an outsider, and

sometimes women are made to feel like they’re outsiders.”

Carol Blair, a professor in the Department of Microbiology,

Immunology and Pathology, agreed that sometimes women are left out

of the equation, although this may not be intentional.

“The decision-makers are mostly white males, and even though

many of them are fairly enlightened, when they get together to make

decisions, it usually happens that the system is perpetuated,” said

Blair, who was the first female department head in the College of

Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “When I came there

were probably fewer than 10 women faculty, tenure-track faculty, in

our college. The number of women faculty in our college now is

greatly increased.”

The late Alan Tucker, vice provost for faculty affairs, said in

mid-December that Partin and Blair have a point. When 87.5 percent

of full professors are males – and full professors are part of the

tenure committee process – it could be a disadvantage for women, he


“Clearly, she’s right,” he said. “If they all happen to be white

males, then yes, there might be a bias.”

Still, he said the tenure process itself is gender neutral,

except that sometimes extenuating circumstances, such as time off

for familial or medical reasons, will be considered.

“None of these standards are gender-biased, but departments will

take into account specific circumstances that may impact their

ability to fulfill duties and responsibilities,” Tucker said.

Blair advised women faculty just entering the fray to be sure to

know what is expected of them to advance.

“I would recommend to her to seek wise mentors, both male and

female,” she said. “To be very clear about expectations of her

position and be sure the things that she is doing are the things

that her superior expects her to do to attain promotion. We’ve got

a lot more women in decision-making positions and that helps to

facilitate the careers, to encourage career development among women


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