Leigh Buchanan Bienen: Works

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Title: Sex Discrimination in the Universities: Faculty Problems and No Solution
: Leigh Bienen, Alicia Ostriker, J. P. Ostriker
Publisher: Women’s Rights Law Reporter
Issue: March, pp. 3-12
Description: It is an unpleasant fact that the basically decent, liberally-educated people who administer universities and colleges in the United States have, on a widespread and systematic basis, practiced discrimination against women in hiring, promoting and to a lesser extent in setting salaries. In the five years from 1968 to 1973, despite all governmental and private group pressures, the fraction of faculty women has increased by less than one percent, although the number of women Ph.D.s produced only in the years 1960-70, who would have affected hiring from 1968-73, increased dramatically and was more than the total from all previous years since 1926.

At the outset we propose that discrimination is bad for universities. Discrimination means that less qualified people are being hired, promoted and paid in preference to more qualified candidates. The prime drawback of discriminatory personnel policies in terms of economics is that it does not maximize utility. Universities practicing discrimination do not obtain faculties as talented as they could, given their resources in dollars and prestige. Moreover, the practice is illegal and it is or should be morally offensive in a society where equal opportunity and reward according to merit are considered valuable principles. The educational needs of a diverse and pluralistic society should also be a matter of serious consideration. Both morale and excellence will be furthered as bias is lessened.

Unfortunately, it has not been clear to all observers how much is to ‘be gained by a more vigorous effort to reduce sex discrimination in American colleges and universities. There are many who belittle the seriousness of contemporary discriminatory practices, and exaggerate the disadvantages and difficulties certain to attend any plan for legally remedying such practices.

Richard A. Lester’s book, Antibias Regulation of Universities: Faculty Problems and Their Solutions, published last summer amid a considerable amount of publicity, is a recent and very unfortunate illustration of this problem. While claiming to support the ideal of equal employment, Lester’s work ignores the weighty documentation amassed in recent years concerning discrimination at universities, and actually argues that the only real stumbling block is a deficient supply of qualified women academics. Moreover, he states that the problem of rectifying discrimination should be left essentially in the hands of those who have been in charge in the past, and that compliance with anti-discriminatory government regulations will damage American universities and result in a lowering of standards. Lester asserts that “generally speaking, university faculty and top university administrators can be expected to support appointment, advancement and compensation of individual faculty members on the basis of merit…and on this basis attacks the principle of government and enforcement sanctions. He proposes, except in the area of first appointments, elimination of affirmative action programs and the reduction of HEW’s function from enforcement to information-gathering and overseeing. He advocates “removing faculty of colleges and universities from the Department of Labor’s jurisdiction for contract compliance,” eliminating the one existing governmental sanction: cancellation, termination or suspension of federal contracts with non complying institutions. And he would make the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with its more limited equitable remedies, the primary federal enforcement agency. According to Lester, federal and state government agencies should not set goals, should not set guidelines, and in general should not interfere in American academic life, which rests on “the principle of selection and reward according to individual merit.”



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