CMC, PO, HMC Fall Short in Faculty Gender Balance
Natalie McDonald | Feb. 24, 2017, 2:48 p.m.
When G. Gabrielle Starr takes office as Pomona College’s 10th president on July 1, the majority of the Claremont Colleges will have female presidents. Three of the five colleges will have majority-male faculties this academic year, however.
Claremont McKenna College has the lowest proportion of female professors, with only 36 percent of full-time faculty identifying as women. Together with Pomona and Harvey Mudd College, CMC is among the majority of colleges and universities nationwide that have women underrepresented in faculty.
Pitzer College has the highest proportion of full-time female professors at the 5Cs, at 61 percent. Scripps College also has a majority-female faculty. Data released by the colleges does not include gender-nonconforming or non-binary faculty.
CMC Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin said that the number of female professors at CMC reflects the proportion of women “on the market” in each academic discipline.
“In some departments, there are simply fewer women getting Ph.D.s,” Uvin said. He cited CMC’s large economics department and the fact that only about 35 percent of economics doctoral degrees conferred in 2015 went to women.
But Uvin acknowledged that “there are departments where we are clearly behind, and sometimes, quite significantly behind.”
For example, women earned 40 percent of the government Ph.D.s awarded by U.S. universities in 2015, but only 30 percent of tenured or tenure-track professors are women in CMC’s government department.
Uvin attributed this imbalance to slow faculty turnover. Some professors in the government department have been at CMC for over 30 years, he said, when most faculty on the market were men. Therefore, the department has not been able to catch up with the discipline’s shifting demographics.
The gender gap does not go unnoticed by students.
“You definitely notice that you’re taking classes with mostly male professors,” said Sydney Joseph CM ’18, a government and psychology major as well as co-president of the CMC Women’s Forum.
“I think [the gender gap] is most prominent when students are looking for mentors and trying to find professors they relate to,” Joseph said. “That can be harder if there isn’t equal representation in the faculty.”
Slow faculty turnover and the uneven representation of women in certain disciplines may account for the gender gap in the economics and government departments, but it falls short of explaining the disparity in CMC’s literature department.
Only 27 percent of tenured or tenure-track CMC literature professors are women, even though over 50 percent of literature Ph.D.s have been awarded to women since the early 1980s. None of the tenured male faculty were hired prior to 1980, suggesting that CMC has hired more men even when a greater number of women were “on the market.”
In fact, one of the three female literature professors is on leave this year, having accepted a position at Pomona. Her departure brings the representation of women in the department down to 20 percent.
However, Ellen Rentz, professor of literature at CMC since 2009 as well as adviser for Gender and Sexuality Studies, is optimistic. She cited the faculty-gender ratio among junior faculty (assistant professors), which is 48 percent.
“That’s something that’s really encouraging for me," Rentz said. "It suggests that in recent years, the college has made hiring women a priority."
As of fall 2014, the percentage of junior faculty who identify as women has also been on the rise at HMC and Pitzer. Only 38 percent of full-time HMC faculty are women, but over half—56 percent—of junior faculty were female in fall 2014.
Although both Uvin and HMC Dean of Faculty Jeff Groves said that their respective colleges are making an effort to hire more junior women faculty, Rentz pointed out that retention can be difficult. Spousal hire, when a college agrees to hire a faculty member’s spouse, is challenging to arrange at the Claremont Colleges, she said. Therefore, a junior faculty member may leave CMC for an institution that offers both her and her spouse a position.
Nonetheless, progress has certainly been made over the past few decades. Only five percent of HMC’s faculty were female in 1980. Today, HMC’s president and five of their seven department chairs are women.
“We value the strong leadership we get from our female faculty members,” Groves said. “And, clearly, our campus environment is encouraging to women who want to pursue leadership roles.”
But Shivani Kavuluru PZ ’19, secretary of the Pitzer Student Senate, warned against complacency. She thinks the 5Cs, including Pitzer, have progress to make in forming faculties representative of the student body.
“It’s really important for students who identify as non-binary or LGBTQ+ to see that they have faculty who they can relate to,” said Kavuluru. “I think faculty and professors shape a lot of students’ lives. It’s important for students to feel represented.”
People of color—specifically women of color—are also underrepresented among 5C faculty. Pitzer has the highest percentage of full-time faculty who are members of minority groups at 34 percent, and only 15 percent of CMC’s full-time faculty are members of minority groups. The national average for private colleges is 18 percent.
“In my view, recruiting a diverse faculty is the first step; retention is key,” said Audrey Bilger, dean of the college at Pomona. “We seek to support and provide mentorship for women faculty and faculty of color.”
Both Groves and Uvin said they are committed to increasing the number of female professors.
“I think we need more women on the faculty,” Uvin said. “I think it matters to have a faculty that as much as possible reflects our society.”