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All Profs Created Equal?

UB professors demonstrate for gender equity in tenure process

At the end of every job posting on the University at Buffalo’s Web site is listed: “University at Buffalo is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer. The University is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic University community committed to teaching and working in a multicultural environment.”

But some professors are now accusing the university of not keeping their promises.

Earlier this semester, a group of professors formed the Ad Hoc Task Force on Gender Equity in Promotions at UB to look into allegations of gender bias in promotions. The ad hoc group’s slogan is “UB 23/10,” which represents 23 percent of women who were denied tenure out of a group of 144 tenure candidates from 2003 to 2008, when only 10 percent of men were denied. This data was the basis of a protest held before the Tuesday, May 5 Faculty Senate meeting. Nearly 40 professors lined the walkway of the Center for Tomorrow to garner support from senators to put their concerns on the day’s agenda.

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Lucinda Finley says the ad hoc task force is using “a selective subset of tenure cases, therefore their data is very misleading.” But the committee—and their network of faculty support—believe the selection of data they’ve acquired is simply indicative of a larger problem.

The provost’s office maintains it has a commitment to “support a culture of academic excellence and sustained scholarly accomplishments by all UB faculty” and that each tenure decision it makes is in this interest. Ruth Meyerowitz, associate professor of American studies and co-chair of United University Professor’s Gender Equity Committee, joined the ad hoc task force when she was made aware of the variance. She’s calling for the provost’s office to re-review the cases. “I’m concerned that the president and the provost seem to be operating with an unconscious bias,” she says.

The ad hoc task force met with the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee to ask them to take up the cause. As a “hopeless idealist,” ad hoc committee member and English professor Jim Holstun says he was expecting support from the Faculty Senate, but found them to be “uniformly uninterested.” Chair of the Executive Committee Robert Hoeing says the Senate wouldn’t take up the issue because of its complexity and because it’s a “highly sensitive” issue.

Holstun also points out that Hoeing is responsible for two Senate committees—Affirmative Action and Faculty Tenure and Privileges—both of which have been dormant for one and three years, respectively. He says a new group has formed to deal with just these issues, called the Commission on Academic Excellence and Equity. Both he and Finley claim this commission will address the task force’s concerns, but in a more extensive way. “We’re going to look broadly and deeply on any issue we can find pertaining to factors that help our faculty be successful and any barriers to success,” Finley says. “If the commission finds any disparities, they’ll address them.”

When faculty members come up for tenure, their cases are extensively reviewed by the President’s Review Board, made up of faculty members. The board makes a positive or negative recommendation to the provost’s office, which then has the final “yes” or “no” stamp. Paul Zarembka, member of the ad hoc task force and an economics professor, spoke to a number of women who were denied tenure last year in his capacity as grievance officer of UUP, the faculty union. He says he read their rejection letters from the provost and claims the reasoning was “weak.” He says the provost typically agrees with the board’s recommendation and should exercise its veto power only rarely. “This is evidence of a real problem,” Zarembka says.

The ad hoc task force acquired their data in the aftermath of the case of the Kathleen McCormick, a research associate professor who was denied tenure in 2005. McCormick claims her record was “as good as anyone” in her department and that she came came highly recommended by the President’s Review Board. It was the provost’s office that denied her tenure, arguing that she didn’t “achieve the excellence required” by the university. McCormick believes she was denied her promotion because of gender bias and she filed a lawsuit against UB, which was settled out of court earlier this year. She attended Tuesday’s protest in support of other female professors who may be coming up for tenure soon. “I want to see the system changed,” McCormick says. “I don’t want to see this happen to other women.”

Representatives from the ad hoc task force attempted to late-file their discussion on Tuesday’s Faculty Senate agenda, but in order to do so, two-thirds of senators needed to vote it in. Since only 31 of 90 senators attended the meeting, the senate did not have quorum and no motions or votes could be carried. Undiscouraged, Meyerowitz insists the ad hoc task force isn’t giving up just yet. “There’s a real problem here and all we’re asking for is a little recognition from the administration.”

ellen przepasniak

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