Document 6: Kathleen Shortridge, "Women as University Nigger; Or, How a Young Female Student Sought Sexual Justice at the 'U' and Couldn't Find It Anywhere," The Daily Magazine of The Michigan Daily, 12 April 1970, pp. 4-5, 21.


   As a candidate for a master's degree in journalism at the University of Michigan, Kathleen Shortridge was taking a seminar on investigative reporting when she started asking University administrators questions about the status of women on campus. Her research eventually resulted in a lengthy story that appeared in The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper, in April 1970.

   Shortridge later recalled that it was "so easy" to get information comparing the grade point averages of men and women. "Nobody was at all defensive about these things. . . . The patterns were just quite clear."[71] Shortridge's research provided much of the statistical underpinning for the sex discrimination complaint that was filed against the University six weeks after her article appeared. . Specifically, she highlighted:

  • The extent to which the proportion of professors who were women lagged behind the proportion of doctorates earned by women; (6.5 percent versus 13.3 percent);

  • That a student taking a randomly selected program of classes could expect to encounter a woman professor in only two of the forty classes required for graduation;

  • That the admissions office had manipulated admissions requirements such that women represented only 45 percent of an entering freshman class, despite higher grades and test scores (see Document 7).[72]

   The article notes that Barbara Newell, then the acting vice president for student affairs, was the first woman to serve at the vice presidential level at a Big 10 university. Newell would turn out to be a key player in the University's management of the women's complaint.

   Shortridge's article appeared just two weeks after the Black Action Movement strike had concluded and the University had committed itself to working to achieve 10 percent minority enrollment. Shortridge recalled: "The atmosphere at the University was very exciting back in the later '60's and early '70s. There was lots of organization and agitation around all kinds of issues-—the war, the Johnson presidency, child care, and of course the Black Action Movement."[73]

   Forty-two years later, Shortridge was quick to assert that she was not responsible for writing the headline that appeared on her story. It was an apparent word play on a statement the artist Yoko Ono had made the previous year: "Woman is the Nigger of the World."[74]

   After earning her journalism degree, Shortridge became an editor for the Rackham Graduate School at Michigan, and then eventually an assistant in the University's new Affirmative Action Office. She later served as director of affirmative action for the University of Louisville.[75]

[p. 4]

Women as University nigger

Or, how a young female student
sought sexual justice at the ‘U’
and couldn't find it anywhere.


    You won't find "sexism" in the dictionary, but if you did, the definition would read like this:

    sexism--n. 1. a belief that the human sexes have distinctive make-ups that determine their respective lives, usually involving the idea that one sex is superior and has the right to rule the other. 2. a policy of enforcing such asserted right. 3. a system of government and society based upon it. sexist, n., adj.

‘U’: A sexist institution

    "You shouldn't be too harsh in judging the University for discriminating against women," more than one administrator has told me. "After all, our whole culture has that orientation, and practical reasons exist for it."

    I'll grant the university reflects cultural attitudes; it also perpetuates and helps form them. Practical reasons help explain sexism, but don't excuse it. Most people don't realize that a locker room mentality pervades the University, so the first step in changing discriminatory policies is to show they exist.

The academic crunch

    I've spent seven or eight terms at University now, and once I took a course from a woman. I don't imagine my experience is unique. Almost anyone might run into an occasional female professor, but in most courses of study, the experience won't be common. This fact may yet land the University in a law suit. Executive Order 11246 (as amended by Executive Order 11375) prohibits job discrimination on the basis of sex, and specifically forbids discrimination by federal contractors because of sex. Violation of this order could theoretically result in cancelled government contracts, a threat which might make most university administrators eager to mend their ways.

    Now they are not so eager. A political science professor told me, "We considered hiring a woman, but in the crunch it came down to ‘Do we really want to do this to the department?’" Not many professors show such impolitic candor. Actually, however, I didn't have to trace down the rationale behind 5,000 academic appointment decisions to find grounds for suspecting sex discrimination. The University's personnel records, summarized by the Office of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs in the following table, do the job.

I. Full Prof. II. Assoc. Prof. III. Asst. Prof.
Total 1268 620 850
Men 1214 553 840
Women 54 67 10
% Women 4.3 10.3 1.2
IV. Instruc. V. Teach. Fell.
Total 270 1162
Men 162 1170
Women 108 392
% Women 40 25.1

    Considering all the staff with professorial rank--categories I, II, and III--4.8 per cent are women. That means if you take 20 courses, the law of averages would give you one woman professor. Upon graduation, the average student would have had two courses taught by women professors.

    If you're concerned with tenured academic staff (which means better pay, more prestige, and job security), look at the full and associate professor categories. Women make up only 6.5 per cent of the tenured faculty.

    For the most disturbing piece of evidence on the chart, take a look at the assistant professor category, III. While I was researching sexism at the University, a lot of people told me that bad as things may be for academic women, at least they're getting better. That's not so, according to category III. Most newly-hired faculty usually hold assistant professorships. They don't have tenure, and they have ordinarily been around the profession for only a few years. Apparently, then only a miniscule proportion of new professors have been women--1.2 per cent. The current trend seems to be getting worse.

    Whenever I suggest these statistics demonstrate a pattern of sexism, I get braced for the rejoinder. "So what do you want? Fifty-one per cent women professors? Maybe you don't know there aren't too many female Ph.D's." Granted, I've even looked up a few facts to see how scarce women with Ph.D.'s really are.

    Women comprised a little over 11 per cent of the Ph.D's produced in the United States in the last decade. According to the National Academy of Sciences, while only two-thirds of the men with doctorates go to work for educational institutions, four-fifths of the women do (most women get degrees in the arts and social sciences, not the scientific doctorates which government and industry snatch up). So women actually make up a disproportionately large (?) 13.3 per cent of the pool of Ph.D's available for professorial teaching.

    How does the University of Michigan stack up against the national picture?

    Judging by the 4.8 per cent women in full, associate and assistant professor categories-- badly.

Lowlier categories

    Don't take the 40 per cent women in the instructor category too seriously. Most of them hold dead-end jobs--because departments, notes Charles M. Allmand, assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, hire instructors only rarely. Instructors are teaching personnel who don't have doctorates, and who don't expect to get them. The medical aid areas--nursing, physical therapy, and so on--account for many of these instructresships. Few of those 108 women will ever be considered for professorial rank.

    You don't even find many women at the very bottom of the academic pecking order, in the teaching fellows category--although proportionally, they do all right. Teaching fellows are doctorate students who do a little class work to earn their keep--and while only 20 per cent of Rackham[A] students working for Ph.D's are women, a disproportionate 25 per cent of all teaching fellows are. Is this because women are especially interested in teaching (compared to men they are. In the education school women outnumber men almost two to one)? Or--for suspicious minds-- because women can't get money from the cushier research fellowships?

    No one in the administration could give me the answer. The office of the vice president for academic affairs told me the University doesn't have much information on teaching fellows. Even the teaching fellows union couldn't provide an answer from its spotty records.

    I suppose each department must search its records and its soul to find the solution.

    On top of other obstacles, the University's

[p. 5]

nepotism rule poses problems in the employment of academic women. Just as peasants tend to marry peasants, professors often tend to marry professors. The official University Policy and Procedure Guide for Personnel, Employment of Relatives, states: no person should be assigned to a post from which he (more often than "she") might affect the performance or promotion of a family member.

    Officially, says vice-presidential assistant Allmand, "If a husband and wife have always worked as a research team, of course we'd expect them to continue to work together. If they're in the same department but in very different areas, that's all right. If they're in the same area, we'd try to put one in a department and one in an institute. If there's no way around it, and both are needed, they might both be hired in the same area."

    That's the official policy.

    "Now of course," Mr. Allmand continued, "most of these decisions are made on the departmental level. While we would probably approve such an arrangement if there were no alternative, it's up to the department to decide if it wants to risk the potential problems such a situation might create."

    Departments rarely wish to run the risk. What this means: since departments don't want a husband and wife working together, they hire the husband, and send his wife looking elsewhere --like Eastern Michigan University or Oakland[B]. One professor at EMU told me the English department is fed up with feeling like a University refuse heap.

    Other aspects of University life reflect, if not flat-out discrimination, a certain benign neglect of women's rights. Since many aspects of decision making at the University are decentralized and discretionary, individual attitudes can have as mach affect on women as University-wide policy. Women students and professors frequently encounter individuals who reflect and propagate the sexiest attitudes of the institution. I've run into these examples, and I imagine many academic women could cite their own:

    The director of an institute told a psychology professor: "I rarely promote women. Men have better use for the extra money."

    An LSA department head: "I don't like having women around because then I can't tell my dirty jokes."

    An English professor: "All these uppity women need is a better sex life."

    Ad nauseum.


    As with academic appointment practices, the freshman admissions policy both reflects and reinforces the sexiest attitudes of society. The automatic application of sexually bigoted norms emerges especially clearly in the case of freshman admissions. In recent years, the ratio of men to women in the freshman class has hovered around 55-45 per cent.

    "Gosh, I always thought that was just a natural, happy coincidence," commented James H. Robertson, dean of the Residential College and long-time member of the admissions commitee.

    "Well, I didn't know the balance was manipulated." said George R. Anderson, dean of freshman-sophomore counseling and a member of the all-male admissions committee.

    Well, gentlemen, perhaps the time has come for a less mythic approach to admissions. Here's a bit of history:

    "Until about 10 years ago, the admission of women wasn't a problem," recounted G. C. Wilson, executive associate director of admissions. "In the last decade, however, the proportion of women among qualified applicants began to creep up, and it became apparent that unless something were done, women would soon outnumber the men in the freshman class. The Literary College was particularly interested in maintaining at least 50 per cent males in the entering class."

    Consequently, the Admissions Office began admitting men who, by the traditional indicators of test scores, high school grades and recommendations, were less qualified than women who were not admitted. The office looked at other factors, such as athletics, to determine which of these marginal men should gain entrance.

    "Why the concern over sex balance in the freshmen class?" I asked Mr. Wilson. He puzzied over this and finally suggested serveral possibilities: Male alumni give more support to the University in money, work, and recruiting efforts. Male students do better, are more likely to complete the course of study. Finally he said, "Well, it's mainly the Literary College that has been concerned over this thing." He suggested that I talk to John E. Milholland, a psychology professor who sits on the the freshman admissions committee. Dr. Milholland provided me with the least cordial interview of this entire project.

    "Dr. Milholland," I began. "I've discovered that there is a somewhat discriminatory policy with regard to the admission of freshman women . . ."

    "Well, he broke in, "would you have us discriminate again men?"

    I continued, a little flustered: "No, sir, I wouldn't want you to discriminate against anyone," I said, "But I've been wondering why the policy exists."

    "It's your privilege to wonder," he replied.

    Finally, however, Dr. Milholland and I managed to overcome a now-mutual hostility sufficiently to discuss the genesis of the policy. Apparently, when the admissions committee was told that female frosh would soon outnumber the males, the automatic reaction of the members was that steps must be taken to prevent this "overbalance."

    "We just felt maintaining parity was a good policy," according to Dr. Milholland. "It was just a feeling in our bones. I don't know that we ever discussed it at all.

    "We're all men on the committee." he added.

    On reflection, however, Dr. Milholland was able to suggest several reasons (or rationalizations) which might he behind such a policy.

    • Men are culturally disadvantaged. They don't mature as fast, don't please teachers as much, and consequently they don't do as well in high school on grade and test indicators. Other factors, such as extracurricular activities, need to be considered to compensate for this disadvantage.

    In reply, I heartily endorse the effort to consider factors besides the highly imperfect grade-test indicators in determining who might benefit from a college education--for women as well as for men. In this case, however, the first motivation was to maintain an artificial male-female balance. The decision to consider other aspects of a student's record developed from this sexually bigoted principle and might never have arisen had it not been for the growing female peril.

    I might add that such tender concern for disadvantages growing out of acculturation of the sexes does not exist in other University schools and colleges. Entrance requirements in the medical school or the engineering school aren't lower for women, despite the fact that women are socialized to do less well than men in technical and scientific pursuits and on the average, score lower on relevant tests (and, as a result, don't get in the schools. There are only 204 women out of 1,583 medical students, and 89 women in the Engin school student body of 4,357).

    • Once admitted, men "do better."

    Perhaps men do better than the high school record would indicate, but do they perform better than women? They do not. In terms of grade point averages in fact, women do better. In winter, 1969, senior women averaged 3.18: senior men averaged 2.94. Freshman women averaged 2.84. Freshman men averaged 2.74. The same pattern is repeated in all undergraduate grade levels.

    One way of men "doing better." suggests admissions man Wilson, may be completing the course and getting the degree within the normal four year span. Mr. Wilson claims women often drop out. There is no evidence of this. Neither the Admissions Office statistical division nor the Registrar's Records Office recalls doing a study on the problem. Since no one could give me concrete evidence, it occurred to me that the completion story might be an old cliche in the all-male admissions business--and so I did my best to check it out:

Fall, 1965--Entering Freshmen

Men Women Total
2531 2001 4532
55.8% 44.2% 100

Winter, 1969--Graduating Seniors

Men Women Total
1540 1530 3070
50.2% 49.8% 100

    To put this chart another way, the number of graduating male seniors is only 60.8 per cent of the number of entering male frosh. But the number of graduating female seniors is 76.5 per cent of the number of entering female frosh.

    If Admissions is going to continue to justify its sexist policy on the grounds of completion factors, perhaps it's time they cranked up the old computer and found out the real story.

    • Dr. Milholland felt that a concern for

[p. 21]

equity influenced the Admissions Committee. "Half the population is men, so it should be that way in the freshman class," he said.

    What extraordinary zeal for fairness! It certainly doesn't extend to the University as a whole, where men outnumber women, in all programs, 26,700 to 16,900 (1968-1969 figures.) And I'm sorry to say this sense of equity does not exist in the nation: In fall, 1969, 975,000 male freshman entered college, as compared to 753,000 women. Perhaps we should take pride in the fact that here, at the U-M, concern with equity does exist, and politely overlook the fact that the freshman class is not 50 per cent men, but rather 55 per cent.

    • Finally, Dr. Milholland said "Men need the education more. They're more likely to go into jobs that require a college education. They're the breadwinners."

    The idea that women need less education represents not a cosmic truth but a sexist position which the University reinforces with its admissions policy. Companies (like the Dow Chemical Corp.) confronted with accusations of sex discrimination reply that they'd like to hire more women but can't find women with sufficient training. Thus the University policy forms a link in a vicious circle: the University educates less women because society says they don't need the jobs, and companies won't hire women because the University won't educate them.

    This does not mean that women don't work --over 30 million American women do hold jobs, and the number is increasing. But it does mean women are doomed to dull secretarial and service jobs which pay them only 58 per cent of salaries the men get.

Brighter spots

    I don't want to paint too bleak a picture of the university, however. Some branches are rather open to women's interests and concerns. For example, the Placement Service tries conscientiously to apply the federal non-discrimination laws. Recruiters can't specify sex preferences. In fact, however, the Placement Service has little control over discriminatory hiring. Unless recruiters show extremely overt discriminatory attitudes, leading a student to file a complaint-- as was the case with a Wall Street law firm at the Law School recently--Placement can't do much.

    I didn't find any problems with discrimination in financial aids. According to Mr. R. M. Brown, director in charge of undergraduate financial aids, "Scholarships are handed out on the basis of a ‘modest but adequate income’ formula. Men and women receive the same treatment, and the same goes with loans.

    "The only difference is, the formula expects men to contribute slightly more to their own education, since they can generally get better paying summer jobs. We expect them to get $100 more than women in the summer," said Brown.

    Everything becomes more complicated on the graduate level. The individual schools make most of the admissions and aid decisions, so there is no central control. As a result, says Dean Byron Groesbeck, Rackham has no figures on how many women apply for financial aids, who is getting the money and why.

    As an index however, I compared the success of women in the $4,000 Rackham Prize competition with their representation in each department. Women did startingly well. The prestigious and lucrative Rackham grants go to students pursuing doctorates in the humanities and social sciences. Each department may nominate a certain number of students, depending on the size of the department, and a committee of professors from various departments then decides which nominees receive the prizes. Women comprise 26.8 per cent of the enrollment in departments making nominations last year and received 32.5 per cent of the nominations.

    Of the prizes, 30 per cent went to women-- still more than their representation in these departments would suggest.

    If the Rackham prizes represent the financial treatment graduate women receive, sexism doesn't seem to pose much of a problem. I've thought of several explanations for the good showing women make. Perhaps there is discrimination against men--though I have yet to document a complaint. Or perhaps, by the time you reach the upper reaches of studentdom, the women who are still in there are unusually well qualified. That's how Mr. Dwight E. Durner, assistant to the dean of graduate fellowships, explained it to me: "I've met a lot of these women, and they're qualified, serious scholars. There're aggressive. They're hustlers. And they're doing very well as far as research grants go."

The grim big picture

    The total outlook of women in the University still looks bleak, however, since universities are entering an economic slump. Just about everyone I chatted with--in Financial aids, in Admissions, in Personnel--admitted that "the last hired, first fired" maxim applies to women. As Barbara Newell, acting vice president for student affairs put it. "Women are traditionally marginal workers. They're hired with soft money grants, (as opposed to appropriations, whose source cannot be depended on from year to year) and they're non-tenured. As research funds get cut back, there will be a disproportionate loss of women."

    The fund cutback, coupled with an increased turnout of Ph.D's in recent years, has resulted in a surplus of people with doctorates. In normal times colleges are more likely to hire men and women--so imagine a period like now, when "it's hard to place anybody," according to Grace Oerther of the Placement Service.

    And finally, as departments get less money, they'll probably admit male students "who are more likely to finish, less likely to drop out and have babies," according to Dr. Groesbeck.

    Other trends bode ill for women in academics. Women's colleges used to hire a large number of women Ph.D's, but as these schools go coed, a job market for women with doctorates dries up. And since at the University hardly any new women have been hired as assistant professors in recent years, there won't be many moving up to better posts in the future.

    Women interested in administration should not be too optimistic, either. The Dean of Women post, which usd to account for at least one woman in the upper echelons of the administrative hierarchy, has disappeared. Barbara Newell was the first woman vice presidential level administrator in the Big 10, and one of the rare few among major universities in the country. The field hasn't exactly cracked open like a coconut. On the other hand, women who don't mind a somewhat demeaning side to the appointment might aspire to the position of department head. "That job is becomingly increasingly hellish, and the academic and professional rewards of the position are dropping," according to Mrs. Newell. "Now you see more women getting the post."

What is to be done?

    Bleak patches seem to loom in the future of women in the University, but a clear University committment to expanding women's opportunities might help to correct some of the abuses of the past and forestall approaching ones. Compliance with the executive Order would be a nice beginning: it states, in the words of a federal ruling, "the principle of nondiscrimination in employment requires that applicants be considered on the basis of individual capabilities and not on characteristics generally attributed to a group."

    The University should launch an affirmative action program geared at recruiting and counseling women students, and promoting women professionals--like committees at Stanford and Chicago universities are doing now.

    For enabling women to develop their potential poses enormous difficulties. Women are encouraged from childhood to view themselves almost solely as budding wives and mothers. Parents, teachers, counselors and friends discourage them from expressing ambitions. Ambitious girls who do apply to college confront discriminatory admissions quotas. Once they enter college, women find innumerable barriers preventing them from becoming apprentice lawyers, doctors--or professors.

    Everywhere, society tries to plant on women what psychology professor Matina Horner calls "the motive to avoid success."

    Sociologist David Reisman carries the analysis further.

Even very gifted and creative young women are satisfied to assume that on graduation they will get underpaid ancillary positions . . . where they are seldom likely to advanced to real opportunity. A certain throttling down occurs, therefore, both in college and later on, which then, in the usual vicious circle, allows men so mindful to depreciate women as incapable of the higher achievement.

    Clearly it's going to require more than a policy statement and the removal of mechanical barriers for the University to counteract all these ingrained social influences. But lowering the barriers will be a crucial first step. Because when it comes to recognizing women as full-fledged human beings, the University has hardly made a start.


A. Rackham Graduate School.
Back to Text

B. Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
Back to Text

back to top