Mary Maples Dunn spent the 1969-70 academic year at the University of Michigan, on sabbatical from her post in the History Department of Bryn Mawr College, then and now an all-women's college. As she left Michigan, she felt compelled to write University President Robben W. Fleming a frank letter (Document 11A), expressing her concern about the relatively small number of role models that Michigan's women students would find in its professorial ranks, and the lack of job opportunities for women completing doctorates.
Dunn wrote her letter about six weeks after PROBE filed its formal complaint about sex discrimination at the University. She did not reference the complaint and would not have been so linked into women's networks as were regular University employees. On the other hand, as a departing visiting faculty member returning to Bryn Mawr, she was freer than others to voice her concerns.
In his response (Document 11B), Fleming acknowledged that the university needed "to make changes," but "not all of them can come at once." He said he would forward her letter to "the right people," and a handwritten note suggests he sent it to Allan Smith, vice president for academic affairs, Alfred S. Sussman, then acting dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and Stephen Spurr, then dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. There was no acknowledgment that the concerns that Dunn raised would soon blossom into a major controversy for the Fleming administration.
Dunn went on to serve as president of Smith College from 1985-95, and later as director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at Harvard University and then interim president of Radcliffe College.
FOR INTRA-UNIVERSITY CORRESPONDENCE
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Department of History
July 1, 1970
President Robben Fleming
2068 Administration Building
Dear President Fleming:
My career as a female historian at the University of Michigan has been brief (a resident in Ann Arbor during this academic year with generous visitor's privileges, and a visiting associate professor of history, III A) but full of pleasure and interest. I am on sabbatical leave from Bryn Mawr College, where I am a member of the faculty and live in a milieu in which the intellectual and professional equality of men and women is taken for granted. At Michigan, I have had a claustrophobic sense of living in a man's world, despite the fact that the department of history has been generous but not patronizing. I have missed the companionship of women who share my professional committments and the problems they bring, and I have become defensive about the professional potential of women who should not need my defense any more than men do. This, of course, is a personal reaction, and I can't deny the fact that I have often enjoyed getting on my soap box; but until there are more of us, women may not be entirely comfortable on this faculty.
My relations with students have also been interesting to me, and I think more important than my personal reactions to the University as a man's world. In the first weeks of the summer term, many girls came to talk to me. Most of them volunteered the information that I was the first woman professor they had met and studied with, and they were intensely curious about me. They wanted to know how and why I had decided on such a career, whether I am married and have children, whether I neglect my children, how I cope with these multiple roles. It was a novel experience, and I concluded that at Michigan the students have far too few models to suggest to them the wide range of intellectual and professional choices they can make. Furthermore, my conversations with them led me to think that beyond a narrow range of acceptable professional training (principally, which given my experience is admittedly from a small sample, teaching and social work) they have only the vaguest ideas about the purpose of women's education in general and their own educations in particular. Despite the career orientation of Women's Lib, many women will not take up careers even though they are educated
[p. 2]in a professionally oriented institution. It seems to me that this is a problem which the university has ignored; it has not thought seriously or with clarity about its responsibilities toward female undergraduates.
The case of graduate students is different. They have made a professional choice; the history department welcomes them and certainly gives them excellent training. Several of the graduate women I have met and worked with seem to me first class, and they will probably be good historians. But as long as hiring policies in L. S. & A.[A] do not reflect the increased number of Ph. D.'s being awarded to women, one wonders again if the University has clearly and logically thought about female education.
I have, you see, enjoyed myself in what one of the students tells me is the "real" world. It has been a grand year, and this letter is written out of a sense of obligation and responsibility to a splendid university--but not, alas, a perfect one.
Mary Maples Dunn
Visiting Associate Professor