During the fall of 1970, President Robben W. Fleming received a number of heartfelt letters from women writing about his administration's response to the HEW investigation and findings of sex discrimination at the University of Michigan. Marcia Federbush, the author of this letter, wrote from her perspective as the wife of a mathematics professor. She noted that she was not a member of PROBE, but nevertheless was "distressed" that the University still refused to share the government's findings publicly. Like many women in Ann Arbor, Federbush was also upset over reports that the findings were being shared with other university presidents. She referenced an article in the November 20, 1970 issue of SCIENCE, the weekly publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which reported: "Calling the [HEW] demands 'totally unreasonable,' Michigan officials circulated copies to several other university administrations in an attempt to gain support."
Federbush described her view of the challenges faced by women mathematicians and urged Fleming to release at least some portions of the HEW findings "before another unpleasant confrontation materializes."
The following year, Federbush researched and wrote, "Let Them Aspire! A Plea and Proposal for Equality of Opportunity for Males and Females in the Ann Arbor Public Schools," described as the country's first study of sex discrimination in a public school system. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, she filed the first complaint against a university under that law, charging the University of Michigan with gross discrimination against women in athletics. In recognition of her activism, Federbush was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1988.
[typed after receipt] HEW - M. Federbush
1000 Cedar Bend Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105
December 5, 1970
President Robben W. Fleming
215 South University
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Dear President Fleming:
Not being a member of PROBE, I was distressed last night to learn of the University's refusal to release the results of the HEW investigation and the University's subsequent response, later rejected by HEW. It is particularly distressing since some of the information about the University of Michigan has become available through the publication SCIENCE, and through administrators of other universities.
This is a period when women are suddenly becoming aware of the enormity of their debasement in all sectors of society. What hurts most of all is the realization that they have been living with obvious and subtle, purposeful and unintentional discrimination all their lives and have somehow either failed to recognize it or have not tried to change it.
When my husband, who is on the executive committee of the Mathematics Department, tells me with complete seriousness that the Math Department does not discriminate against women, I feel frustratedly indignant. There are 89 paid faculty members in various capacities, NONE of whom are women. Surely, when 52% of the population is female, there are some notable capable women mathematicians. Because of the recruiting efforts of Prof. Maxwell Reade[A] during the last few years, about 17% of the math grad students are women. It does not make sense that the department considers girls qualified to become students but not faculty members. Clearly the University must recruit able women as faculty people with the same enthusiasm that it recruits Blacks.
The Math Department is just an example. Obviously women cringe when they learn that out of 57 tenured Education professors, only five are women- especially considering that female students outnumber male by almost two to one and that some 40% of the doctorates are earned by women (Many more
[p. 2]such statistics were distributed by the Center for the Continuing Education of Women at its recent symposium on WOMEN ON CAMPUS.)
I am sure that you can well understand the inflamed feelings of a great many women whose lives are intimately entwined in the fabric of the University. To deny them access to the contents of a governmental investigation which may well affect all present and future women at Michigan is again to have decisions concerning their welfare made for them, above them, behind their backs, and without their knowledge or consultation.
If it is a question of not wishing to divulge specific names of individuals singled out by the report, certainly these can be concealed without obscuring the intent of its contents or the nature of the University's response to it. I feel that it is clearly desirable for women to know how the University is proposing to remedy existing inequities.
If it is at all in your power to do so, before another unpleasant confrontation materializes, won't you please reconsider the decision to maintain secrecy concerning this issue. I think we will all be better off for it.