Document 34: Sara Fitzgerald, "'U' Women's Knight in Shining Armor," The Michigan Daily, 23 March 1972, p. 4.


   This column in the University of Michigan's student newspaper is based on an interview with John Hodgdon, who was then head of HEW's regional Office of Civil Rights in Chicago. One reason the Michigan women were more successful than their peers in pursuing their complaint of sex discrimination was because their complaint ended up in Hodgdon's office.

   The interview on which the column is based took place seventeen months after HEW's initial findings against the University, but reflects the civil servant's no-nonsense approach to his work, and his willingness to continue to stand up to university officials if they did not meet the department's compliance standards. Hodgdon turned out to be another of the male "white knights" in the federal bureaucracy who enabled the women to achieve the success that they did.

[Bracketed material is inserted to explain or correct original document]

[p. 4]

'U' women's knight in shining armor

By Sara Fitzgerald

   He sits in his office, thirty-odd stories above the streets of Chicago, amid piles of printouts and federal employment orders.

   His shirt untucked, his shoelaces untied, he resembles a latter-day Don Quixote, still tilting at windmills in the form of Universities.

   John Hodgdon is just one cog in the gears of a massive federal bureaucracy. He knows his place, when to keep his mouth shut, when to defer to "The Secretary."

   But to University administrators and University women, Hodgdon is a mighty important cog. For it is his office, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare Regional Civil Rights office, that decides whether the University is fulfilling its commitment to the equal hiring of women.

   Like many of those in HEW's ten regional offices, Hodgdon started out as an investigator during the civil rights movement, when HEW was into school desegregation.

   Now HEW's civil rights energies have turned to women—and Hodgdon and the 138 investigators nationwide have a new focus: the hundreds of colleges awaiting HEW study.

   Times have changed at Hodgdon's office since it made its first "historic" investigation of this University in November, 1970.

   "We didn't have much information when we went to the University,["] the bespectacled Hodgdon reflects. "When people got there, they hardly knew what to do. We knew there were some complaints and we talked to the complainants. But some of our people were saying, 'We're just going in there and pulling files, just pulling them blindly,' to see something we really didn't know what it meant."

   File-pulling is out at HEW—statistics are in.

   Hodgdon's office notified the University in February that it must provide extensive computer data with the social security number, rank and salary of all University employes, plus a great deal of information on past employes as well.

   "It's my feeling that the data we've requested from the University is the best place to be looking," he says. "That tells us more than anything."

   BUT UNIVERSITY officials have said it may be "impossible to provide the necessary data."

   And HEW may just say, "Tough luck!"

   When Columbia University was unable to come up with the statistical information HEW asked it to provide, HEW ordered contracts to be withheld from that institution.

   And Hodgdon says the same thing could happen here.

   That's how important the information is to HEW.

   "We've had some problems dealing with the investigations, dealing with the data," he says. ["]My own feeling is that if we get the facts—you know America is a country which goes for facts, football scores, baseball scorse [sic]—I think when we can show the institutions what the facts are, they'll pay attention."

   "If we just come in there and say 'you're discriminating', they'll say, 'Not me!'"

   The attitudes of administrators, the specific complaints of women mean little. Statistics are all.

   But what about salary adjustments, file reviews, corrected grievances just before HEW comes to town?

   "I see this as a long range, five to ten year problem," he answers. ["]I think the University would just as soon give us a piece of paper and have us say[,] 'That's a nice piece of paper[,]' and go somewhere else for more pieces of paper."

   HODGDON IS a pretty important person, but he is just a person—just one in a chain of federal offices that stretch from Chicago to Washington.

   When his office finds evidence of discrimination, the work is reviewed by the department. It hasn't reversed any decisions to withhold contracts, but then there haven't been many contracts withheld," he explains. [Two lines of original text transposed here and corrected by editor to read as it was originally intended.]

   Another Washington office—the contract compliance division—then withholds contracts—in what is often a haphazard manner.

   It takes "a while for the machinery to get going and then awhile to unplug itself after HEW says 'fine,'" he explains.

   But the system is new and Hodgdon doesn't even have information on which schools in his region are federal contractors.

   "What do you do, write a University and ask it?"

   "That's the ultimate method," he replies with a smile.

   AND THE REST of the University-HEW squabble placidly passes him by.

   He seems nonplussed that Secretary Eliot Richardson has yet to rule whether HEW can force a University to achieve equity in graduate admissions or give back pay to women who have been discriminated against.

   And while he is aware of the intensive lobbying efforts on the part of universities to get HEW off their backs, it doesn't bother him. "These guys don't come to see me, they go to see the secretary," he says modestly.

   So he sits in his office, waits for the computer print-outs to come in, then he and his staff make their decisions on how "affirmative" the University's affirmative action plan for equal hiring is.

   And "sooner or later we're going to have to tell the University whether 'you're doing your job.'"

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