Harriet Mills was an assistant professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Michigan when she was named to its Commission on Women when it was created in early 1971. In 1986, she provided an oral history, which is excerpted here, about the Academic Women's Caucus, which grew out of the commission.
Mills describes how she initially viewed PROBE, the group that focused on sex discrimination on campus during that time, as a "radical women's group." But she explains how her own perspective changed in the 1970s as she began to learn more about the struggles of women on campus.
Mills discusses the experiences of two talented female faculty members who left the University during this period.
- H. Margaret Davis, a zoology professor, wrote one of the investigators from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in September 1970, detailing the discrimination she had encountered when she had sought a raise (see Document 13A). Davis, an internationally recognized expert in the field of palynology, the study of pollen from ancient plants, continued to battle with the University over back wages before leaving Michigan in 1973 for a job at Yale University, and later, the University of Minnesota.
- Astronomer Anne Cowley had been a faculty member at the University of Chicago when she and her husband were offered faculty appointments at the University of Michigan in 1967. However, when she arrived on campus, she found that her position had disappeared, and she was told she had to find research grants if she wanted a job. Her salary remained low, and her position illusory. In 1973, she appealed to the Commission for Women, which agreed her complaint had merit. Still her department refused to change her status. It was only after she found a new job that the department offered to promote her. By then, it was too late. Cowley went on to make ground-breaking discoveries about "black holes" in space.
Mills was promoted to full professor in 1974 and retired in 1990.
DR. H. MILLS 8/4/86
TAPE 1 OF 1: SIDE 1
INTERVIEWED BY: P. HOLLINGSWORTH AND A. MARTINEZ
HM: I WAS ONE WHO LEARNED ON THE JOB. I WAS NOT ACTUALLY OUT ORGANIZING ANY OF THIS STUFF. I LEARNED A LOT HAVING BEEN CO-OPTED. AS I REMEMBER, ALL OF THIS ACTIVITY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN CAME ABOUT IN PART AS THE UNIVERSITY'S RESPONSE TO A SUIT BROUGHT BY A RADICAL WOMEN'S GROUP CALLED PROBE. I HAVE HONESTLY FORGOTTEN WHAT THE CENTRAL ISSUE WAS THAT THEY CHALLENGED THE UNIVERSITY ON. THAT IS A MATTER OF RECORD. YOU CAN GET IT FROM JEAN TASCHIAN[A] OR CATHY SHORTRIDGE[B]. THEY WERE TWO OF THE PEOPLE IN THIS STRIDENTLY, OR AT LEAST APPEARED TO ME THEN, FEMINIST GROUP. THAT'S WHAT I REMEMBER, WHICH SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT ME, RATHER THAN THE ISSUE BECAUSE I WAS NOT INVOVLED [sic] IN IT. I ONLY HEARD ABOUT [it] WHEN ONE DAY BARBARA NEWELL[C] TURNED UP IN MY OFFICE AND SAID, "MR. FLEMING[D] IS ORGANIZING SOME GROUP IN RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT'S INJUNCTION AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY, IN CONNECTION WITH THE SETTLEMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE PROBE SUIT. WOULD YOU SERVE?" I SAID, "I DON'T KNOW A FROM Z, BUT I'D BE GLAD TO SERVE." IT WAS MADE VERY CLEAR AT THE VERY BEGINNING THAT THIS GROUP WAS NOT TO BE A PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION GROUP. THAT IS, FACULTY--X PROPORTION, STAFF--X
[p. 2]PROPORTION, NOR COULD IT BE THAT EVERY CONSTITUENT GROUP ON CAMPUS COULD HAVE A REPRESENTATIVE. THAT WOULD GET TOTALLY OUT OF HAND--EVEN IN THE WOMEN'S END OF THINGS. THE IDEA WAS TO PICK A GROUP OF TWELVE, FIFTEEN PEOPLE WHICH WOULD BE REPRESENTATIVE, OR AT LEAST DECLARED TO BE IN THEIR COMPOSITE ABLE TO TAKE A LOOK ACROSS THE UNIVERSITY AND ACROSS WOMEN'S GROUPS, BOTH FACULTY AND STAFF. EARLY MEMBERSHIP OF THAT IS A MATTER OF RECORD. IT WAS MIXED, WITH BOTH MEN AND WOMEN. IT HAD OFFICIALS OF THE UNIVERSITY. WHETHER THEY WERE SITTING AS VOTING MEMBERS OR IN A DIFFERENT POSITION, I CAN'T REALLY REMEMBER. THE ONE THAT STICKS IN YOUR MIND IS THE MOST PERSISTENT IN CAUSING PROBLEMS WAS ED HAYES OUT OF THE PERSONNEL OFFICE.[E] THAT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS PROTECTING THE TURF OF THE OFFICIAL INSTITUTION. IT WAS MIXED AS FACULTY AND NON-FACULTY, AS TO RACE, OBVIOUSLY AS TO SCHOOL. IT WAS A GENUINE ATTEMPT TO AT LEAST GIVE THE IMPRESSION OF A SELECTED GROUP THAT MIGHT HOPE TO BE ABLE TO BE IN TOUCH WITH THE ISSUES. SOME OF US AT FIRST THOUGHT THAT WE SHOULD HAVE MORE REPRESENTATION OF X, Y AND Z GROUP, BUT AS WE GOT TO WORKING I THINK WE REALIZED THERE WAS REALLY NO WAY TO GO. SEVENTEEN SCHOOL[S] YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE SEVENTEEN REPRESENTATIVES OF THE FACULTY AND OF THE STUDENTS. OF THAT GROUP, SOME CONTINUED TO
[p. 3]BE ACTIVE, SOME DID NOT. I THINK ONE PERSON MAY STILL BE ON CAMPUS BUT DISAPPEARED A LONG TIME AGO--JEAN SCHULTZ[F] UP IN THE MEDICAL SCHOOL, BIOLOGIST. BARBARA MURPHY[G] WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE PEOPLE OF THAT GROUP, REPRESENTING THE STAFF. THAT GROUP THEN WAS CALLED TOGETHER, AND WE SPENT A GREAT DEAL OF TIME, AT LEAST A SUB-GROUP OF THIS GROUP, SPENT A LOT OF TIME. ONE OF THE BIG ISSUES WAS THE RELATIONSHIP OF ANY SUCH GROUP TO THE UNIVERSITY. THAT ISSUE WAS NEVER RESOLVE[D], BECAUSE IT'S AN IRRESOLVABLE ISSUE. WE WOULD BUMP UP AGAINST IT EVERY TIME WE TRIED TO FIND OUR MANDATE. ONE OF THE EARLY PROBLEMS WE BEGAN TO TACKLE WAS THE QUESTION OF JOB POSTING. THEN IT WAS ILLEGAL TO GO OUT AND INTERVIEW FOR ANOTHER JOB IN SOME OTHER UNIT IF YOU DIDN'T TELL YOUR BOSS FIRST. IT TOOK TWO OR THREE YEARS OF CONSTANT EFFORT BEFORE WE FINALLY GOT WHAT IS KNOWN AS JOB POSTING, WHICH I THINK TO THIS DAY IS THE SHINING ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE TOTAL WOMEN'S MOVEMENT ON THIS CAMPUS. THAT WAS ONE OF THE MAIN ISSUE[S]. THERE WAS EVERY POSSIBLE OBSTACLE THROWN UP. THAT'S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF ISSUE YOU COULD TACKLE AND GET SOME EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK FROM BECAUSE ONE DECISION BY THE RESPONSIBLE GROUP WOULD EFFECT [sic] EVERYBODY. THERE IS NO COMPARABLE ORGANIZATION FOR THE FACULTY EVEN TO THIS DAY. THAT WAS ONE OF THE ISSUES. ANOTHER BIG ISSUE, WHICH CAME LATER
[p. 4]WAS A SALARY EQUITY STUDY. OF COURSE, YOU CAM IMAGINE THERE WAS A LOT OF BRAGGING. WE COULD NOT EVEN GET, THE UNIVERSITY WOULD NOT PROVIDE US WITH A PRINT OUT OF THE WOMEN ON THIS CAMPUS EVEN FOR YEARS AFTERWARDS, THERE WAS EVERY CONCEIVABLE OBSTACLE THROWN UP. FOR YEARS WE HAD A TERRIBLE TIME TRYING TO GET A MAILING LIST. WITHOUT A LIST, YOU COULDN'T DO ANY ANALYSIS, WHICH IS WHERE THEY WERE LOOKING. THEN WE WANTED TO DO A SALARY EQUITY/JOB CLASSIFICATION STUDY, WHICH OF COURSE IS AN EMORMOUS THING. WE COULDN'T DO IT, BUT WE AGGITATED [sic] A LOT FOR IT. I THINK THERE HAVE BEEN TWO OF THEM DONE. THE EARLY ONE WAS DONE IN-HOUSE OR IN-HOUSE WITH CONJUNCTION AN OUTSIDE CONSULTING FIRM. EVENTUALLY, THEY WERE FORCED TO DO A RATHER MAJOR JOB CLASSIFICATION THING. ED HAYES IS THE PERSON WHO KNOWNS [sic] WHERE ALL THOSE BODIES ARE BURIED. WHETHER YOU CAN GET FROM HIM OR NOT, I DO NOT KNOW. IT HAD TO BE HANDLED SOMEWHERE AND THAT'S WHERE IT WAS. THERE WERE SUITS BROUGHT. YOU OUGHT TO TALK TO MAGGIE DAVIS. SHE WAS ONE OF THE EARLY PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT SUIT AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY, WHICH ALSO WAS IN THE PROBE ERA OR SHORTLY AFTER. I HAVE FORGOTTEN WHETHER SHE WAS NOT BEING PROMOTED OR WHETHER IT WAS AN ANNE COWLEY KIND OF CASE, WHERE SHE WASN'T BEING GIVEN THE CORRECT TITLE, OR SALARY AND EQUITY OR ALL THREE. SHE WAS ONE OF THESE FEISTY NO NONSENSE PEOPLE
[p. 5]WHO HAD THE CREDENTIALS TO BACK IT UP. THERE WERE A FEW VERY COURAGEOUS PEOPLE LIKE MAGGIE DAVIS ON THE FACULTY. SHE WAS THE OUTSTANDING ONE ON THE FACULTY. SHE HAPPENED TO BE A FACULTY PERSON WHO FED INTO THIS TOTAL POT THAT WAS BOILING. I DON'T KNOW MUCH PROBE HAD TO LOSE. I DON'T KNOW WHAT KINDS OF JOBS THESE KIDS HAD OR WHETHER THEY WERE AN AD HOC COMBINATION OF SOME PEOPLE WORKING CLERICALLY, SOME PEOPLE FROM THE TOWN. THEY WERE AN AGGITATING GROUP, AND VERY GOOD THAT THEY WERE. MAGGIE HAD EVERYTHING TO LOSE IN ONE SENSE. I THINK SHE HAD A HUSBAND AND THEY WERE DIVORCED AND SHE WANTED TO BE OUT ON HER OWN AND SO FORTH. OVER THE EARLY YEARS, AND I THINK IT'S STILL TRUE, THERE HAD BEEN NO INSTANCE OF A SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTION OF AN ACADEMIC COMPLAINT AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY. EITHER YOU'RE ALWAYS TURNED DOWN BECAUSE THE REVIEW MECHANISM IS THE SAME ONE THAT APPROVES, OR THE PERSON LEAVES, AND MAY WIN SOME SORT OF A TOKEN VICTORY. IN OTHER WORDS, I THINK IN ESSENCE, IF NOT IN LITERAL TRUTH, IT IS A TOTALLY LOST CAUSE TO BRING AN ACADEMIC COMPLAINT AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY. THAT HAS NOT CHANGED. MAGGIE DAVIS, I BELIEVE, ULTIMATELY YEARS AFTER SHE LEFT GOT ONE OF THOSE VICTORIES. YOU OUGHT TO TALK TO HER BECAUSE SHE GOES BACK TO THIS EARLY PERIOD WHEN IT TOOK GUTS, WHEN THERE WERE NO PROCEDURES. IT WAS A GROUP THAT USED TO MEET UP IN THE
[p. 6]CONFERENCE ROOM IN THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING. WE USED TO MEET AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK. YOU HAVE A PERIOD OF TRYING TO STAKE OUT YOUR MANDATE. WHAT KIND OF ISSUES CAN YOU ATTACK? HOW WOULD YOU PRODEED? THE BIG ISSUES WERE TRYING TO IDENTIFY CONDITIONS WE COULD IMPROVE. ONE OF THE ONES THERE WAS A GREAT DEAL OF AGGITATION FOR WAS CHILD CARE, WHICH IS STILL NOT RESOLVED. I THINK IT'S AN ISSUE ON WHICH A LOT OF OPINION HAS CHANGED. I KNOW MY OWN HAS CHANGED AS I'VE GOT INTO THIS MORE. AT FIRST I DIDN'T THINK IT WAS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE WORK PLACE, BUT MY OWN THINKING HAS CHANGED VERY RADICALLY. HOWEVER I KEPT QUIET ON THIS BECAUSE I DIDN'T THINK I HAD ANY RIGHT TO TALK ABOUT THIS. I WOULD THINK THAT THE COMMISSION FOR WOMEN IF IT STILL EXISTS AND THE ACADEMIC WOMEN'S CAUCUS--THERE'S AN ISSUE ON WHICH THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO GET TOGETHER AND REALLY DO SOMETHING. THAT WAS ONE OF THE ISSUES. OF COURSE THE SEXUAL HARRASSMENT THING HAS COME OUT AND THAT'S NOT JUST THE CAUCUS.
PG: CAN YOU THINK AT WHAT POINT THE CAUCUS CAME OUT OF ALL OF THIS?
HM: I THINK THAT AFTER A FEW YEARS, WHEN THERE HAD BEEN CERTAIN THINGS GOING ON, JOB CLASSIFICATION, SALARY EQUITY, CERTAIN OF THE BREAKTHROUGHS HAD BEEN MADE WE WERE ABLE TO GET PRINTOUTS,
[p. 7]WE COULD ASK QUESTIONS. THE PERSONEL OFFICE HAD INDEED SAT DOWN WITH THE CONSULTING PEOPLE AND SOME OF THE STATISTICIANS FROM THE COMMISSION AND SO ON. THE ISSUE OF GRIEVANCES WAS PERPETUAL. WE BEGAN TO FEEL THAT THE ISSUES OF WOMEN ON CAMPUS WOULD BE BETTER SERVED BY HAVING AN ACADEMIC GROUP THAT WORKED ON ACADEMIC PROBLEMS. THE IDEA ORIGINALLY WAS THAT WE'D HAVE A ONE-TWO PUNCH TO BRING ON ANY WOMEN'S ISSUES. THE COMMISSION WAS CLEARLY A VIABLE OPERATION. AFTER A WHILE WE BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT SOME OF THESE PROBLEMS WERE BEING SOLVED, BUT THERE WERE OTHERS THAT HAD NOT EVER BEEN TACKLED. WE BEGAN TO FEEL THAT ONE OF THE FRONTIERS WE HADN'T ANY FEELING FOR WAS WHO'S OUT THERE ACADEMICALLY? HOW DO YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH THESE PEOPLE? AT ONE POINT I REMEMBER THE WOMEN'S COMMISSION AND THEN LATER THE CAUCUS WOULD TRY TO GO AROUND AND MEET AT DIFFERENT SCHOOLS. AT THAT POINT WE BEGAN TO FEEL THAT WE SHOULD ESTABLISH AN ACADEMIC WOMEN'S CAUCUS. THIS WAS NOT AMTI-COMMISSION, BUT THE IDEA WAS THAT WE'D LOOK AT OUR OWN STUFF, AND THAT IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, IF YOU HAD AN ISSUE YOU'D HAVE TWO GROUPS GOING AT IT.
PH: NOW THIS WAS A SUB-GROUP AT THIS POINT OR WAS IT AN ENTIRELY SEPARATE GROUP?
HM: IT WAS ESSENTIALLY AN EVOLUTION OUT OF. IT WAS SIMPLY THAT THE ACADEMIC WOMEN DECIDED THAT THEY WOULD SET UP SOMETHING TO CONFRONT SPECIFICALLY ACADEMIC ISSUES. JOB POSTING IS IRRELEVANT IN THE ACADEMIC WORLD. SEXUAL HARRASSMENT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN.