Ann Larimore was a member of the University of Michigan's geography faculty and the first woman elected to the executive board of the University's Rackham Graduate School. After the Women's Studies Department was created in the 1970s, she held a joint appointment there, before retiring in 1999.
In this interview, provided for a project on the history of the Academic Women's Caucus, an offshoot of the Commission on Women, Larimore describes how she broke through the University's anti-nepotism policy when she was hired in the late 1960s, and some of the challenges she faced during the course of her career.
Interview of A. Larimore
Transcript of Interview
Interviewer: Elizabeth Duell = ED
Respondent: Ann Larimore = AL
Date of Interview: December 16, 1999
ED: Hello Ann Larimore. She is one of the very early individuals involved in the Caucus.[A] She is going to give the background and information about the early days up until now. Ann. . .
AL: Well, where do you want me to begin?
ED: Wherever you like. You can start out at the very beginning, or jump into the middle.
AL: Well, the Caucus was organized out of the Women's Commission.
Tech: I'm sorry, could you just start again please. . . . .
Tech: Ok, go ahead.
AL: All right. The Caucus was organized out of the newly established Commission for Women and in the beginning there were a group of women faculty that got together and felt that we needed to do something about the status of women faculty on campus. And we were really concerned with our working conditions and our employment status, our salaries, and our role within the University. And I think Eunice Burns[B] was the chair of the Commission at that time and she was very supportive. And there were other senior women staff, professional staff, who also worked with the Caucus in the early days. But I remember thinking I was kind of the junior mentee of this Caucus because I was somewhat younger than most of the people who were in that original group, like Harriet Mills[C] and Libby Douvan.[D] I think Rosemary Sarri[E] and I were about the same vintage.
But you gave me some questions to answer, and I really organized what little I have to say about these questions. And you say, "What are your most important memories of the climate for women over the past three decades? And what changes have occurred or should have occurred? Well, the climate for women 30 years ago was abysmal. Actually, I came to Michigan through the agency of the geography department chair at the time, and Dean William Haber.[F] And one of the major reasons that I was hired was the break what was known then as the nepotism rule. I was a faculty wife. My husband had been hired here two years before. I had both Ph.D. and a post-doc and had taught as an assistant professor at another university. And so the. . .
[p. 2]and I was not part of the Michigan family. I was from elsewhere in the country. So I think I was probably a good candidate for the hiring of a faculty wife with professional academic credentials who would break this unwritten rule, as it turned out, although during the negotiations about my appointment, I was given to understand that this was a written rule of great permanancy. And that was the rule that prohibited faculty wives from being hired, particularly in the same unit that their husbands were in.
Well, I do feel that something has been accomplished because most people don't even know that rule was in existence, and we have real validation of dual career families now with actually staff and personnel time being given to being able to place dual career families in the University. And in fact, the current provost is part of a dual career family. And her husband is in another unit within the University.[G] So that's a change that rally has taken place.
On the other hand, the change that needs to go with that has only had marginal change, and that is the whole question of child care. There have been several serious attempts by women's groups on campus to get more than token institutionalization of child care on this campus. And as of now, we only have a few small facilities that are very low key. This issue, I don't think, has really been addressed campus-wide since the WING initiative, which is now quite a long time ago. And that was the second or maybe the third campus-wide attempt to get child care really addressed in a way that does credit to the University as a great institution. So I think that's an agenda that needs to be taken care of.
And along with that goes the whole question of parenting leave. When I had. . . when I got pregnant and had my daughter I was so afraid that I would lose my job that I hid my pregnancy. I can remember sitting at a table when my husband was getting a teaching award with various deans, and having purposely worn a relatively shapeless dress but one that was not a maternity dress, I scooted down in my seat at the table and got real up close to the table so that nobody would see that I was a few months along.
I took no maternity leave. I was out of the classroom for ten days. I didn't even ask for it. I just assured my chairs that I would have my classes covered. There is now provision for maternity leave, although I don't think it's as straightforward as it could be or as extensive as it could be. But there's not even the concept of parenting leave on this campus. And that it extremely important. It's extremely important to recognize the father as having as much equity in the birth of the baby and the beginning of the child's life as the mother. And so I think that's something that needs to be talked about.
ED: I think they said statistically, there are very few men who have taken any opportunity to do that. And at least, rumor wise, it's that they're afraid that their careers will suffer.
AL: Well, that's what needs to be changed. I mean, yes, I've heard that too. And I think that's quite accurate about Sweden, that all the parenting leave is there; relatively few men choose to take it. If that's the attitude that from peer pressure that comes in, I think it's short-sighted. It's just my own sad opinion, because it denies fathers a great deal of joy and of participating in the getting established in the first year of the child's life as an important human person for that child and in participating with the mother in the routine of care. So those are changes that I can be eloquent about.
Another change that really needs to occur has to do with tenuring and promotion of women, where women, if we wrote a report in the early days in the graduate school called the higher, the fewer. In many ways, that pyramid still exists. And the small number after more than a generation, the small number of senior women faculty in tenured positions and in positions of leadership and authority on campus, is really outrageous. We've done better at the junior ranks, but we still in some schools face very arbitrary tenuring procedures and decisions and that needs to be opened up. There really needs to be much more campus-wide discussion of these issues.
Along with that, on the student side, after thirty years one would expect that there would be relatively equal proportions of men and women, not only at the undergraduate level, which in L, S & A[H] at least, has been attained. But not in some of the other undergraduate schools that look directly toward professional degrees. But certainly in the professional schools that has not been achieved and that in some professional schools there are still fewer than 25% women, I think says something about resistance. And so that's, I think, a real problem.
When you link small numbers of women students in a school with very small numbers of senior women faculty, after thirty years of the women's movement, there is definitely a message that is being communicate non-verbally. And then that can't be said without pointing out that for women of color, whether they are African-American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, this situation is even grimmer. And in too many areas of the University what women faculty of color there are are in units which are designated by racial, ethnic designations, like CASS,[I] or like American Culture, where many of the ethnic programs are lodged. There is only beginning to be a spreading out of women faculty of color throughout other units, and that certainly needs to be looked at and thought about.
One of the ways that I originally got really committed to issues of women on campus was through cases of sexual harassment, particularly when I was on
[p. 4]the executive board of the Rackham Graduate School. And I believe I was the first woman to be elected to a full term, in the mid-‘70's. We were doing work there on a grievance code and I introduced the term into that grievance code. I called it "sexual intimidation" because I thought a lot of the purpose of harassment had to do with general intimidation of what may be particularly bright women; graduate students.
But this is a much bigger issue and I think that it has not really been solved on this campus yet.
ED: In what ways do you think it's still a real problem?
AL: I think It's perhaps more subtle. I think there have been male faculty members who have been eased out, but I think that there is still a climate in which women can be approached in inappropriate ways, particular when the power relations between the male faculty person and the woman student or women junior family, is quite a differential.
Let's see. Well, what has been my involvement in changing the climate for academic women? One of the things that I have found necessary to do from time to time is to protest what seemed arbitrary and really unfair tenure decisions. And whether that means organizing a group of women faculty to protest, or protesting myself, that's something that I felt I've had to do upon occasion, when I felt that I had the professional expertise, the academic knowledge to say, "Hey, wait a minute! How in the world could this decision have been reached?" That's been hard to do.
In the early days of the Academic Women's Caucus, we took a necessary decision which, when we look back on it, you can say, "It might not have been the wisest decision, but I think it was absolutely necessary for us to organize ourselves and be legitimized on campus; not be destroyed. And that was we said, "We would work on general issues. We will not take up individual cases." There were women suing the University at that time and we didn't come out and advocate for them because we felt that would make it impossible to work on the different kinds of issues like tenure; like mentoring junior faculty; like employment conditions that really would have lasting value in changing the University. So while I think it was necessary, it was also regrettable. But you can't do anything without having regrets.
And you say, "What issues do remain?" Well, I think there is the biggest issue is. . . still. . . we're still working on transforming the prevailing culture and the structure of the academic system in which we work. And having said that, I think we've come a long way on many different, separate issues. I think the issues are now on the table and where they are being resisted, yes, they are being resisted. They can't be dismissed as "noise" or "those people are always complaining" which I think was easy to do thirty years ago.
But you know, I have friends who have talked with Bishop Tutu[J] and when they say, "What do you do about the issues in America?" He says, "Well, maybe you all need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission." And I think there's a lot of wisdom in that remark. And I think that we need reconciliation and getting beyond resistance on this campus. And I think one of the ways that we can do that is that I think a lot of resistance is based on fear. Whether it's acknowledged or unacknowledged, usually it's unexpressed. So we really have to begin reconciliation by looking at those fears and seeing if they are realistic.
I know that one fear that's out there in male culture, and not just in the University, is that, "Well, if we give women an inch, they'll take a mile. And what they really want to do is take over." I don't think that's right. I don't want to take over. But I. . . I've always. . . I was brought up. . . I've always believed that partnership is better than domination and that that's the way you really get positive change and positive accomplishments done. So I would like to see us working toward partnership and partnership not just of men and women, but across racial and ethnic divides and other kids of divides that are not spoken about, but are really here on this campus. We need new images of how that partnership can work and we need to encourage. . . we need to offer them, if it's us who needs to offer them, or if we can find men who can offer them to other men who are resistant, that would be great.
ED: Do you think with the recent appointment to a number of women at executive levels by the President and the Provost will help? That it will trickle down?
AL: Oh, I think it helps. No, I don't think it will trickle down. Trickle down theory is very questionable. When we look at the data of how diffusion operates. It doesn't necessarily work by trickle down. Trickle down is a kind of wish fulfillment theory of oligarchies, if I may speak theoretically of when you have cartels operating in control. They would like to think that trickle down works, but the diffusion, particularly informal diffusion, processes are much more complex than that and there's a great deal of lateral diffusion that operates through informal and very often invisible communication chains. And we need to try to involve all those kinds of networks in trying to change the climate on campus. I don't want to come across as saying that the climate hasn't changed. The climate has changed. I mean, there have been many, many changes. What we see now is a very classic pattern of general diffusion where there are pockets that are lagging. But there also are areas where there is real leadership taking place and people are really advancing. So it's very uneven across campus. What I am hopeful for is that it will take less than another generation. I think it could take much less. And when we think about the classic learning curve is, well we all
[p. 6]know that the classic learning curve starts out this way and then it rapidly ascends. And we should be taking that to heart and seeing if we can't get at the change in pace and change in direction that makes us get on to the upward part of that curve.
ED: Do you have any other things you would like to comment on at the moment?
AL: Oh, let's see. Yes, I do have another. This is an agenda item. This has something that the University hasn't even thought about. And that it that I think the worst discrimination that happens at the University at the moment, the one that's lagging furthest behind when you look at all the different kinds of discrimination that are in the Regent's Statement, is probably age discrimination.
We recruit our students on what I must say I think is an obsolete manpower model, which posited that you recruit students at a very early age, you educate them and train them professionally and then they will stay in careers for the rest of their lives. Now we are beginning to see that that is in fact not correct. The current data don't support that. There's not just job changing going on over the lifespan, over the span of careers, but there are profession changes. Perhaps a good deal of this is due to a much longer expected lifespan. But whatever it is, it's happening and so we really need to look at how we are welcoming people at all stages of the life course into the community as students. And I think that there needs to be a lot of rethinking about that.
One of the things that we got started at Rackham, which came out of the higher, the fewer report that we did, was what was called a non-traditional scholarship or recognition that there were people who had stayed out of the educational stream for a while and wanted to come back in, and that that should be fostered and encouraged. But it's always remained a very tiny stream, and one that's not acknowledged as a major source of exciting students who can make excellent contributions to the campus. And I think that has to be further legitimized and seen as a primary source of students. So that's. . .
ED: Another whole area...
AL: Another whole area, yes. But I think that's a part of the agenda that needs to be addressed and at least thought about.
ED: Very good. Anything else that you would like to leave with us at this moment in time?
AL: Well, I mean I could go on at great length with anecdotes. But maybe I'll just tell you this one and that is that I came to the University of Michigan on a
[p. 7]dual appointment. I was at the Residential College[K] as one of the original faculty beginning to teach there. That was to be an innovative unit; interdisciplinary and it certainly took the lead through the late ‘60's and early ‘70's as a way of channeling some of the changes that students were pressing for on campus in a productive way. I've often thought that we were very, very fortunate on this campus to have President Fleming at the helm at that time. He was one of the major reasons why all those turbulent years at the University of Michigan were largely, if not almost entirely non-violent. In contrast to most other campuses; many, many other campuses in the United States. But I also think that the Residential College can be given some credit because we served as a safety valve. That's the lowest denominator term that you could use. But we also served to channel frustrations into creative action. And at that time, that was what was going on in the Residential College.
Over in the geography department, where I was the only woman faculty member, when I got there they hadn't addressed the question of giving me an office. So the first year I was there I had a desk in an alcove in front of the office of the man who hired me, who had engineered my appointment with Dean William Haber. Well, it. . . I mean, I was happy to get a desk. That was my mind set at the time. It didn't strike me until years later that in fact I had been given the receptionist's desk, or the private secretary's desk; that here was another way in which non-verbal environmental arrangements; arrangements of the office environment, was sending a signal.
But in a couple of years I had an office of my own and always got the office I wanted from then on, so that worked itself out very quickly.
ED: That's a very interesting story. (laughs)
AL: (laughs) I've got others but I don't think we've got time for them.
ED: Thank you very much. This has been very informative.
AL: Thank you.
(end of interview)
Transcribed by Kathleen Peabody
Ann Arbor, Michigan
B. Eunice L. Burns was appointed chairwoman of the Commission for Women in fall of
1974. A former member of the Ann Arbor City Council, she was then working as a part-time
assistant to the dean for administration of the University's School of Education.
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D. Elizabeth Douvan, a professor of psychology, contributed to the original complaint
filed with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare as a member of FOCUS
on Equal Employment of Women.
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