Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose son had recently started at BYU-I and had yet to encounter a female professor. After 25 years in higher education, mainly in “the world,” I was a bit surprised. But then I remembered my own experience at BYU back in the 1980s: in four years of undergraduate study (as an English major no less), I had exactly one female professor. To my discredit, I had never before bothered to count.
This made me wonder whether or not my experience, and my friends’ son’s, was typical at Church schools. As a senior academic administrator, I worry quite a bit about gender disparities in our faculty, and I spend significant time and attention trying to make sure that we close the gender gap. For reasons that I will explain at the end of this post, I consider this essential to the core values of higher education, Does my alma mater think the same way? How do the ratios of male and female faculty members at the three Church universities compare to their peers? Inquiring minds want to know.
Fortunately, these are not the sorts of questions that one has to wonder about for very long. The Department of Education maintains a massive database of information on every institution of higher education in the country: every beauty school, barber’s college, culinary institute, college, and university has to report just about anything about themselves that they can quantify to the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, known throughout the industry as IPEDS (“eye-peds”).
The IPEDS data set is very rich and very easy to access. It lets you take any of the variables in the database and develop comparisons among any number of other schools in the United Sates. All you need to do is construct a comparison group, select a few variables, and hit go. For example, this is how the three BYU’s compare in faculty gender balance to the schools of the Big Twelve—an athletic affinity group that the main campus in Provo seems interested in joining (and which, I learned when compiling this table, does not even have twelve schools, since math is apparently not one of their sports)*:
This doesn’t look good for the BYUs. But let’s be fair: BYU is a religious school with a religious mission. Most Big Twelve schools are large publics. And neither BYU-H nor BYU-I have much of anything to do with huge schools like the University of Texas. This is not the best comparison group.
So let’s try this one: a peer group made up of religious colleges and universities of various sizes, but all part of generally conservative religious traditions. Some of these are large national universities, others are regional colleges, and others are small liberal arts institutions. They vary widely in rankings and prestige. Only their religious missions—which are as close as I can find in the world of higher education to the mission of the BYUs—unites them:
The average number of female faculty members is a little bit lower in these groups, but the BYUs are still outliers, and not by a little bit. They are basically their own category of gender imbalance. In fact, if you take the entire list of 3261 institutions of higher education in the United States with 15 or more faculty members, and rank them according to the percentage of their faculty positions held by women, you have to get to the bottom 100 schools to see any of the three LDS universities, which score 3168, 3203, and 3221.
So, what accounts for these dismal rankings? It is certainly no accident that all three schools are run by a religious organization with a strong focus on families and traditional gender roles. In fact, in August of 1997, the main campus in Provo applied for and received an exemption to Title IX employment directives allowing them to ask job applicants questions that had been ruled illegal for other institutions. These questions all had to do with the applicants’ acceptance of LDS doctrine, including “the significant emphasis on the importance of family and the differing roles of men and women within family.” Certainly this explains why LDS universities don’t encourage women to work outside the home. Doesn’t it?
Well, actually, it doesn’t. Let’s look at one more table to see why. This table includes five kinds of employees other than full-time faculty: non-tenurable instructors and lecturers, part-time (adjunct) faculty, service staff, and administrative support—all positions with less pay, and less prestige, than full-time faculty members:
Let’s break this down a little bit.** BYU is very much in line with other schools on the percentage of support staff that is female, even though these jobs are much less family-friendly than full-time faculty positions, which have highly flexible schedules and summers off. BYU-P is second from the top in this peer group in the percentage of full-time, non-tenurable faculty positions held by women—positions that do all of the work that full-time faculty members do but with lower pay, less institutional prestige, and less flexibility. And both BYU-P and BYU-I are close to the top in the percentage of non-tenured, non-permanent, abysmally paid adjunct professors who are women.
These data show that the Church’s universities do not object to women working full-time, teaching classes, or being away from their families—as long as they do not have high-paying, high-status positions on the faculty. And this is a problem.
Actually, it is a whole bunch of problems rolled into one. One of these problems has to do with quality: women account for about 52% of Ph.D.s earned in the United States. This means that slightly more than half of the total candidate pool for academic jobs—and easily half of the best candidates for any positions—will be female. Therefore, hiring practices that favor male candidates will often not hire the best candidates.
But the biggest problems with the aggressively unbalanced hiring practices suggested by this data has to do with the spiritual environment that it creates for our children.
It tells our daughters that their educational potential is limited. When they go through two, three, or four years of college without ever being taught by other women, they internalize a belief that men are smarter and more capable than they are—and that they do not have the natural ability or cultural support to achieve their highest educational and intellectual aspirations.
This is unconscionable.
But it tells our sons something even worse. When we give them an environment in which virtually all of the people with low status and little institutional power are women, while all of the people with high status and great institutional power are men, we are showing them that there is no reason that they need to take women seriously. They need only see men as experts or as people with authority. We are therefore playing into an entitlement that young men often already feel. We are telling them that women exist to serve their needs.
And this is deplorable.
* Data is from 2013. The full IPEDS report is only required every other year, and the 2015 reports have not been posted yet, so 2013 is the most recent year for which the full data set can be accessed.
**Because this table covers so many categories, I am only displaying percentages, not raw numbers. But here is a link to the entire data set used for all of the tables in this post, should anybody want to do their own tinkering.