Sizing Up Women's Rights on Campus

Veteran battler against sex discrimination sees progress - and a long road ahead

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN the late 1960s, when Bernice Sandler was one of a handful of women pushing for laws prohibiting sexual discrimination on campuses, she figured it would take a couple of years for women to achieve equity.

"I thought I'd work for two years and then go on to something else," the forthright woman says. "After two years I upped my estimate, and I started adding five years, then 10 years. Now I think 500 years, maybe even more.... We're really talking about tremendous social changes, and they don't come easily."

Ms. Sandler gave her prognosis for women in higher education in a Monitor interview and a recent speech at Radcliffe College.

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For the past 23 years Sandler has shaken up the academic establishment. In 1970, she filed the first charges of sexual discrimination against more than 250 colleges. She also helped develop and pass Title IX - a 1972 federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in athletics and academics. Now a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Women Policy Studies, she writes and consults with universities on promoting equity for women on campus.

Compared with the chilly academic environment of 1970, significant progress has occurred for women in six areas, she says:

* Two decades ago, laws against sex discrimination didn't exist. Since then, "we've gotten rid of overt policies that prohibit women," including quota systems for professorships and students.

* Antinepotism rules have disappeared. Sandler describes instances in the early 1970s where full-time women professors received no pay because their husbands taught in the same department; some colleges required all women students to live on campus, in effect limiting their numbers. On many campuses, women's sports received no funding.

* Sexual discrimination is now recognized as a serious issue.

* Women are more energized and organized to combat sex discrimination. In 1970, "I probably knew everyone" working on the issue, she says. Now, more than 100 caucuses, committees, and professional associations are involved.

* Women's issues have become institutionalized on many campuses. "In 1970, having a campus committee on the status of women was a fantasy," Sandler says. Now, many universities have those commissions as well as affirmative-action officers and policies prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment.

* Women's studies are growing. Colleges in the United States now offer 30,000 courses on women.

Despite these accomplishments, Sandler says "what is harder now is we have less of the horror stories and more of the subtle kind of behaviors, and those are harder to deal with...."

Of university hiring practices, she says that 25 percent of academic posts are filled by applicants who file resumes. But the rest are hired by the "old boys' club," she claims. And while salaries of women in higher education posts have improved, they still earn only 85 percent of what men make. And few women have broken into the top administrative jobs, especially at the more prestigious schools. Sandler says the two hot-button campus issues now are sexual harassment and sexual assault.

What needs to happen in order for women to achieve equity? Sandler lists a number of changes, including "adequate" child care in the US, which would enable more women to work; parental- leave legislation; helping men and women understand the subtle aspects of sexual harassment; and having the upper levels of business, colleges, and the government respond more strongly to sexual harassment and stereotyping.

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