Mignon Moore '92 (left)
and Nicole Marwell '90, assistant professors in the sociology
department, returned to their alma mater to teach.
Photo: Michael Dames
Celebrating Coeducation - College Honors Women in Academia on
20th Anniversary of Coeducation
By Shira Boss-Bicak '93
Columbia College Women is honoring 10 alumnae who work in higher
education with its 2004 Alumna Achievement Award as part of the
University’s 250th anniversary and a celebration of the College’s
20th year of coeducation.
“We thought that one of the most fitting ways to celebrate
the 20th anniversary of coeducation was to honor those who are perpetuating
the great academic legacy of Columbia College,” says Bonnie
Rosenberg ’91, chair of CCW’s Alumna Achievement Award
Committee. Candidates were evaluated on the basis of their academic
and professional achievements and service to their schools, professions
The honorees will participate in a weekend-long celebration that
kicks off on Thursday evening, April 1, with a dinner in Low Library
that will feature keynote speaker Rosalind Rosenberg, professor
of history at Barnard. Tickets are $35, $25 for young alumni (from
the past five years) and free for students by lottery. Please RSVP
to Kim Puchir in the Alumni Office: firstname.lastname@example.org
or (212) 870-2794, or online: www.college.columbia.edu/alumni/events.
On Friday, some of the award winners will spend part of the day
participating in their departments of expertise, meeting with students,
and, in some cases, leading seminars. There also will be a social
event for the students, honorees and alumni. Then, on Saturday,
April 3, there will be a “Women in Higher Education”
track of presentations at Dean’s Day, where several of the
alumnae will speak on their areas of research.
“Networking happens all the time with the good ol’
boys network. We’re trying to get networking going with the
good ol’ girls network,” says Rebecca Castillo ’94,
Twenty years ago, the first women to attend Columbia College as
regularly admitted students were completing their first year on
campus and taking part in the school’s evolution.
“Columbia is a quirky combination of traditionalism and
avant garde, which is reflected in how it went co-ed so late,”
observes Ritu Birla ’87, assistant professor of history at
the University of Toronto.
A small group of those women — and of those in later classes
— chose to pursue careers in higher education. While women
have been cracking the glass ceiling in corporate environments,
and in many academic fields women are receiving one-third to more
than one-half of all doctorate degrees, female professors in tenured
positions remain a rarity — not the rarity they were 20 years
ago, but still a rarity.
“If asked, I tell students that we face all of the challenges
— and some more — that working women face in this country,”
says Jennifer Baszile ’91, assistant professor of history
Many universities have released reports of a dearth of female
professors, especially in the sciences and engineering. One noteworthy
study was conducted from 1995–99 at MIT, where the number
of tenured men in the six departments of the School of Science outnumbered
tenured women 194 to 15.
“Clearly, a key causal factor was the gender bias that women
faculty experience as they progressed through their academic careers,”
notes a summary from MIT’s Gender Equity Project. The results
showed that women faculty at the university often were paid less,
given less space and fewer resources, and received less recognition
for professional accomplishments. MIT, along with other universities,
including Columbia, has taken steps to recruit, retain and promote
women faculty, but improvements are a work in progress.
This year, Columbia College Women will honor 10 alumnae professors
in celebration of how far women have come at Columbia College and
to recognize their achievements in a field that still struggles
with gender equality. “A Celebration of Coeducation: Columbia
College Salutes Women in Academia” will take place in Low
Library on April 1.
Several of the honorees switched their intended courses of study
while undergraduates and decided to become professors because of
experiences in Columbia classrooms.
“The history department changed the path of my life,”
Baszile says. She had been considering majoring in political science
and going on to law school when she took a class, “History
of the South,” taught by Professor Barbara Fields.
“From the first day, I was enthralled and intellectually
stimulated by that class, excited and consumed by what she was saying,
in a way I’d never been by anything,” Baszile says.
“In that class, I decided I would become a historian and go
to grad school, and I knew what I was going to do with the rest
of my life.”
Birla also went from pursuing law school to entering academia:
“There were great mentors and great deans at Columbia who
helped me come to a moment where I was making the classic choice
of: ‘Am I going to law school, or am I going to pursue this
thing that’s a little more risky?’ ”
Mignon Moore ’92, assistant professor of sociology at Columbia,
was considering a business career when she took a sociology class
and was immediately hooked, although not in a conventional way.
She did not agree with all that she heard, but instead, “thought
several issues weren’t addressed adequately,” she recalls.
“I found myself thinking, ‘There’s still more
work that needs to be done.’ ”
Moore was thinking about the field of sociology, but the sentiment
applies to academia as a whole. “One of the advantages of
women in coeducation is to offer our experiences and new approaches
to existing ideas,” Moore says. “When you don’t
have diversity, you’re missing important pieces of the puzzle
but don’t know you’re missing them.”
Moore believes it is helpful for students to see women and minorities
in positions of authority. In part, it was the exposure to inspiring
women teachers on campus that opened Baszile’s mind to academia.
“I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was very
powerful to have compelling examples of intellectual rigor who were
women,” she says, referring to history professors Fields,
Elizabeth Blackmar and others. “It empowered me and made me
— naively — look past gender issues in academia.”
Virginia Cornish '91
(right, with Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis), assistant
professor of chemistry, was the first graduate of the College
hired to a full-time faculty position at Columbia and received
the CCW Alumna Achievement Award in 1999.
Photo: Joe Pineiro
Despite the push for faculty diversity, women in academia face
different and perhaps greater challenges than their male counterparts.
Balancing a tenure track with planning a family is one challenge
and seeking out senior women mentors and shouldering the responsibility
to mentor others is another. Receiving tenure is, by the numbers,
a more difficult achievement for female faculty. “The challenges
are undeniable,” Baszile says.
One self-perpetuating factor is that power at universities is
concentrated among the officers and tenured faculty, who still are
by a large majority white and male, and who appear to favor promoting
people like themselves.
“What I hear in selection committees is, ‘We already
have a woman, so we don’t need another one.’ They’ve
checked off that box,” says Abby Schrader ’87, associate
professor of history at Franklin & Marshall College.
All of the award winners interviewed stressed the importance of
developing supportive networks at a university, in and beyond one’s
department, with an emphasis on seeking out more senior women. On
the flip side, because women do seek out women mentors, and there
are fewer of them to go around, and the process becomes more time-consuming
for those who wish to help those in the ranks below them, even graduate
students and undergraduates.
The conversations also get more personal than they might with
male professors. “[Students] want to talk about their dissertation,
but also ask, ‘How’d you manage to have this baby?’”
Baszile says. “It’s demanding, and there aren’t
that many people whom they can ask the question.”
Not every woman in a higher position on campus wants to be a mentor.
When Schrader was a graduate student at Penn, 40 percent of her
department’s faculty was women. While that was great in terms
of having role models, she notes, “Women were still reluctant
to discuss these issues with grad students because it was seen as
trivializing the academic pursuit.”
And it’s not just women who often feel comfortable turning
to a woman professor for advice. “I’ve been highly sought
after by students (male and female) across the University because
I’m black, female and young, in that order,” Moore says.
She adds, “I have a box of tissues on my desk where people
who come in can reach it. You probably won’t see that on male
Being in demand extends to professional service in the form of
committee work. Again, there are fewer women and minorities to go
around, but because every committee ideally seeks out that perspective,
women and minorities often end up devoting more time to service
Managing one’s time and balancing professional work, extracurricular
work and home life is a challenge for women in academia much as
it is for other professional women. Academic jobs are attractive
in that they are flexible in terms of the daily schedule and having
time outside the classroom. On the other hand, the hours can be
never-ending, especially during the years in pursuit of tenure.
The question of when to fit in a family, if desired, is big among
“There were theories floating around when I was in graduate
school about when it would be a good time for a woman in academia
to have a child,” Baszile says. She married Victor Bolden
’86 when she was in graduate school, but they waited to have
their first child until last year, four years after Baszile had
finished her doctorate and started teaching. Although she hears
the tenure clock ticking and devotes much of her time to work, Baszile
says she made a personal decision. “As much as I’m committed
to my job and I’m passionate about my profession,” she
states, “family comes first.”
That’s an easier decision to make if one has found the time
to get married, if that is in one’s plans. Otherwise, by the
time women have completed their graduate degrees and devoted themselves
to the tenure track, Schrader points out, they are commonly between
the ages of 35 and 40. “By then, it’s more difficult
to find a spouse and to get pregnant,” she says. “Nobody
talked about this when I was an undergraduate, in terms of what
your life will be like.”
All of the Columbia alumnae being honored are active mentors,
and having an honest dialogue with students about the challenges
of women in academia — and ways to overcome them — is
part of making progress. That there are fewer women than men in
the upper ranks of many fields should not be discouraging, Moore
maintains. “That’s not a reason to stay out of these
fields. It’s a reason to go into them,” she says.
“A Ph.D. and a job in academia allow you to influence thinking,”
Moore adds. “Your ideas make a contribution, and good research
has an impact on thinking and literature, society and public policy.”
Contributing writer Shira Boss-Bicak ’93
is a freelance journalist in New York. Her most recent CCT
cover story (January 2004) was about Provost Alan Brinkley.
THE 2004 CCW ALUMNA ACHIEVEMENT
Jennifer L. Baszile ’91,
assistant professor of history, Yale
Ritu Birla ’87, assistant
professor of history, University of Toronto
Amy D. Dooling ’91, assistant
professor of East Asian
languages and cultures, Connecticut College
Dara E. Goldman ’92, assistant
professor of Spanish,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Leslie M. Harris ’88, associate
professor of history, Emory University
Nicole P. Marwell ’90, assistant
professor of sociology, Columbia
Elizabeth McHenry ’87, assistant
professor of English, NYU
Mignon R. Moore ’92, assistant
professor of sociology, Columbia
Mary Patillo ’91, associate
professor of sociology and African-American studies,
Abby M. Schrader ’87, associate
professor of history,
Franklin & Marshall College