Women in higher education at NMU

The UNITED Conference celebrating diversity at Northern Michigan University dedicated some time Monday to women in higher education.

Women have made tremendous gains in college enrollment in the last few decades. More than 60% of U.S. college students are women, and for more than a decade now, more than half of Americans receiving Ph.D.’s have been women.

However, women have not yet had as much success at being hired for tenured and tenure-track college faculty positions. “As you go up in the ranks, you find fewer and fewer women, so by the time you reach full professor here at Northern Michigan, only 34% are women,” University of California-Davis law professor emerita Dr. Martha West said. “On my campus, it’s only 26%, so we still have a long way to go.”

Dr. West says the situation is changing as women make up a larger and larger percentage of the Ph.D. candidate pool because that’s where college faculty members are hired from, but she says the changes are taking place very slowly.

She says women have a harder time advancing quickly up the ladder than men do, and women faculty members often receive about 10% less pay than men who do the same work.

Integration of work and family life is also often a problem. “Too many women have felt they’ve had to choose between having children and being successful in academics,” West said. “That was true for my generation. I’m hoping it’s no longer true for the younger generation.”

The UNITED Conference continues through Thursday night on the NMU campus. Most of the events take place inside the university center.