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IVY LEAGUE

Taking on the Economics of Gender Inequity

Prof. Graciela Chichilnisky of Columbia University, shown above on the school's campus in New York, is a world-renowned economist who has been fighting with her employer over pay and other gender equity issues for 16 years. Below, Chichilnisky leads a class.
Prof. Graciela Chichilnisky of Columbia University, shown above on the school's campus in New York, is a world-renowned economist who has been fighting with her employer over pay and other gender equity issues for 16 years. Below, Chichilnisky leads a class. (Photos By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

In the world of economic theory, Columbia University's Graciela Chichilnisky is an A-list star.

Nobel laureates laud her work and call her brilliant; some economists credit her with an important economic theory. She is involved in the economics of fighting global warming internationally, and she was recently elected to the university senate.

Chichilnisky is also embroiled in a bitter 16-year fight, including two lawsuits and a countersuit, against the Ivy League school where she teaches. She says she has been a victim of sex discrimination. Her salary, she alleges, has not kept pace with those of her male counterparts. Research grants have been taken away, and administrators have retaliated because of her complaints, she says.

Columbia officials settled one lawsuit in 1999, raising her salary and paying damages without acknowledging any wrongdoing. But she sued a few years later, saying the alleged discrimination had not ended. The university countersued, accusing her of working for a private company while on medical leave several years ago.

University spokesman Robert Hornsby called it "a long and complex case" that he could not discuss in detail because of ongoing litigation.

Chichilnisky said: "It's unbelievable that they won't just settle this and that they keep fighting it. I just want this over."

Although women account for 56 percent of the undergraduates in schools across the country, they lag significantly among tenured faculty and administrative positions, especially in the Ivy League.

Progress was on display in October at the official installation of historian Drew Gilpin Faust, 59, as president of Harvard University. Her appointment comes after the fiery presidency of Lawrence H. Summers, who resigned last year after a faculty revolt when he suggested that the shortage of elite female scientists might stem in part from "innate" differences between men and women.

Faust's ascension marks the first time that half of the Ivy League schools have been run by women. Brown and Princeton universities and the University of Pennsylvania are also led by women.

But beneath the surface and despite pledges by top leaders of these schools to advance the diversity of their workforces, huge gaps remain.

A 2005 study by the American Association of University Women, called "The (Un)Changing Face of the Ivy League," showed that from 1993 to 2003, the number of female professors rose from 14 to 20 percent of tenured faculty. Among tenure-track faculty -- those in the pipeline to gain the coveted status, which provides protection from summary dismissal and other rights -- the number of women increased from 31 to 34 percent.

The report also said that among all full-time faculty, women make 77 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.


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