Photo by Maria Valente
Male professors and administrators, with few exceptions, outnumber women at Pepperdine University. But women are climbing the ranks in both administrative and faculty positions.
At Seaver College, there are 1.48 male professors to every single female professor, according to Pepperdine’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. Pepperdine’s management and support staff is almost one-to-one, but upper-level university administration is heavily male, with a ratio of 11 to 1, according to the Pepperdine website. And while there is movement, factors such as church history, slow turnover and course evaluations may present continuing challenges for women at Pepperdine.
Roshawnda Derrick, an assistant professor of Hispanic studies, discussed Pepperdine’s status on the issue.
“I think we like to say we’re moving in the right direction,” Derrick said. “[But] we know the world is run by men.”
From no women to many
While the ratios of men and women faculty in educational and management positions became more balanced over the past five years, there is still a gap. Male professors are in the majority in six of the eight academic divisions at Seaver College, with the biggest gaps in the Natural Science, Religion and Philosophy divisions. In contrast, female faculty outnumber their male counterparts in Humanities and Teacher Education and International Studies and Languages divisions.
This table shows the number of male and female professors in each division at Seaver College in 2017, the undergraduate campus of Pepperdine University. This information was gathered from the Pepperdine University Faculty site.
There is also an quantifiable disparity in professor ranks. Women are more likely to be an associate or assistant professor than hold the highest “full professor” rank at Pepperdine, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. There has been progress, though. The male-to-female ratio of full professors has gone from 3.33-to-1 to 2.73-to-1 in the past five years, meaning that there is still almost three male full professors to every one female full professor.
In terms of Seaver’s administrative staff, the numbers are a lot more balanced. In 2017, the male-to-female ratio of management faculty (which includes support staff, office managers and Student Affairs staff) was 0.96 to 1.
However, in terms of the university’s senior administration, which includes deans, vice presidents, the provost and the president, there is a larger disparity. For instance, there are five male deans (Michel Feltner, the dean of Seaver College, Paul L. Caron, the dean of the School of Law, Derek J. van Rensburg, the dean of the Graziado School of Business and Management, Pete Peterson, the dean for the School of Public Policy, and Mark S. Roosa, the dean of Libraries), and one female dean, Helen E. Williams, the dean of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology.
This table shows the male to female ratios in professors across all ranks, from 2012 to 2017 (Data courtesy Pepperdine Office of Institutional Effectiveness).
This graph shows the male to female ratios in the full professor rank, from 2012 to 2017 (Data courtesy the Pepperdine Office of Institutional Effectiveness).
This graph shows the male to female ratios in the associate professor rank, from 2012 to 2017 (Data courtesy Pepperdine Office of Institutional Effectiveness).
This graph shows the male to female ratios in the assistant professor rank, from 2012 to 2017 (Data courtesy Pepperdine Office of Institutional Effectiveness).
Male to female ratios in management
This graph shows the male to female ratios in all management faculty. This includes senior administration, but also supporting staff, office managers and student affairs staff (Data courtesy the Pepperdine Office of Institutional Effectiveness).
Some female members of the Pepperdine faculty remember a time when there was not only a gap in gender equality in terms of ratio of professors, but there were hardly any women at all. Constance Fulmer, divisional dean of Social Sciences and an English professor, has worked at Pepperdine for more than 20 years.
“When I first came, there was only one other female professor besides me,” Fulmer said.
Fulmer said she has witnessed the strides women made inequality at Pepperdine firsthand.
“There were [men] who I suppose resisted, [but] I was used to it,” Fulmer said.
While she said progress has been made, she would like to see it happen at a faster pace.
“Recently [Pepperdine] hired a few [female] vice presidents, which I would say was long overdue,” Fulmer said. The two female vice presidents are Connie Horton, vice president of Student Affairs, and Marnie Mitze, vice president and Chief of Staff of Pepperdine University.
Pepperdine’s Center for Women in Leadership has been a resource for mentorship, research grants and other opportunities for female faculty. The organization promotes women in all departments and holds leadership conferences for faculty.
One of the Center’s committee members is Sara Jackson, the university senior vice chancellor.
“Bottom line, I think that the institution suffers when there are not more women at the table,” Jackson said. “It’s been disappointing that we haven’t had more vice presidents and deans that are females.”
These women also created a series of videos called “Her Story,” in which female members of Pepperdine’s faculty told short stories about networking, role models and overcoming fear.
In the same vein, the Seaver College Committee on Female Faculty created mentoring “pods” for exclusively female faculty. Lauren Amaro, assistant professor of Communication and a committee member, said these pods provide the women on campus with a strong network.
“Men usually don’t have a problem having their mentoring needs met,” Amaro said. “[The pods are] meant to, overall, promote unity and connectedness among women on campus, because it can sometimes feel isolating.”
Amaro said there are issues that affect professional women drastically more than men.
“Women [who have children] still take care of two-thirds of the domestic labor at home,” Amaro said. “Most of us have significantly more difficulty in advancing our careers than men.”
The pods, which began about four years ago, are made up of four to five women, each from a different division at Pepperdine, and each in different parts of their career.
“Most research on mentorship indicates that a top-down, hierarchical model is not great,” Amaro said.
How does Pepperdine compare?
Women in top administrative positions are rare at colleges and universities around the country.
Although the majority of student populations are female at 57 percent, only 30 percent of university and college presidents are female, according to USA Today. That is a 27 percent difference “between female representation in the classroom and representation at the top of the university food chain,” Haley Samsel reported in a June 20, 2017 USA Today article.
A 2017 study from the American Council on Education found that the majority of university and college presidents are still “white males in their early 60s.” Pepperdine fits that bill.
Inside Higher Ed reported on the ACE study as well, writing that “the data suggest colleges and universities are prioritizing experience when they have to hire a president … but because presidents have historically been white men, the emphasis on experience comes at a cost to hopes of increasing diversity.”
Church of Christ and Women
There were many people, in the early days of the Churches of Christ and today, who claimed that scripture proved women were not allowed to hold higher up positions in the church.
Susan G. Higgins, professor of Sociology and Missions at Milligan College in Tennessee, wrote in an essay that several people in the church held the opinion in the late 1800s “‘…that women must not preach, and that those who did or even encouraged the practice were opposing God.’”
Higgins also reported that at a North American Christian Convention in 2000, congregations were obligated to send in names of ministers who they thought deserved recognition.
“Not one name,” Higgins wrote, “was that of a woman.”
Loretta Hunnicutt, associate professor of History at Pepperdine, dedicated her research to the history of the Christian tradition and women.
“[Gender equality] hasn’t happened as quickly as some might wish, and I think this is due to the conservative nature of the church,” Hunnicutt said. “But Pepperdine is a leader in pushing those boundaries.”
Pepperdine was one of the first schools associated with the Churches of Christ that allowed women to take leadership roles, such as campus ministers and chaplains, in the religious aspect of the university, Hunnicutt said.
“George Pepperdine would say that the school is a friend of the church, not connected to the church,” Hunnicutt said. “That allowed for more room for women.”
Hunnicutt also wrote in the online publication Christian History Institute that the silencing women endured had a lot to do with biblical interpretation, particularly a passage from Paul indicating women shouldn’t teach a man.
“The Churches of Christ held more closely to a literal interpretation of Paul’s instruction and resisted accepting women in the more public forms of ministry,” Hunnicutt wrote. “But it is changing.”
As bleak as this religious history might seem for women at Pepperdine, Hunnicutt argues that there are positives to having a religious tradition at a college.
“[Universities] that are the most successful are those that maintain ties to a particular religious tradition,” Hunnicutt said. “You gotta have some roots.”
A population without equal representation
Women at Pepperdine have moved into leadership positions with more and more velocity. In fact, Horton and Sarah Stone Watt, moved into positions of high leadership in their departments within the past year. Horton is now the vice president of Student Affairs, and Stone Watt is the divisional dean of Communication. Although these are not the first women to become a vice president or a divisional dean, their hiring is an indication of increased female faculty in leadership roles at Seaver. There are several other female divisional deans at Seaver today, including Cathy Thomas-Grant, the Fine Arts divisional dean, and Fulmer, the Social Science divisional dean.
Horton, originally hired as the Director of the Counseling Center, was promoted this past summer. Horton said she believes that there are more moves to be made on behalf of equality for women at Pepperdine.
“If you see pictures of top leadership, there’s a lot of males,” Horton said.
She is one of only two women who attends administrative meetings. Marnie Mitze, vice president and chief of staff of Pepperdine, is the other.
“[The men] probably don’t notice it, but you do,” Horton said.
While Horton doesn’t recall any blatant sexist remarks from her coworkers, Horton said she notices some differences in the way her counterparts speak to her.
“Partly because of my gender, but also partly because of my past as a therapist, people think I’m a softie,” Horton said.
She said some of her male colleagues see this as a weakness.
“People will try to take care of me,” Horton said.
Horton said one possible reason there aren’t more women in leadership positions at Pepperdine is that there is lack of movement in the ranks. Certain administrators have been in their positions for years, leaving no room for women to take their place.
Horton doesn’t think there are men actively keeping women from assuming leadership positions at Pepperdine, but said society as a whole still faces challenges in creating spaces for women and people of color in leadership positions.
“People say there’s no racism [generally], but there are racist policies,” Horton said. “Nobody thinks they’re sexist, but [there’s] your leadership.”
How does this affect students?
Students are also guilty of discriminating, either consciously or subconsciously, against their female professors. It was found that there are more negative reviews about female faculty on the popular site, RateMyProfessor.com, than there are for males, according to a recent report in the Graphic.
At Seaver, Stone Watt, whose research is in the rhetoric of persuasion in genders, said casual and sometimes subconscious sexism is apparent in student evaluations.
“Students will say ‘She’s smart, but she’s intimidating,’ ‘she’s nice, but she’s intimidating,’” Stone Watt said in regard to her own student evaluations. “I’ve had to work hard to not seem so intimidating. I don’t think my male counterparts have to do that.”
As a professor of Hispanic studies, Derrick said she gets comments on evaluations that are gender-related, but also about her age and skin color.
“I’ve gotten comments in evaluations and in office hours questioning my authority because I am younger and I am a woman of color,” Derrick said. “There are certain things that as a woman and a woman of color that I can’t get away with, and others do.”
English Professor Maire Mullins said statistics show this is not unique to Seaver.
“Female professors are often evaluated … much harder,” Mullins said. “Students seem to cut [male professors] much more slack.”
On the other side, female students are underrepresented in top student leadership.
“I think that given that most of our students now … are female … some representation in terms of gender would be very good,” Mullins said.
Students express a need for that as well. Isabella Ordaz, executive vice president of the Student Government Association, said the administration is less than inspiring due to fact that she simply can’t relate to them.
“I’ve never looked to the administration as a source of empowerment,” Ordaz said. “I’m not looking to be inspired by AKB, frankly. I’m looking for inspiration from those women who have persevered through the same obstacles that I’m currently up against.”
Ordaz said the gender gap affects student-run groups like SGA as well. As of this year, the group is made up of 8 women and 12 men. Of these eight women, only three of them ran and were elected by students: Ordaz, Tiffany Nomakchteinsky, and Marisa Thompson.
“The [executive] boards in the past few years have been predominantly all male and one woman,” Ordaz said, who has been involved with SGA since her freshman year. “Women aren’t running.”
Is Pepperdine sexist?
Provost Rick Marrs said he not only believes that there should be more women in leadership positions at Pepperdine, but he is an enthusiastic proponent of that.
“We’ve got really talented women,” Marrs said. “One of the things I try to do is keep encouraging them to think seriously about getting involved in leadership positions.”
Not every woman on Pepperdine’s campus is looking for a higher leadership role, which, in conjunction with the fact that women are in the minority anyway, could be the reason that there aren’t more women in leadership.
“For some women,” Hunnicutt said, “[leadership positions are] not something they want for very good reasons.” Women may be preoccupied with their home life, or they could simply be happy right where they are.
Marrs said diversity is easily increased in the student body, as they roll over every four years, but it is harder to increase diversity within the faculty. A lack of people retiring or moving on from Pepperdine results in a lack of open opportunities for all.
“I have been in meetings where [someone has said] that as soon as you mention diversity or women [when hiring], we just need to acknowledge that we probably are not going to get the best candidate,” Marrs said. “I just don’t buy that at all.”
While many want to see change immediately, it takes a while.
“It’s a job-by-job thing,” Fulmer said of how gender equality will one day be reached. “Woman by woman.”
However slow this takes, female faculty at Pepperdine are hopeful.
“The train’s left the station,” Jackson said. “And there’s no stopping us now.”
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