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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Challenges yet facing women faculty and students

Though some changes have come, Lane believes that many more strides need to be made both for female students and for female faculty at UNC. She discusses what she believes to be the key issues for both groups.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA DEAN:
Absolutely, the whole thing, over the course of the number of years that you have been affiliated with the University and your awareness of the history of women at UNC. What do you see? Do you see significant change and of what nature?
MARY TURNER LANE:
Oh dear, as far as women students are concerned, I do not believe that the knowledge about gender and women is part of their study at the high school level. I do not think that it has permeated the history books, the political science books, or any of the courses that they teach. I think that high school students do have a notion that they will work now, that women will work. They're aware of that, of the great increase of women in the work force. I think that's very clear, but in the last, one of the last programs I had or that I worked on in the University in trying to assess women students' understanding of work, we discovered to our great dismay that they were comfortable with the word "work" or "job," but totally uncomfortable with the word "career." Men, I believe, still have the same notion of lifetime work or career if you call it that. Women students, I believe, still have the same traditional notion of work, or jobs, and they think of it in terms of from job to job, or I'll have a job until I marry—the same thing I grew up with. And to me, that notion should have changed.
PAMELA DEAN:
Did they even believe, understand, that they're going to work even while they're married, but nonetheless, it's going to be a job?
MARY TURNER LANE:
It will be a job, and it will be a job that I would have to assume will be a lesser job because they also say, or they did in that little study, that they would stop work when they had children. Now the reality of life will impinge upon that statement, and they'll find out they can't do that. So, I guess my, the status of women students is that I'm not sure that we have helped them understand the economic realities of their lives as women. You can cite divorce statistics to them; you can cite child support statistics to them; you can cite cost of rearing children, and yet they still do not see themselves as fully responsible for their own lives, whether single or married. And that is, that's the most dismaying part of it. The good part is, I think they have begun to think along nontraditional lines in terms of work. They're doing many more different things. They believe that fields are open for them in many different ways. They also believe that there is no discrimination out there, and if they do their job and do well, then they will do well. So those are the pluses and minuses of where I think women students are. Now as far as the status of the faculty, we did a review of the status of women faculty three years ago in which we reviewed all of the recommendations over a ten-year period that had been made by other committees on the status of women. We reviewed all of the statistics that told us how many women were in associate professor, assistant professor, how many women were chairs of departments, how many women were in administrative offices. Almost nothing had changed over a ten-year period. Now, that was dismaying. What is happening is that the figure of 16.3% or 16.7% of the women in the tenure track positions, that figure has held, maybe in a ten-year period of time, it's come from 14% to 16.7%, and right now, it may be up to about 18%, but that's not much change. Year before last, thirty women faculty were brought in as new faculty members, but 26 had left, or did leave, or whatever the number was. So the attrition rate, for whatever reason or reasons, does not support a growing number, does not support growth. Now, what we tried to do in the Committee on the Status of Women two years ago when we did a detailed study of women health affairs, was to look at all of the sources of concern. Then we met with five deans in Health Affairs and shared that and got a very positive response from those deans who said, "Women are our best students. We must do whatever's necessary to make them come into the graduate programs of medicine, dentistry, public health, whatever." That was a red letter day to sit in that auditorium and hear that statement being made—that women in medicine were the best students, and we had to do something to keep them. We had reports from women who work in secretarial or administrative positions about their concerns, the ways in which they were still being treated, and it was a very serious study. We had a very serious response to it. What the University does not connect is hiring and retention. There are all of those things that have to do with treatment of women, that have to do with daycare, that have to do with all of those issues that are not just women's issues, but parents' issues.
PAMELA DEAN:
Then the reality is that women are still, even professional women, the primary parents.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
Even in a couple.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, clearly women are the ones who are going to give birth to these babies.
PAMELA DEAN:
Right, but as far as parenting, raising, being responsible on a day-to-day basis….
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, that's right. So my observation is that the University exerts great effort to hire.
PAMELA DEAN:
Give them credit for that.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Oh, absolutely. And they have done some improvement on the way searches are held. They do careful checking as to whether or not women were interviewed and brought in. And I know how it usually is, or I've heard stories of how you can write paper reports that do not really reflect what actually happened. But certainly the process is much more carefully monitored in hiring than it has ever been, and that is great. But until somebody is concerned about what happens after these women get here, then they're still going to have a hard time. I don't see women getting any kind of executive training here. I don't see women moving into any of those low-level, or very few women—I shouldn't say any because there are but they're different—associate and assistant deans, minor administrative offices where they could begin to get some kind of administrative experience. Now they can't do that if they are junior faculty having to write and publish. But we won't have a cadre of women to move into deanships and into administrative positions unless somebody puts them into these positions. So while I think that the verbal up-front, loud-to-the-public statement of "We are equal opportunity employees, and we believe in this, this, and this,"— this University has not been as aggressive in promoting and pushing women forward as it has in pushing blacks forward. One of our requests when the new Chancellor, when Chancellor Fordham came in, and this little core of women who met together on so many issues, set up a wish list. It wasn't a wish list. It was six things he could do very easily. Our first request was that there be a women Vice Chancellor, and we were told that was not necessary. He had immediately appointed a black Vice Chancellor when he came in so that perhaps we didn't get to him soon enough. But until the University can say, "You don't have to ask us how we treat women. Look at our administrative structure and that will tell you." I have interviewed so many women who sought me out, who came here when they were being interviewed for jobs, or I made myself available.