All posts by Sarah

“The review was a really big break…”


Moore Collegiate Professor of History
IRWGS Director, 1994-96

The Arts and Sciences administration reviews departments, but [David] Cohen had begun to set it up as procedure, which would allow them, others, experts to say what we were doing, where’d we come from, what we could do. And that would be the basis to allocate new resources. That was a really big break…We had arguments over outside reviewers. Why did we have to go to Princeton, or other so called peer elite private universities rather than the great state universities. They’re the ones that have the great programs. We don’t know any of these people that you’re bringing in. They’re not women’s studies, they’re part of the apparatus. I remember feeling that this had to be managed.

Jean [Howard] and Martha [Howell] said, “We will write up who we are.” They did a fantastic job. In the end, the outside reviewers came from Princeton. They made strong recommendations that we needed new faculty, we needed resources. It was on that basis that Alice Kessler-Harris would be hired and then a couple of years later, Lila Abu-Lughod. That was a huge movement.

I can remember we had very lively discussions. We had strong committees to choose the people. We had fascinating candidates, just remarkable…it was substantial. What was so gratifying was to see was that somebody like myself could move out, and others coming in…That’s part of the story the unexpected unfolding and growth, and evolution down to the present. It’s just remarkable.

“The Open Forum on Women at Columbia meeting…”


Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature

Someone on the secretarial or administrative staff within Low Library had discovered there were these disparities, but in order to make a case they had to get some men to be willing to say this, which of course I was perfectly willing to do for Joan [Ferrante]. So they were able to threaten suit or whatever. As a result, for a number of years, Joan’s and my salaries were absolutely tied, which was itself unfair because at that point Joan was much more distinguished than I was. But that didn’t matter. As long as she couldn’t say she was being paid less she had no kick coming. Then came the ‘80s, we finally decided to do something.

We sat around the lunch table in the faculty house, where you could have lunch in those days, and talked about this. It was an unlikely group. Carolyn [Heilbrun] was involved. Joan was involved. Paul Dinter, the Catholic chaplain, was involved. Betty Jemmott wasn’t there, though she obviously would have been interested…We had the first meeting [in 1982], then we talked about having an all-day conference, which shrank to this [indicating a day-long open forum] by the end of the year. After that, it sort of burbled on a little bit, but then there was the Commission on the Status of Women, the University Senate got involved, and then eventually IRWAG [Institute for Research on Women and Gender], which came later. I’m sure Joan, who was much more involved in all that than I was, would have been able to give you a much better timeline than I.

I was always very interested in this from a purely political point of view. This was an injustice that had to be—as far as getting involved in the actual studies of it, I wasn’t qualified, and it wasn’t where my primary interest was. That was for other people to do. I’d go to IRWAG events, but I don’t think I ever belonged to it. I guess I still am on their mailing list, but I guess everybody’s on their mailing list. I never was fully involved. Carolyn, of course, was. For me, it was just a question of kind of a political enterprise that had to be attended to.

It was never just an English department thing. No, absolutely. The fact that Joan and Carolyn and I were all together in the English department—we never thought of it as departmental—first of all because the English department, we felt, would not be terribly sympathetic, it was not going to be fertile ground. We didn’t see it that way. We saw it as at least Arts and Sciences wide. My recollection—which may be very faulty again—was that we batted around all kinds of ideas. How can we bring pressure? We came up with this idea of a forum, I think, fairly quickly. Not this forum, this first meeting, Open Forum on Women at Columbia. We’d have to get that done. That was a good size—my recollection is about two hundred people showed up for that. Joan might be able to correct you on that. We did a good job, and again, you have to thank our graduate students, not just the three on this [Linda Berkeley, Sandra Prior, and Beth Langon], but some of the others who were willing to go around and put posters up and make sure people that knew about it. So people were interested, mostly women, to be sure, but some men.

“…organizing to protect intellectual freedom…”


Moore Collegiate Professor of History
Director of IRWGS, 1994-96

So I missed that period with Roz [Morris]. At the same time, I’m hugely sympathetic with Roz’s political engagement. After I came back I worked with her, but at that time I think she’d stopped being the director. We’d worked together to founded this CU-FACT, this little network. How do we put together a listserv? Big deal. It meant a lot then in terms of all this conflict around Iran, around accusations of anti-Semitism, the lack of desire and capacity to protect junior faculty, to enable them.

I missed what, in retrospect, and from what you’re saying, was probably a big turning point in connecting the institute to a new level, a new kind of engagement of younger faculty, more of them crossing numbers of disciplines, and also tying to new social movements. I’m still trying to figure out the timing of that. There was a big increase in politicization around the Iraq War. We were, I think, probably the first place, which had this enormous protest, and then all the fallout—the repression and this and that, which began to make things very complicated and tortured internally. It wasn’t just women at all. There were a lot of men, Middle Eastern or—
That was disturbing, that you had to be so protective of the quality of speech in order to have an impact, and you couldn’t tolerate somebody spouting off. The organization was very good at that in those days, because we had people who had had a lot of organizational experience. It matters when you’re organizing a big event and get people lined up, and da-da-da-da-da, and they can only speak X, Y and Z. It matters.

It became very visible that certain things would be picked up on and circulated. They would be sent around and sent around, and pretty soon someone could get a monstrous email saying God knows what. That must have been the moment when this kind of ad hominem attack started when one person would be taken as representing the whole. Then the university would say, “Oh, my God, there goes five million in donations.” Then what happened after our first big protest against the Iraq invasion? On the anniversary the year after there was another moment of organization. We did a lot of organizing to prevent and to protect it, and then hardly anybody came. Then I don’t think there was a third year, nobody came.