Professor Emeritus of of Religion
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1984 – 89
The real reason I think that there was pressure then to admit women to Columbia College came not so much from faculty but from the administration. Columbia College was becoming less and less competitive, because young men didn’t want to go to an all—I mean, we were the last of the Ivies, by far, to become coed. That was the real pressure. So then they formed this committee, and I have really no idea why I was put on it. At that point, yes, I was chair of a department and I had taught at Columbia College, I had taught graduate students, and I certainly was for it, but it wasn’t until I was on that committee that I discovered just how—I think I can use the term—prejudiced some of my colleagues were. I remember for instance one of them saying…in a committee meeting, even said, “Well, now that we have an all Columbia College, men can live in a dorm, we need a girl”—it was men, they said, men—“we need a girl for every man.” Now, okay, it’s a joke, right, but it’s not something that you would say in an official meeting.
Then there was one very distinguished member who he then was for it, but he wanted a quota, because he said, “Well, there may be a lot of smart women, so maybe we should limit it to fifteen percent.” Then they talked fifty. Then someone would just say, wait a minute, you can’t do that, that’s outlawed. But it was those things that made me then realize how old fashioned. In fact, that’s right, I was the only one. I tried to get them to change. I spent a lot of time, when we used to have the minutes, changing language in the report because the person who was taking it just took down what was said, and it was invariably “the men” and “the girls.” Well, it’s a small thing, right? It just suggests they’re unequal…We were asked to edit it, and the person who was chair of the committee absolutely agreed with me. I tried at various points to tell them, because I was so shocked by all this. They then wanted—because they suddenly realized, hey, this is it. Our report I think came out in April. It was at the end of the term, and we had a faculty meeting. I tried to persuade them that we shouldn’t admit women that fall, we should wait a full year. I felt very strongly that we needed to gather administrative resources, we needed to have assistant dean of students, we need to have faculty who were made more aware of the ways in which you need to change some of the attitudes if you’re going to have women and treat them as equals, but nobody wanted to listen.
So finally I wrote a minority report. It was very short, I think it was one paragraph, in which I basically said I supported the committee in everything except I thought we should wait another year because we needed a year to really make the university, and especially Columbia College, really be able to build the resources so that women would be really welcomed as equals. I still remember the then associate dean of the college coming to me as I went to the faculty meeting, and he said, “Gill, I hope you are aware that you’re not actually a member of the faculty of Columbia College.” Well, I wasn’t aware. It happened, in those days, you see, you were appointed to different colleges, and I’d been appointed to the graduate school. My chair had simply forgotten to nominate me. I had taught undergraduates. I mean, I almost had to laugh, because I said, “Look, I want to make the report.” My vote, with a faculty of five hundred, that doesn’t matter. But again, they were so scared of this, and it was so silly. In fact the majority voted for doing it right away, but without my having any idea the provost and the president decided it was better to wait a year.