Engineering profs cite gender discrimination
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
However, this instance is only one of several which adds to Shine’s feeling of mistreatment.
According to Shine, faculty who receive media attention for their research are often praised in departmental emails. Shine’s research about liquid crystals as electrorheological materials were mentioned in a September 1996 New York Times article in the science section titled “Chocolate: The Stuff of Shock Absorbers?” Despite this recognition, the article was not mentioned in any departmental email while the minor achievements of male professors were, she said.
Over the past 16 years, Shine has been assigned only one elective course to teach, despite complaints to Wagner over an eight-year period. Without elective courses, recruiting graduate students to help conduct her research became very difficult, Shine said. Many professors obtain graduate students for research via elective courses. According to Shine, she should have taught close to 20 elective courses in the span of 16 years.
Because Shine feels she was denied electives, and thus graduate students, her research quantity was below par and failed to meet the criteria for promotion to full professorship.
“I thought that the criteria as stated for promotion to full professor in my department required an extraordinarily high standard of research,” she said. “And I felt that my research, whereas the quality is excellent, the quantity is not so good.”
Shine’s negative experiences are not exclusive to her, but to other women too.
Judith Carberry arrived at the university in 1973, and taught in the civil engineering department. Though she enjoyed her time teaching and conducting research, Carberry said her engineering colleagues tainted her experience at the university, repeatedly “impeding my progress.”
“Total discrimination,” Carberry said. “That was never-ending.”
Although Carberry retired in 1995, her grievances are similar to Shine’s.
“Delaware had a terrible reputation,” Carberry said, “for not treating women properly.”
Carberry, 76, came to the university because one of the best environmental engineers in the country, Richard Dick, was at the university, she said. Together, they started the environmental engineering program at the university, which she said became “very successful.” Once her mentor left to teach at Cornell University, Carberry led the program. She was the only female professor in her department, and for most of her career, the only female among the more than 100 engineering faculty.
Carberry learned early in her career she received less pay than her male colleagues. She recalls one of her earlier department chairs pulling her into his office to inform her that she would receive a $5,000 raise because her salary was, as he put it, “appalling,” compared to the male faculty.
Carberry became close with Barbara Settles, a current professor in the family studies department, who was a grievance officer on the faculty union committee. Carberry often spoke with Settles about her experiences in the engineering college.
One year Carberry decided to go on sabbatical leave. When she came back, she found her office was turned into the faculty coffee room, Settles recalls.
“They just sort of invaded her space while she was gone,” Settles said. “Probably another tenured male faculty member who was on sabbatical would not have found his office being used as a coffee room. You know, it’s a funny kind of thing. You can’t be sure it wouldn’t have happened but you just kind of—it would’ve sounded strange; [it] didn’t sound so strange that hers was being used as a coffee room.”
Settles said Carberry took on a large, informal workload as the only female faculty adviser to female engineering students, but did not feel appreciated by college officials. Additionally, Settles said Carberry did not receive equal access to research equipment, and when she purchased her own equipment, others used it as if it belonged to the college.
“She did not find it a completely fair deal in terms of the support for her research and her work,” Settles said.
Carberry criticizes the college for its female hiring efforts during her career. Although the college, under university rules, was required to interview at least one woman for every available position, she said the interviewers treated women with disinterest.
“They were treated as if well, you know, they had to be interviewed because that was the regulation,” Carberry said. “But they weren’t made welcome.”
The crux of Carberry’s complaints is focused around Ib Svendsen, the former civil engineering department chair. She charges Svendsen with repeatedly stealing her research money for his own use over a nine-year period from 1985 to 1994.
Carberry said DuPont Co. offered her environmental engineering program a $5,000 grant each year, and Svendsen consistently took it away. She claims he once went on a trip to Spain with her DuPont grant.
“I complained to the dean about it, and the dean said, ‘That’s his prerogative,’” Carberry said. “It was very demeaning.”
Carberry insists that Svendsen, who died in 2004, and other male faculty members cultivated a misogynistic environment in the college, describing them as “juvenile.”
When Svendsen was reappointed as the department chair in 1995, Carberry retired soon thereafter.
“He told his cronies that women shouldn’t be conducting research,” Carberry said of Svendsen.
Efforts to change
When Tripp Shenton arrived at the university as an assistant professor in 1994, Carberry was the only female faculty member in the department. Although he only worked with Carberry for one year before she retired, Shenton recalls hearing about some of the issues within the department.