Discrimination at Vassar

A woman recently won a lawsuit charging her employer with sex discrimination. In these litigious times, that's nothing new. But what made this case striking is that the guilty party was Vassar College, a leading women's college and a hotbed of feminism. The case involved an assistant professor of biology named Cynthia Fisher, who was denied tenure. Yet her qualifications were excellent: She had won prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation; she received favorable reviews of her published scholarship; her students gave her positive evaluations. The judge found that her credentials outshone those of several colleagues who were paid more and who received tenure. So why was Dr. Fisher pushed off the tenure track? During the trial, the chairman of the biology department admitted the ugly secret: Dr. Fisher had taken eight years off to raise her children—and that, the judge ruled, "was a principal factor in the department's recommendation to deny her tenure." What an outrage for a college that claims to be an advocate of women. Since its founding more than a century ago, Vassar has expressed a strong commitment to women in higher education. But apparently that commitment must be bought at a high price. The trial revealed that for the past 30 years, Vassar has not granted tenure to any married woman in the hard sciences. The bias against marriage and family is so intense that another biology teacher told the court she had an abortion in a desperate attempt to protect her career prospects. This disturbing story dredges up the dark side of feminism for all to see. Feminism has swallowed the idea that having a family is deadly to having a career. The biology department chairman said that taking even a few years off to raise children is enough to leave mothers too far behind in their fields to ever catch up. Ironically, what all this proves is that feminists have been duped by a male corporate culture. In the 1950s men were urged to live for their jobs: to be Organization Men. Corporate culture treated wives and children as adjuncts of a successful career. Raising a family was trivialized as a leisure activity—left largely to women, who were supposedly not competent enough to do the "important" work of earning a living. It was this devaluation of mothers' work that helped spark the modern feminist movement— and rightly so. But feminists went about it backward: Instead of challenging the low view of motherhood, feminists bought right into it. Betty Friedan's pivotal book The Feminine Mystique describes mothers as "empty," "infantile" creatures, mere "biological robots." In other words, feminists passively accepted the male devaluation of motherhood—and then decided they would succeed by the standards of the male corporate culture. That's why even an elite women's college like Vassar can treat marriage and motherhood as an impediment to success in the professional world. As Christians we ought to challenge this destructive standard of success. The Bible places the family at the center of the social order, and treats child-rearing as a high calling—for both fathers and mothers. Being a good parent is the first and highest form of success.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary