Tradition Shattered

By Elizabeth Moran

1961: Martha O'Malley
Martha Patricia O'Malley was the first
undergraduate applicant. Photo from the
Archives of SCU.

Thus read the headline in the SCU campus paper on March 22, 1961. When President Patrick Donohoe, S. J., made this announcement, it was greeted with tremendous aversion and resentment by both male faculty and students. However, one of the students who spoke up in support of the change was ASUSC President Jerry Kerr. On March 22, 1961, Kerr was quoted in The Santa Claraas saying: “Progress has to be served. I realize that at this time student protests are vehement. However, upon reflection, I think the people will see the reasons behind it. The University has to move forward and this is a necessary step.” (Kerr is the current and long-term Executive Director of Alumni Relations.) My arrival came in February 1963 when I replaced my friend Patricia Neal (now a professor of English at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala.). Out of 86 faculty, there were three women—one in honors, one in biology, and myself in English. It was very lonely.

It was an exciting time; there was an air of change and expectation. There were many challenges and concerns; for instance I had to locate the few restroom facilities available to women. When President Donohoe, S. J., gave the Adobe Lodge to the faculty, Alexis Mei, S.J., academic vice president, sent out a memo asking for suggestions. It took a lot of courage, but I wrote to him requesting that the Faculty Club have facilities for both men and women. In his response he thanked me, noting that ordinarily Jesuits don't think of such things. 

And there were some hazards, too: my first office was a cavernous room in Dunne Basement, divided by fairly flimsy partitions into 4 offices shared with three male faculty. In advising students even a whisper could be heard by all in the area. The only entry, a stairwell, posed its own hazards. Male students living in the dorm frequently watched for coeds, dropping water balloons on them. I had to keep a sharp eye out when entering or leaving the building. 

The animosity expressed by male faculty and students was very real. In conversations with Viola Kamena, dean of women, and Marygrace Colby in athletics, I soon learned which faculty to warn the coeds about. In a number of cases, a young woman would never get a grade higher than "C" no matter how bright she was. Academic advising was a minefield one had to navigate with care. 

Obviously, the enrollment in 1962-63 was small in comparison with today. There were about 100 to 125 women students and 800 men. Some young women liked the odds—as did some males. Naturally, classes were predominantly male. At times, young women hesitated to speak up in class, feeling intimidated by their peers. However, as women students were required to have higher grade point averages (GPAs) for admission to SCU, it wasn't long before they competed with men on their own terms. 

My favorite quotation during this time was a statement by President Donohoe, S.J., when asked for the umpteenth time, “Why did you admit women?” His answer, “To raise the GPA.” Which it did! But it also improved the financial situation at Santa Clara. 


At the time I was hired, the atmosphere was very informal. I had met the English department chair, John Quinn, just long enough to shake hands and engage in small talk. Yet when my friend Professor Neal had to leave in January 1963, she suggested that I take her place. Later I did have an interview with Thomas Terry, S.J., dean of Arts and Sciences, but it was not until 1964-5 that I filled out a formal application and got letters of recommendation from my graduate professors while they still remembered me. This was at my instigation. 

Several years later, in 1967, the new English department chair, George Sullwold, came to tell me that I had received tenure. I didn't even know that I was being considered for tenure. Present-day faculty will find this hard to believe.

Of course, from the very beginning, I wanted more women colleagues and began a quiet campaign, talking to deans and department heads about this need. It was slow going at first. It took some time for women to be hired in the sciences; the first was Gerry Tomlinson in biology. After that came Eleanor Willemsen in psychology. But it took years to get women faculty in business and engineering. 

There have been major changes. I remember Dean Bob Parden in engineering tried to hire women but was unsuccessful as they could get better jobs in industry. Today, the School of Engineering has 11 women and 26 men on the faculty, with the former holding three full professorships, 2 associates, 5 assistants, and one lecturer. This is in contrast to 11 male full professors, 10 associates, and 5 assistants. Chances are that nowhere else in the U.S. is there as great a percentage of women full-time engineering faculty. 


Having been educated entirely at public institutions, I was unaccustomed to the lack of women—both students and faculty. One incident made the difference very clear to me. 

One of my freshman students left class one day without a word. I wasn't surprised or concerned. Students often had doctor's appointments or other personal business. The next day he arrived in my office to discuss his absence. His reason: "I have a problem with a woman as an authority figure." Having been educated in Jesuit schools all his life, he had never had a woman teacher before. 

“Well, you do have a problem,” I said. I was sympathetic, suggesting that he could change to another class as it was early in the semester. To my surprise, he stayed with it and me. At the end of the term, he again appeared in my office to ask my advice: “Which teacher would you recommend for a math class the next term?” I smiled at him and replied, “you're not going to like my suggestion: she's a woman!” 

After the next term began, I couldn't wait to check with my female colleague. Did he register for her class? He certainly did. Later, he enrolled in one of my advanced classes.

It had never occurred to me that students might have difficulty with women as teachers. I am thankful that it's no longer a sticking point. 

The impact of women faculty soon began to affect the classroom. As one woman states: 

“In writing classes, women faculty have designed curricula that integrates collaborative work, ranging from one-on-one conferences with students to team projects that students carry out. We have also engaged in collaborative research and writing projects, thus resisting the notion of the ivory-towered scholar, working alone and in competition with her colleagues. Embedded in these designs is the assumption that there are many ways to come to knowledge, some of which can be easily overlooked if we do not push beyond conventional views of teaching writing and doing research.” 

In mathematics, a discipline known to be avoided by women, one woman faculty member in the department stated that “by the early 1980s the balance between women and men taking mathematics classes at SCU was about 50-50. A check of my class rolls shows that many classes since the ’80s were predominantly women, some of those classes having well over 75 percent women.” 

In engineering, a woman professor stresses “hands on” experiences in contrast to many male colleagues who focus more on the theoretical. WOMEN'S STUDIES PROGRAM The most significant change effected by women is the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, which began as the Women's Studies Program in Fall 1980. Earlier in May of that year President Rewak, S. J. appointed Professor Mary Gordon as director in response to a study funded by a $50,000 grant. The program has grown to include courses taught in 15 different depart ments, ranging from anthropology and art to history, political science, religious studies, and others. An academic minor was added in 1994, which averages 15 students each year. 

These courses, which are designed to examine gender as it intersects with class, ethnicity, and nationality, are taught by 36 faculty, six of whom are male. There are 53 multidisciplinary courses offered, including "Gender, Media and Representation," "Gender, Race, and Class in 20th Century Europe," and "Family in U.S. History." The basic introductory course is entitled "Women and Gender Studies" with a capstone course for seniors (and some juniors) consisting of directed reading/research and/or internship.


Aside from the changing curriculum, there were changes in faculty programs as well. In 1978, a Faculty Development Program (initiated by Diane Dreher in English, David White in chemistry, and myself) was established to advise faculty about research and grant opportunities. An additional incentive included overnight conferences on matters of teaching and research. At times, off-campus scholars presented their expertise to the faculty, meeting at Villa Maria, Santa Cruz. At other times SCU faculty shared their experiences with one another. This stimulated crossdisciplinary discussion as faculty from various departments participated in formal and informal meetings. From these overnights grew a real camaraderie and a strong sense of collegiality. 

In the area of scholarship, women faculty have made an impressive contribution to SCU. In 1981 our first recipient of the Graves Award was Diane Dreher. These awards are given under the auspices of Pomona College to young faculty (under age 42) to support research and travel. In subsequent years, eight members of our faculty—4 men and 4 women—received these biennial awards. 

SCU's first NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, a five-year award to 100 “young” faculty nationwide in all fields, was given to Sally Wood, of electrical engineering. As a result of the visibility of this award, she served for six years on a committee advisory to the Director of NSF on equal opportunity in Science and Engineering. During that time she also chaired the Women's Subcommittee for almost three years. 

Currently, there is an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program, commonly referred to as CAREER Program, which two SCU faculty have received: Weijia Shang in computer engineering and Leilani Miller in biology. 

Recently, Eileen Elrod in English was the first and so far only SCU recipient of the Pew Evangelical Scholars Program award, centered at the University of Notre Dame. She received a 1998-99 Research Fellowship of $35,000 to support her work on a book manuscript examining the religious sensibilities reflected in autobiographical texts by early American writers. 

Are SCU women on the cutting edge of research and scholarship? The $493,532 grant Ruth Davis of computer engineering received from the Institute for Women and Technology and Hewlett Packard to support the IWT Virtual Development Center is just one of many examples that demonstrates this very clearly. 


Historically, progress in increasing the number of women faculty was slow. By 1977-78 (earlier data was not available), there were 174 men and 20 women full-time faculty. Twenty-four years after women were admitted, in 1985-86, male faculty numbered 199, while there were only 51 females. In 1988-89, the number of full-time male faculty had risen to 233, while there were 114 full-time female faculty members. 

That seems like a big improvement, but in looking at the actual number of tenured men (152) to tenured women (49) in 1998-99, we still have a long way to go. 

As we consider the male-female student ratio over the years, the undergraduate enrollment has changed far more significantly.

One added note: Since the installation of our Phi Beta Kappa Chapter in 1977, 699 students have been initiated. Of that number, 424 or 60+% are women.

Indeed, without women students and faculty where would SCU be today? Has the impact of women on SCU been a positive one? Undeniably so. But one woman colleague notes, "as the number of women faculty has increased, a culture of shared leadership has been firmly established  among faculty in its own governance process and at the lower levels of administration [department chair and associate dean]. Yet there remains a definite glass ceiling here." 

And according to another, “jesuits who teach here and are now assuming leadership have grown up in an era of women and men working together and are much more comfortable with women than were those I met in 1970.” 

Another points to a most positive change in certain policies “to allow a better work/life balance, including maternity leave, family leave, and stopped tenure clocks” has come about due to the needs of women and men at SCU. 

From my perspective, the changes through the thirty-nine years since women were first admitted to this campus could not have occurred without the support of male colleagues and the encouragement of administrators, sometimes with a bit of prodding on my part. 

In particular, my personal thanks to James Albertson, former academic vice president; Don Dodson, vice provost for academic affairs and university planning; President Paul Locatelli, S.J.; former Presidents William J. Rewak, S.J., and Thomas Terry, S. J.; and Professors Gerald Alexanderson and Frederick Parrella. 

However, one important aspect of the academic scene not included in this report is the impact of staff women who provide the backbone of the University. In fact, without the help of the following staff, I could not have completed this report. Thanks to: Linda Campbell, director, Sponsored Projects; Judy Gillette, assistant to the dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Nancy McCann, former administrative assistant in University Marketing Communications; Anne McMahon, University Archivist; and Barbara Stewart, director, Institutional Research. 

Also I gratefully acknowledge the following colleagues who contributed in various ways to make this a fuller picture of the way it was: Professors Ann Brady, English; Ruth Davis, computer engineering; Diane Dreher, English; Lee Hornberger, mechanical engineering; Barbara Molony, history; Jean Pedersen, mathematics; Eleanor Willemsen, psychology; and Sally Wood, electrical engineering. 

Our collective memory is far more accurate than my own selective memory. Women make great collaborators! As we strive to improve academic quality, research and scholarship, may God bless all our endeavors-female and male alike. It has been instructive to look back on the past and recall the progress we have made. Tradition may have been shattered in 1961, but I predict that women faculty and students will continue to shatter even more traditions in this new millennium! This article first appeared in the Winter 2001. Explore from the Bannan Institute for Jesuit Education and Christian Values.