Phoebe S. Leboy did not set out to change the academi world when she joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in 1967. She was a young scientist eager to become a full professor of biochemistry because it was one measure of achievement in her field, even if it was a position no woman had ever held at the school.
Today, Dr. Leboy is chairman of the dental school's department of biochemistry, a faculty member for a quarter of a century and the only female professor the dental school has ever had.
Eight other women are on the 51-member faculty of the school, but none is a full professor. "I would like some company," Dr. Leboy said.
After more than two decades in which the nation's most prestigious universities have pledged to overcome the shortage of women on their faculties, Dr. Leboy's experience is far from unusual.
In the Ivy League -- an elite group of eight universities that presumably can have their pick of the most talented candidates -- women make up 7 percent to 13 percent of professors, excluding those in the medical schools. Many departments do not have a single female full professor.
Some schools in the Ivy League, like Penn's dental school, have few or no female professors. Harvard University's dental school has nine male professors but no female ones (six women are on track for tenure); its John F. Kennedy School of Government has 20 male professors and one female, with four other women working toward tenure, a system intended to ensure academic freedom by making it very difficult to dismiss professors.
Inequity continues after women are hired. In general, women at every step of the tenure ladder still earnless than men, sometimes substantially less. At Harvard, for instance, male professors earn $93,600 on average while women of equal rank earn $79,900 on average.
"What it comes down to basically is a reluctance to believe that women are as good as men," said Mary W. Gray, professor of mathematics and statistics at the American University in Washington who is also a lawyer and a frequent witness in sex-discrimination cases. "Generally, it's much worse in universities than in the corporate world because academics are so arrogant we don't think anyone can tell us what to do."
The outlook for hiring more women has been dimmed by university budget crises and competing demands to hire faculty members from under-represented racial and ethnic groups.
And the situation could get worse in June when professors will no longer have to retire at age 70. After Congress passed legislation in 1986 outlawing mandatory retirement based on age for most workers, the protection was extended to professors.
The Ivy League is not alone in its lack of female professors. While women make up more than half of all college students, they make up just 27.6 percent of faculty members.
And even that figure is misleading. The more prestigious the institution, the fewer women there are. And the higher the rank, the lower the likelihood that a woman will hold it.
Thus, women make up only 11.6 percent of full professors nationwide and have made their greatest inroads at community colleges, where the pay is lowest. Women hold 38 percent of all faculty positions in those colleges.
A sampling of the nation's most selective universities shows that the percentage of female faculty members hovers around 20 percent overall.
Looking at just the Ivy League, which has the prestige and scholarly opportunities to be able to attract the most talented candidates, shows how slow progress has been.
This is a sensitive area for the universities; some react defensively to queries about hiring, complaining that statistics are misinterpreted and that they have made substantial progress in hiring women and minority faculty members.
"You can't expect academe to look like America instantaneously, if ever," said Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economist at Michigan State University who compiled an extensive survey of the nation's professors for the American Association of University Professors. "It takes a lot of time to feed through the academic process."
His latest report shows that, on average, women make up 10 percent of the professors in the Ivy League. In the next two ranks -- associate professor, which also usually carries tenure, and assistant professor, which can lead to tenure -- women are much better represented, with an average of 30 percent of each of those positions.
These figures lead universities to hold out hope that, in time, women will move into the most senior positions.
Besides the obvious issues of equity, this lack of representation causes concern because if minority students and women have trouble identifying with professors they may hesitate to consider becoming professors themselves, thereby prolonging the shortage.