‘Closing a circle,’ prof. gives to U.

Lamphere's $1 mil. gift creates gender studies professorship

By
Monday, October 20, 2008

In 1968, a young anthropologist named Louise Lamphere took an assistant professorship at Brown, where she said she was the only woman in the department and one of only about 25 women on the faculty.

Six years later, after finding out she had been denied tenure, Lamphere hired a lawyer and eventually filed a class-action lawsuit for sexual discrimination that would lead to one of the largest changes in hiring policy in the University’s history – and one of its most expensive lawsuits, running up more than a million dollars in legal fees over the course of 14 years.

In May, 31 years after the original settlement, Lamphere gave her former employer and legal opponent a $1 million donation.

The gift establishes the Louise Lamphere Visiting Professorship, a two-year joint appointment for young or untenured professors to teach in women’s studies and another department, such as anthropology.

Among anthropologists of the 1970s, Lamphere was known for including women’s issues in her research. Lamphere said she sees the professorship as a way of ensuring that gender studies remains part of the curriculum at Brown.

Lamphere chose Brown for her gift, she said, not just because of her long history with the University – overall, she spent 18 years teaching at Brown – but also for the University’s ability to match her academic interests. “Of all the places I’ve been, it’s probably the most well-suited to do both anthropology and gender studies.”

“The anthropology department suffered under my (lawsuit) for a long time,” Lamphere added, but now the department has “a whole new vision.”

Lamphere said she was also inspired by President Ruth Simmons’ leadership, and first approached Simmons about the gift. Lamphere, whose family inheritance has allowed her to make charitable donations, has also given gifts to the University of New Mexico, where she currently teaches.

Lamphere was the first female assistant professor in what was then a combined anthropology and sociology department. After early work on the Navajos, she became interested in the women’s movement and began working gender issues into her research. She advised a Group Independent Study Project, taught a course on women’s issues and published a book called “Women, Culture and Society,” just before her department decided not to grant her tenure.

“There’s so much mainstreaming of (gender studies research) today that was extraordinarily controversial in the early 70s,” said Kay Warren, professor of international studies and anthropology.

Warren, who founded the Program in Women’s Studies at Princeton in 1982, described 1970s academic feminism as a time of “fervor and excitement, new research (and) perspectives.”

“Everything was so exciting,” Warren said. “This stuff really mattered; these feminists, we were passionate people.”

But Lamphere said she thought that her research on gender issues at Brown was not being taken seriously.

“I felt this new work of mine on women was being dismissed, and that was discriminatory,” Lamphere said.

Lamphere felt the department was unappreciative of her research. When a male colleague, whom she thought less qualified, was granted tenure and Lamphere was denied it, she decided to fight.

“Well, I’m going to sue,” she remembers thinking.

The process started with an internal grievance procedure. Lamphere then hired a lawyer and, along with three other female faculty members who had been denied tenure or fired, filed suit against the University for sexual discrimination.

The eventual settlement, in 1977, granted tenure to Lamphere and two of the three other professors in the suit. More importantly, it established what came to be known as the “Lamphere Decree” – a legal requirement for the University to increase the number of tenured female faculty to 74.

The consent decree and a monitoring committee appointed in part by Lamphere “was a form of a watchdog,” she said, to ensure fair procedures for hiring and tenuring.

The University appealed unsuccessfully in 1987, then again, successfully, in 1991, for the decree to be lifted. By the time the decree was lifted, the number of tenured female faculty had increased five-fold.

According to a 1991 book, “The Search for Equity: Women at Brown University, 1891-1991,” only 2.5 percent of tenured faculty and 8.5 percent of untenured faculty were women in 1976. In 1991, the year before a court lifted the consent decree, 16 percent of tenured faculty and 43 percent of junior faculty were female.

These numbers positioned Brown as a leader among its peers. Faculty homogeneity was especially pervasive in the Ivy League. A Jan. 24, 1993 New York Times article – printed one year after the Lamphere Decree was vacated – reported that women comprised only 7 to 13 percent of Ivy League professors.

“The more prestigious the institution, the fewer women there are,” the article stated.

Lamphere, meanwhile, went on to have a distinguished career in anthropology. She moved to the University of New Mexico after being denied tenure but in 1975 returned to Brown, where she still had personal connections, and stayed – in a tenured position – until 1986. Lamphere later served as president of the American Anthropological Association and wrote or collaborated on seven books.

Warren said Lamphere’s gift was “a wonderfully optimistic statement.”

“She could have given money to any institution, but picked Brown,” Warren said. “There is something about closing the circle and righting a wrong that’s very powerful over time.”

In recognition of the gift, the anthropology department is hosting a conference on Oct. 25 in Lamphere’s honor about the past and future of gender studies.

“The conference is our way of thanking Louise for her tremendous generosity,” Warren said. “I thought there was no way better than to organize a reflection on the history of gender studies at Brown.”

The conference will feature professors who were at Brown in the 1970s reflecting on changes to the field of gender studies since then – “a history that’s sort of hidden because we’ve gone so far in the interim that we’ve forgotten the early roots,” Warren said.

“Its also very powerful over time to remember one’s youth and activism, and see that out of those struggles, a really important change in the academy developed, and it really worked.”