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Sit in a college classroom these days, and you'll find more women than ever.

More women in the chemistry lab.

More women manipulating three-dimensional structures on powerful computers.

In fact, at most schools these days more women than men are earning bachelor's degrees.

But at the front of the classroom it's still predominantly men giving out the grades.

Just ask Ann M. Bisantz, one of eight female engineering professors -- out of 110 -- at the University at Buffalo. That's one more female engineering professor than UB had in 1997, the year the school released a landmark report calling for more women faculty to be hired and pay parity among male and female professors.

"Sometimes I notice (the small number of women) when I'm in large group meetings. I look around and say, 'Wow,' " said Bisantz, an associate professor of industrial engineering.

The situation at UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is reflected in UB as a whole, and at colleges and universities across the region.

In recent years, the number of full-time female professors has increased ever so slightly -- at a time when the number of their male colleagues has stagnated or dropped sharply.

The result: Between 1997 and 2003, the percentage of women on UB's tenured or tenure-track faculty rose from 20 percent to 25 percent, according to UB data. Other colleges in the area saw similar increases in their proportion of women faculty.

But in raw numbers, the progress is less substantial. At UB, for example, there are 26 more women -- and 115 fewer men -- than six years ago.

"What's clear is that pervasive discrimination and barriers to women's advancement in academia remain," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center.

What's also clear, some say, is women professors, on average, continue to earn less than men. For example, male full professors at UB earn about $107,000 on average; for women, it's $97,000.

Progress called modest

School officials say they have tried to recruit women, but acknowledge making only modest progress in closing the stubbornly persistent gender gap.

That's partly because there are fewer jobs and as tenured faculty -- most of them men -- retire, they often are replaced by part-time instructors.

"The bottom line is that women are entering the field of academia during the very time that field has changed," said Nancy E. McGlen, dean of Niagara's College of Arts and Sciences.

And even when jobs are available, women in many cases are choosing not to seek a career in academia, officials said.

For example, women earned 27.2 percent of doctorates in mathematics between 1993 and 2002, but represented 19.6 percent of assistant professors -- the entry-level job -- of math in 2002, according to a recent study of 50 top research schools.

The study blamed this in part on the lack of female faculty mentors for women deciding whether to pursue a career in academia.

Many of those women are taking their graduate degrees into the private sector.

What's more, even when women are hired at the assistant professor level, they tend to have a more difficult time getting tenure, and therefore, are forced to leave their schools, faculty said.

Women themselves say that's partly because the period in their late 20s and early 30s when women are likely to try to start a family is the same period when they must publish research in order to win tenure.

What's more, the few women who are hired are asked more often than men to serve on faculty committees and to serve as advisers to female students, said Peggy Y. Burke, an associate professor of education at St. Bonaventure University. That takes up time better spent working on research required to win tenure.

'Thick glass ceiling'

Nationally, women in 1999 made up just 33 percent of all tenured or tenure-track college faculty, according to federal education data.

In 1997, when UB had 846 full-time male faculty and 218 women -- 20 percent of the total -- a task force on women released its report.

The report's authors found a "thick glass ceiling" at UB and urged school officials to track the numbers and pay of women.

Today, UB's full-time faculty is 25 percent women.

"There certainly hasn't been an encouraging increase, which is what we had hoped for, in representation of women," Bernice K. Noble, a professor of microbiology and 1997 report co-author, said in an interview before her death last November.

At the six other schools that provided The Buffalo News with data from 1996-97 and 2002-03 -- Buffalo State, Canisius, Geneseo State and Medaille colleges and Niagara and St. Bonaventure universities -- the number of full-time male faculty fell from 675 to 635 while the number of women rose from 280 to 334.

School officials also say they've been trying to close the pay gap between men and women.

Pay disparity

An April report by the American Association of University Professors found female professors on average make 11.6 percent less than men at that rank, female associate professors make 7 percent less and female assistant professors make 7.7 percent less.

The numbers are somewhat better at UB. Female professors make 9 percent less, associate professors 4 percent less and assistant professors 7 percent less. In 1997, woman professors made 12 percent less, associate professors made 7 percent less and assistant professors made 6 percent less.

In many cases, the disparity stems from men serving for a longer time at a particular rank, officials said.

Also, men often work in fields that pay a premium -- engineering or management -- while women gravitate toward lower-paying fields such as education or the social sciences.

Changes seen

Longtime faculty say the campus culture is more welcoming to women today.

Beverly P. Bishop, a professor of physiology and biophysics at UB, started teaching night classes in 1953.

In those days, when men in her department met to decide whether to offer a position to a male applicant, they would discuss his resume and academic credentials, said Bishop, who is 81 and still teaching.

"If it was a woman, they'd want to see her picture. 'Was she a blond?' " Bishop recalled.


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