Since its founding in 1881, AAUW has led the charge to secure equal educational opportunities for women. As early as 1945, AAUW began to study the impact of sex discrimination on college campuses. Members at the branch and state levels, concerned about the exclusion of women due to the influx of returning war veterans, issued surveys to colleges and universities on the status of women on their campuses. This exercise led to a concerted effort to ensure women’s inclusion in all educational opportunities.
AAUW was already addressing the subject of sex discrimination before the passage of Title IX in 1972, so the organization was well prepared to jump into action when the issue came before a national audience. We were instrumental not only in securing passage of the legislation but also in fighting for the subsequent regulations that would ensure compliance with the law.
AAUW passes a resolution at the national convention in Chicago, which says that “the Board of Directors urges support by all members, branches, and state divisions of new efforts to achieve equal status and a complete range of alternatives for women. AAUW will actively seek avenues and means by which we may make a positive contribution toward this goal.” The organization and our members begin to examine the status of women on campuses at all levels, including students, faculty, and administrators.
In a February 1970 article in the General Director’s Letter titled “Higher Education, Emancipation of Women” and written in response to the crisis for women in higher education, AAUW announces the formation of the Committee on Standards in Higher Education. Ruth Oltman, AAUW staff associate for higher education, writes, “We are hearing rumblings of discontent from many different directions at the higher education level — from faculty and administrative women, women graduate students, [and] undergraduate women who are finding courage to express their views.”
In another critical move, AAUW publishes the results of our research survey Campus 1970: Where Do Women Stand?. The report documents widespread sex discrimination against women at all levels of higher education, from students to trustees. The following year, AAUW leaders, staff, and members work tirelessly to create a set of guidelines for college and university presidents across the United States. The survey and standards predate federal legislation by two years and the Title IX implementing regulations by five years.
Eighty-eight corporate delegates meet at the AAUW convention in Dallas to discuss the issue of sex discrimination on their campuses. The delegates, along with the AAUW Committee on Standards in Higher Education, pledge to produce within three months a set of guidelines for how to improve the status of women students. At the convention workshop on the subject, Ruth Oltman, AAUW staff associate for higher education, passionately states, “It is hard to understand why it has taken so long for women’s rights as individuals to be recognized. It is particularly difficult to understand why higher education has not taken the leadership in this movement or why it has required government action to force compliance with law and with the spirit of fairness and dignity of human relationship — for which there is no sex factor.”
AAUW’s Standards for Women in Higher Education: Affirmative Policy in Achieving Sex Equality in the Academic Community is distributed to the presidents of all four-year institutions. The guidelines, which propose far-reaching changes, make headlines across the country at a time when more than 250 institutions of higher learning are facing charges of sex discrimination. The standards call for equality in recruitment, promotion, and tenure; the inclusion of maternity leave as an employee benefit; and proportionate numbers of women in faculty and administration positions.
Listen to a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on Higher Education by AAUW General Director Alice Breeman
The Committee on Standards in Higher Education, under the leadership of Chair Mabelle McCullough and Staff Associate Ruth Oltman, solidifies AAUW’s stance against sex discrimination by writing and issuing two publications sent to all AAUW college/university partner members. The first is a list of all academic women’s caucuses and committees, and the second is a compilation of training programs and internships offered to women.
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for students and employees in all educational institutions that receive federal financial aid.
AAUW gathers representatives from 12 national educational organizations for a conference at the AAUW Educational Center. The group writes and publishes a joint statement on gender equity in admissions, financial aid, recruitment of women, and hiring and salaries. AAUW wants the statement to serve as the basis for government standards for how to implement Title IX, which passed just a few months earlier.
In the October 1972 AAUW Journal, Ruth Oltman writes, “Only when each college and university commits itself to making the necessary changes to ensure quality education and equality of employment, regardless of sex, will it be possible for women to become truly productive human beings.”