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1976 Class Action Suit, Disputed Tenure

Kathryn Morgan

Kathryn Morgan

In March 1976, a lawsuit filed by a former assistant professor in the education program was certified as a class action by the U.S. District Court for the eastern district of Pennsylvania. The suit alleged that the College discriminated against women faculty members in its hiring, promotion, and compensation practices. According to the Philadelphia Bulletin, the case was one of more than 3,000 across the country involving institutions of higher education in which women and minorities sued their employers.

Six months later, Kathryn Morgan (1919-2010), who had taught courses in oral history and folklore in the history department for five years, was denied tenure. The decision against Morgan, the College's first African American faculty member, prompted an immediate response. Students established a Tenure for Kathryn Morgan Committee, which petitioned alumni, met with the president, and held a rally during Parents Day. In a 2000 interview, Morgan said she received word on the day before she was to testify in the lawsuit that she would receive tenure after all. Morgan testified anyway and ultimately taught at the College for more than 20 years.

In 1977, the judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of the College; an appeals court upheld the ruling the next year. Yet the witness testimony of current women professors, as well as the College's own internal reports, brought new attention to inequities in the treatment of men and women on the faculty.

In the midst of the suit, President Theodore Friend established a new position, then part-time, for an equal opportunity officer. The College also adopted a non-discrimination employment policy. In 2012-13, of the 171 faculty positions, 67.5 were held by women (of whom 83 percent had tenure) and 25 were held by diverse faculty members (of whom 81 percent had tenure).

After the 1977 ruling, French professor Jean Ashmead Perkins '49, who testified on behalf of the plaintiff, told The Phoenix she was disappointed by the decision, but not surprised. "There are still individuals who feel they are being taken advantage of," she said. "There is still a good bit of work to be done."