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How the Ford Foundation Created Women's Studies By: Kimberly Schuld
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 20, 2004

The Ford Foundation’s financial support of liberal groups and causes has been well documented on this site and by others, such as the Capital Research Center. A 1994 analysis by Althea K. Nagai, Robert Lerner and Stanley Rothman reported that during 1986 and 1987, the Ford Foundation awarded 262 grants to projects of the Left, resulting in a final dollar ratio of $28 to $1 between liberal and conservative projects. 

Women’s Studies professor and feminist author Susan M. Hartmann credits the Ford Foundation with being a substantive force that created the feminist movement. In fact, Ford’s support of women’s studies and feminist causes is so extensive that it cannot be summarized in an article of this length. The subject is ripe for a full-length book. It is safe to say that without the Ford Foundation, feminism would not have been successful in gaining such a strong foothold in academia, and by extension, politics.  


The Ford Foundation doesn’t simply lean to the Left and pour money to its followers. The foundation has been actively engaged since the early 1960s in creating entirely new areas for research and political activism. When asked how she measures success, Ford president Susan Berresford responds that there are three measures she uses, “The first is when the foundation helps people build a whole field of knowledge—demography in the past, women's studies more recently.”


Today, there more than 800 women’s studies programs teaching thousands of courses in U.S. colleges and universities. Hundreds of schools offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in women’s studies. Close to thirty now offer a Master’s degree and a handful have created a Ph.D. program. The first program was established at San Diego State University for the 1969-70 school year and in 1970 there were approximately 100 women’s studies courses being offered at schools across the country. By 1971, more than 600 courses were being taught and by 1978 there were 301 full-fledged programs in operation. That number more than doubled to 621 programs by 1990.


In 1971, a group of feminists approached Ford president McGeorge Bundy with a request to involve itself in the feminist movement the way it had in the Civil Rights movement, essentially, creating it out of whole cloth. The result of those early discussions was a full-fledged women’s project to fund the small number of existing women’s advocacy organizations, and also to create a whole new field within academia known as “women’s studies.” In 1972, Ford announced the first $1 million national fellowship program for "faculty and doctoral dissertation research on the role of women in society and Women's Studies broadly construed." A 1996 article by Heather MacDonald reported that women’s studies programs had received $36 million between 1972-1992 from Ford and other foundations.


In the 1980s, under the direction of president Franklin Thomas, the focus of gender was placed onto all Ford grants and program officers were instructed to examine each and every proposal for its gender component. This moved the funding of women’s studies and other feminist enterprises from a women-specific grant category into all funding categories. By 1985, Ford had established the Women’s Program Forum, a consortium of grantmakers and Ford staffers tasked with keeping tabs on funding decisions being made worldwide on behalf of women’s issues.


The creation of the Campus Diversity Initiative in 1990 took Ford in the direction of curriculum change. The grants given from this category are directed to sex-specific academic programs and departments in addition to other identified victim class groups. Of course, sex-specific really means women’s studies—no Ford executive would ever consider white male students in need of anything other than sensitivity training.


One outgrowth of this effort was the Women’s Studies Area and International Studies Curriculum Integration Project (WSAIS), coordinated through the National Center for Research on Women (NCRW), which has be lauded by feminists as spurring the growth of women’s studies from classes about women to viewing all issues through the prism of gender. The NCRW described the WSAIS project as seeking to infuse gender concerns into international and area studies, and to internationalize the women's studies curriculum. Ford was instrumental in taking women’s studies from the fringe and making it inescapable for faculty and students alike. The promotion of feminist ideology made possible by Ford on everything from privacy issues to ridiculous sexual harassment charges oozes through the entire university. 


Ford actively seeks to transform curriculum to impose this feminist ideology onto all areas of study, including the hard sciences. Heather MacDonald’s 1996 article on Ford outlines the profound impact Ford has had on what she calls “academic ghettoization.” Not only did Ford create African-American studies (first known as Black studies) and women studies, but it spearheaded a movement followed by all foundations called “curriculum transformation.” This movement seeks to inject race, gender and sexual consciousness into every academic department and discipline. It gave rise to courses that, for instance, studied the misogyny in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or the feminine ways of analyzing cellular metabolism. The concept is that every discipline, every administrative function and every pedagogy was designed by an oppressive patriarchy and must be reformed.  


Funding of women’s studies is complicated to track down because checks are cut to the university, not the individual program. The foundation is a major donor to the National Women’s Studies Association housed at the University of Maryland. This is a membership organization for women’s studies programs directors, faculty, students and individual researchers. It hosts an annual Women’s Studies conference and an e-mail network with Ford monies.


In 2001, Ford gave the University of Maryland a $50,000 grant to host a conference on the development of doctoral programs in women’s studies. Although the grant is listed for the university, it is clear that the conference was developed and hosted by the women’s studies association.


Rutgers University is a frequent recipient of Ford women’s studies money. In recent years, it has received $300,000 for support of women’s globalization human rights leadership; $100,000 for studying race and gender discrimination in major business publications; a $500,000 endowment for the university’s Institute for Women’s Leadership; $100,000 for Rutgers students involved with the U.N. Beijing Conference on women; $320,000 for the Rutgers Center for the American Woman and Politics; and $346,000 for the Institute for Women's Leadership to examine faculty's role in initiating and supporting programs to advance diversity in higher education policy and practice.   


Smith College received $259,100 in 2003 for archival preservation of the collected works of Gloria Steinem and for an oral history project on feminism and related collection development. Smith also received $210,000 for Meridians, an interdisciplinary journal of scholarship and creative writing by and about women of color and Third World women.


Other Ford women’s studies favorites in 2003 were the University of Arizona, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin at Madison, University of Minnesota, Wellesley, Radcliffe (which has three women’s studies centers) and Harvard. Most recently, the Ford Foundation has been instrumental in establishing women’s studies programs at historically Black universities with Spelman and Edgar Mevers universities leading the way. Combining women’s studies with other ethnic studies is an attempt to solidify their hold on the diversity angle. In 1995, Ford gave the University of Maryland $250,000 for a three-year seminar looking at "The Meanings and Representations of Black Women and Work" which was co-led by the director of the women’s studies program and the director of the Afro-American studies program. 


Ford often expands its vision through multi-year endowments. By creating a new program for a university and then funding it for the first three to five years, Ford can provide “guidance” in curriculum development and faculty training. For example, the Harvard women’s studies program was essentially created by Ford. To expand the influence of that program into other areas of the university, in 1998 Ford established a three-year $500,000 endowment to support women’s studies in religion at the Harvard Divinity School.


Ford created the vehicle for women’s studies to grow into other parts of the academy by its generosity to women’s research centers. Women’s research centers are more comprehensive than women’s studies programs. "Women's research centers are essential because they're interdisciplinary," said Susan B. Carter, associate professor of economics at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. "We can't understand the changes for women in the economy and the workplace without also understanding child-rearing, family patterns, psychological changes and historical forces."


In 1972, Myra Strober became the first woman hired as an assistant professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and she and a group of colleagues applied for and got a $25,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to look into establishing a women’s research center. It was followed by a $100,000 grant for a five-year startup; Stanford matched the funds, and in 1974 the Institute for Research on Women and Gender became the first university-sponsored think tank for U.S. women. As Strober recounted in a recent article, the Ford Foundation "not only gave us money, but told me how as an assistant professor with zero power I could go to the provost and convince him that the university had to make a permanent commitment to this, one of the first centers for research on women."


By 1981, there were 29 women's research centers in the U.S.; today there are more than 60 university-based centers. Ford has also supported independent women’s research centers that can serve to coordinate the research and the political activism of the university-based centers. Ford endowed the Ms. Foundation with $4.5 million in 1993 to hand out to women’s research projects. In 1999, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation received a four-year $250,000 endowment to support women’s studies programs. Woodrow supports the research of faculty members to promote its liberal vision on college campuses.  


The International Center for Research on Women received a $1 million endowment in 1997 for a five-year program to launch women’s studies in other countries. The foundation has invested millions to establish women’s studies in China, Israel and several South American countries, thereby expanding the reach of liberal feminism and solidifying its death grip on UN conferences addressing women, children, health and population issues. Thanks to the Ford Foundation, there are already 400 women's organizations and 55 women's studies programs in Brazil alone.  


Why be concerned?


Women’s studies and its advocates are a clear and present danger to academic freedom and legitimate scholarship. In a 1992 article for The New Republic, author Christina Hoff Sommers related what really goes on when the National Women’s Studies Association gets together. She wrote, “Ouchings and mass therapy are more the norm than the exception in academic feminism. Last year, at a meeting of Women's Studies Program Directors, everyone joined hands to form a ‘healing circle.’ They also assumed the posture of trees experiencing rootedness and tranquility. Victim testimonials and New Age healing rituals routinely crowd out the reading of academic papers at NWSA conferences. Out of approximately 100 workshops and presentations at the Austin meetings, I counted no more than sixteen that could generously be called scholarly.”


Aside from behavior that most Americans would likely characterize as just plain wacky, Sommers nailed the real reason we should all be concerned about the incredible growth of women’s studies on campus: “These women run the largest growth area in the academy, and they have strong influence in some key areas, most notably in English departments (especially freshman writing courses), French departments, history departments, law schools, and divinity schools. They are disproportionately represented in the dean of students' office, in the dormitory administration, in the harassment office, and various counseling centers. They are quietly engaged in hundreds of well-funded projects to transform a curriculum that they regard as unacceptably ‘androcentric.’ Their moral authority comes from a widespread belief that they represent ‘women.’ In fact, their version of feminism falls short of being representative.”


Women’s studies courses are designed to compel students into taking their newfound revelations and putting them into the service of politics.


Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, founder of the Emory University women’s studies program in the mid-1980s was forced out in the early 1990s because she refused to allow the program to be used for political purposes. What was her “sin?” She refused to send a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 placing the Emory program on the list of opposition to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. She stated, “I don’t take political positions for the program.”


As she resigned, Fox-Genovese expressed concern about the direction of women’s studies programs. Speaking about the internal struggle in women’s studies, she explained that “The battle against the conservatives was much easier to win…But the battle against the radicals is much harder, it’s pervasive. The tendency in women’s studies is towards politicization. It isn’t necessary, but it’s natural. It’s the path of least resistance, and it’s fairly widespread throughout the country, because it’s so easy to assume that women’s studies is really going to be feminist studies, that its main purpose is ideological, not intellectual.”


As if to prove that Fox-Genovese’s concerns fell on deaf ears, Vivian Ng, the president of the National Women’s Studies Association declared to a 1993 audience, “I do political work, both inside the classroom and outside it.” Ng went on to say that student resistance can be expected, but “I’m doing political work…My students came around and I converted them.”


Former women’s studies professor Daphne Patai underscored the compelling evidence that the battle to retake our universities must be fought and won. She wrote in her book Heterophobia, “My own observations of students in women’s studies classes have led me to believe that years of exposure to feminist-promoted scare tactics have succeeded in imbuing many young women with a foreboding sense of living under constant threat from predatory men.”


The Ford Foundation has thus skewered not only the academy, but the lives of young women caught up in the grasp of feminist professors. Because of its vast resources, we cannot count on the Ford Foundation to reform itself in response to shifts in American public opinion or changes in political directions. The spotlight must be turned onto Ford so that all taxpayers supporting public universities and parents paying tuition can make informed decisions about the culture they want their students subjected to. The capitalism that built the Ford fortune and is now so despised by the foundation should be used to turn it away from our schools.

Miss Schuld is author of the Guide to Feminist Organizations published by the Capital Research Center.

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