Unstable networks among women in academe: The legal case of Shyamala Rajender

Sally G. Kohlstedt, Suzanne M. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Scientific networks are often credited with bringing about institutional change and professional advancement, but less attention has been paid to their instability and occasional failures. In the 1970s optimism among academic women was high as changing US policies on sex discrimination in the workplace, including higher education, seemed to promise equity. Encouraged by colleagues, Shyamala Rajender charged the University of Minnesota with sex discrimination when it failed to consider her for a tenure-track position. The widely cited case of this chemist was not, however, settled easily and involved nearly a decade of university grievance procedures and litigation that grew to a class action lawsuit. As the case gained national attention and internal resistance stiffened, the clusters of women who had been encouraging flickered, faded and sometimes regrouped. A negotiated settlement (consent decree) ended Rajender's case, and it opened the door for hundreds of others to present their grievances regarding gender discrimination. Networks and support groups proved important but also unstable for individuals who sought equity before and during the implementation of the decree. The Rajender case thus exposes the painful, balky and inevitably contentious process of fighting discrimination. It also demonstrates the power and limits of institutions and litigation, as well as the possibilities and disappointments of informal and formal women's networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-62
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Munksgaard.


  • Feminism
  • Shyamala Rajender
  • gender and science
  • gender discrimination
  • networks
  • sex discrimination
  • women in science


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