Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Bernice R. Sandler, Ed.D.
MSA SC 3520-15244

Biography:

Dr. Bernice Resnick Sandler has been a pioneer in the crusade for women's rights, having an enormous impact on the development of regulations for women’s equality in higher-education.  She was heavily involved in the creation and passage of Title IX, which mandated equal funding and programs for women in higher-education, as well as creating standards for the prevention and denunciation of sexual harassment.  Since that time she has continued to be an advocate for women.  Her work has had a profound impact over the last several decades, and will continue to resonate for years to come.

Bernice Resnick Sandler, “Bunny,” was born on March 3, 1928, in New York City, the second daughter of Abraham and Ivy Resnick.12  Her father, an auto parts salesman, was originally from Russia, and her mother, though also born in New York, was the daughter of German and Russian immigrants.3  When she was born, her parents, who were Jewish, intended to give her the name Beryl, but the doctor wrote it down on the birth certificate as Bernice.  Bernice translates into Bunya in Yiddish, which later evolved into Bunny.4  This was the only name she knew until she started school and learned that her legal name was Bernice.  In spite of this revelation, she chose to continue going by Bunny; she felt that it was her name moreso than Bernice.

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, Bunny had a great desire to do things that were not considered acceptable for girls to do.  In school, she always wanted to change the inkwell, operate the slide projectors, and be a crossing guard, none of which were considered feminine tasks.  Her teachers would not allow her to participate in these activities; and so, from an early age, Sandler was aware of the discriminations and inequalities women suffered preventing them from holding certain offices or participating in certain tasks.

After high school Sandler went on to major in psychology a Brooklyn College, in New York, graduating cum laude with her B.S. in 1948.5 She continued her education, receiving her master’s of clinical and school psychology in 1950 from City College of New York.6  At various periods in her life she worked as a research assistant at the University of Maryland, served as an instructor at Mt. Vernon College, was a nursery school teacher, a guitar instructor and a secretary.  Finally, in 1969, she received her Ed.D. from the University of Maryland.7

From 1968 to 1969, while pursuing her Ed.D., Sandler was a visiting lecturer at the University of Maryland.8 When she graduated, and applied for a tenure track position, which she was qualified for, she was rejected on the basis that she came on “too strong for a woman,” and because they were concerned that she would not come into work if her children were sick;9 by that time she and her husband had two daughters.  She was upset, but continued to apply for positions in her field.  Twice she was turned down for jobs, having a similar litany of reasons given to her.  Dr. Sandler became infuriated that she was being denied employment solely on the basis of her gender; and thus her crusade for women’s rights began.

Sandler felt sure that because of the moral implications, gender discrimination must have legal ramifications for those perpetrating the injustice.  Sadly, at that time, there seemed to be little, or no, recourse for women who experienced discrimination on the basis of their gender.  Initially, in researching the topic, Sandler was frustrated to find no legal justification for her position.  However, Dr. Sandler eventually found a footnote to an executive order that stated that federal contractors were prohibited from discriminating, among other things, on the basis of sex.10  This executive order, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, gave legal standing for Dr. Sandler to use in bringing suit against the University of Maryland, and hundreds of other institutions nationwide.

In 1970, in cooperation with the Women’s Equality Action League (WEAL), Dr. Sandler filed complaints of discrimination against over 200 academic institutions nationwide, including the University of Maryland.11She and her colleagues were later called to testify on discrimination trends in education before a House of Representatives subcommittee, sponsored by Representative Edith Green.12 As a result of these hearings, Green proposed a bill before the House that would require gender equality in education.  This bill evolved into what is now known as Title IX and was passed by Congress in June 1972.13

Dr. Sandler was directly involved in the passage of Title IX, working closely with Edith Green on the research and drafting of it.  Green hired Sandler, as the first woman added to a Congressional committee staff, to compile several volumes of material pertaining to the results of the hearings on discrimination of women in higher education.14  With the passage of Title IX, the status of women in education was changed. Certainly there was, and still is, discrimination towards women in academia.  However, the involvement of the government in the regulation of equality made a significant step in the right direction.

Since the passage of Title IX, Dr. Sandler has continued her efforts in studying, and providing information on, women’s rights.  She has done extensive research, written over 100 articles, and given countless presentations on a variety of topics such as, women’s rights, sexual harassment and discrimination, the “chilly climate” women face in academia, and many more.15  Additionally, Dr. Sandler has written several books, delving deeper into the same topics examined in her articles.16 Her passion is to see women treated with justice and equity in academia as well as the workplace.

A few short years after Title IX had been signed by President Richard Nixon, Dr. Sandler was appointed by President Gerald Ford, as the chair of the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs.17 President Jimmy Carter reappointed her, and she served on the Council from 1975-1982, and as its Chair from 1975-1977.18 In a time when the phrase “sexual harassment” was hardly known or acknowledged as an issue, this agency, under Dr. Sandler’s leadership, was responsible for the first report, which discussed its trends and pervasiveness.1920  This research laid the groundwork for a widespread change in attitude toward women who profess to experience sexual harassment in the workpalce or academic world.

In the 1980s, statistics and studies came out, which pointed to the prevelance of sexual harassment on college campuses.  The public was shocked to learn that, according to some research, close to forty percent of all undergraduate women had experienced sexual harassment, and that the numbers were higher among female non-tenured faculty and graduate students.21  Dr. Sandler was able to comment, pointing to the fact that she and her agency had been studying this issue for close to ten years, and it was not a new trend.22  She said, "It's an old probelm that's no longer hidden."23 Her research had been ahead of the times, and allowed her to address these issues when the public began to turn their attention to them.

In addition to commenting on sexual harassment, Dr. Sandler studied issues pertaining to the treatment of women in academic institutions, ranging from women's studies courses, financial compensation of female faculty, to the affects the treatment of women in the classroom had on their later experience in the workforce.  She campaigned for the need to change equal pay practices, as well noting that, "men receive more eye contact from their professors than women, are called on more often and receive informal coaching from their instructors."24 This difference in the treatement of women in the classroom, Dr. Sandler argued, leads to lower self-esteem and affects the confidence with which women enter into the workforce.25 She has also been concerned with the issue of coverage of women's topics in college classrooms.  While it is encouraging that many universities have Women's Studies courses and programs, Dr. Sandler has argued that unless the study of women in different topics is integrated into mainstream courses, "the experience of women will remain marginal."26 She argues that thinking in terms of women, academically, is like "getting new glasses"; it should have an impact on the way you view the entire world, not just one facet of study.27

Given the scope of her research on the prevalence of sexual harassment, as well as the difference in the way men and women are treated in the classroom, both as teachers and as students, Dr. Sandler is well qualified as an expert witness, testifying in numerous cases over the last twenty years.28  This expert testimony in court cases is essential in the process of changing the culture from being anti-discrimination in law only, to anti-discrimination in practice.

In addition to writing articles, and testifying in court cases, Dr. Sandler worked for eight years as the editor for a quarterly newsletter put out by the National Association for Women in Education.29She did this while acting as director of the Project on the Status and Education of Women, preparing reports on different trends seen in educational institutions and providing recommendations.30 During this period of her career, she, and the project she was working on, were cited an average of 200 times a year over a twenty year period.31

Dr. Sandler’s work has expanded, going beyond the works published directly under her name.  She has been cited in countless other studies, as well as being quoted by numerous well-known and respected news sources.  The prevalence of her work in the research and publications of others in the field demonstrates the significance of her contribution.  Additionally, she has frequently written letters to the editor, commenting on a variety of subjects that touch on the equality and respect of women, which demonstrates her deeply rooted passion for the issues that goes beyond the demands of her chosen career.

Dr. Sandler's career has led her to work with Title IX longer than any other single individual, and she has even been referred to as “the godmother of Title IX.”32  She has been quoted as saying, “More than any other federal legislation, Title IX has dramatically changed the course of education for women students and leaders in academics and athletics in the United States.”33 If this is true, than surely, Dr. Bernice Sandler can be counted as one of the most influential individuals of the cause to improve the experience of education for countless women students and educators across the country.  Without her dedication and hard work, women throughout the nation would still be suffering under the unchallenged oppression of sexual discrimination and harassment. As Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, put it, “Bernice Sandler has opened the doors of educational opportunity and beyond for virtually every woman and girl in Maryland and across the country.”34

However, Dr. Sandler’s legacy is not merely that of Title IX.  In her campaign for women’s rights Dr. Sandler has always been motivated by a sense of justice, and acted in kindness.  Greenberger, a friend as well as a colleague, said of her, “From 1972 to this day, I have never seen her be unkind or anything but generous…she has a wonderful sense of humor, and a perspective that keeps her and others in the fight for the long haul.”35  She should be looked up to and admired for her dedication and character as well as for her groundbreaking work.

Dr. Sandler currently works as a Senior Scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C.  She also serves as an adjunct professor at Drexel University.  She has served on more than thirty boards and has received over ten honorary doctorates.  The list of awards that Dr. Sandler has received, for her work in advocating for women’s rights, is a lengthy one.  She was nominated and inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame for the year 2010 because of the significance of her work in advancing women’s equality in education, as well as other fields.
 

Endnotes:
1. "Bernice Resnick Sandler," Who's Who of American Women, 1981-1982, 12th ed., 652. Return to text
2. 1930 Census, Brooklyn, New York, 12th Ward, E.D. 645, p. 171. Return to text
3. 1930 Census. Return to text
4. “The Real Story Behind the Passage of Title IX 35 years ago,” Women in Higher Education, www.wihe.com/displayNews.jsp?id=14169 (accessed June 23, 2010). Return to text
5. Who's Who, 652. Return to text
6. Dr. Bernice Sandler, "Biography", Dr. Bernice Sandler, http://www.bernicesandler.com/id2.htm (accessed June 23, 2010). Return to text
7. Who's Who, 652. Return to text
8. Ibid. Return to text
9. Denise Kiernan, "The Little Law that Could," Ms. Magazine, February/March 2001. Return to text
10. Carolyn Stegman, "Bernice R. Sandler," Women of Achievement in Maryland History,(Forestville, MD: Anaconda Press, 2002), 50. Return to text
11. Women in Higher Education. Return to text
12.  Eric Wentworth, “Women Seek Equality in Universities,” Washington Post, June 22, 1970. Return to text
13. Kiernan. Return to text
14. http://www.bernicesandler.com/id2.htm Return to text
15. Ibid. Return to text
16. Ibid. Return to text
17. Ibid. Return to text
18. Ibid. Return to text
19. Kiernan. Return to text
20. http://www.bernicesandler.com/id2.htm Return to text
21. "College Program Advises Harassed,"New York Times, November 16, 1972. Return to text
22. Ibid. Return to text
23. Ibid. Return to text
24. Sharon Epperson, "Studies Link Subtle Sex Bias in Schools with Women's Behavior in the Workplace,"Wall Street Journal, September 16, 1988. Return to text
25. Ibid. Return to text
26. "Scholars Seek Wider Reach for Women's Studies,"New York Times, May 17, 1989. Return to text
27. Ibid. Return to text
28. http://www.bernicesandler.com/id2.htm Return to text
29. Ibid. Return to text
30. Ibid. Return to text
31. Jill Moss Greenberg, "2010 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination." Return to text
32. Ibid; http://www.bernicesandler.com/id2.htm Return to text
33. Women in Higher Education. Return to text
34. Marcia Greenberger, "2010 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination." Return to text
35. Ibid. Return to text
 

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