After deanship, Malkiel returns to classroom
The late Lawrence Stone, the chair of the history department at the time, told Malkiel her hiring was a novelty.
“It’s not that we have a policy against hiring women,” Malkiel said the chair told her. “It’s just that nobody’s ever suggested it before.”
The sentiment behind those words — the novelty of introducing women to the University community as students and scholars — has become the subject of her current research and teaching.
Malkiel is currently conducting research for a book on coeducation in American colleges. Her research relates to the topic of the freshman seminar she is currently teaching, FRS 149: Coeducation.
“It’s fascinating to do research about something that I lived,” Malkiel explained. The same year she began teaching, 1969, the University admitted the first coeducational undergraduate class.
She was one of only three women teaching at the time. Malkiel graduated from the all-female Smith College in 1965, then completed her graduate studies at Harvard University, where she was the only woman in the history program for her class.
In her first year of teaching, the undergraduate student body was made up of 3,200 men and 148 women.
Coeducated Princeton was a very “unnatural” environment in its first few years, Malkiel said. Her students — still overwhelmingly male — wrote in their course evaluations that she taught “from a feminine point of view.” Students would stand up when she entered the room and pull her chair out for her. A junior advisee brought an apple to her office hours.
Malkiel and her few female colleagues got a certain kind of attention in the campus community. They were constantly asked to speak on panels and serve on committees.
“You could think, ‘Well, it’s just tokenism.’ You could have resented it,” Malkiel said. “Or you could think, ‘I’ll get to know a lot more about the University, I’ll get to experience things I wouldn’t otherwise experience as a professor, I’ll get to figure out what I like and what I don’t like. And why not?’ That was the attitude that I took.”
These opportunities allowed Malkiel to get to know the University’s inner workings and become involved with the administration from an early point.
She served as dean from 1987 to 2011, a period in which the number of women enrolled at the University rose dramatically. Early in her tenure, the University administration established a goal of having a 50-50 gender breakdown in the undergraduate student body.
“For a long time we felt as though we were stuck at 60-40,” Malkiel said. The University remained shy of the 50-50 ratio, even after some of the University’s peer institutions achieved it.
Since 2004, the balance has been roughly 50-50 in its applicant pool, admitted class and enrolled class. “Fifty-fifty strikes me as just right,” Malkiel said.
Malkiel’s personal experience with the challenges of coeducation inspired her current research, in which she is investigating what motivated schools like Princeton to become coeducational and why so many institutions made the decision around the same time.
At the University, the coeducation debate was contentious. Malkiel’s course syllabus includes Daily Princetonian editorials supporting coeducation, when support for coeducation was rapidly growing among the student body. Their support came in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, when sex-segregated education was one of many traditions that were being challenged.
Due to changing student attitudes during the era, administrators came to believe that Princeton would no longer be able to attract the most competitive male students if its classes were not mixed.
There was a perception that “the best boys had changed their minds about places like Princeton because they were all-male,” Malkiel explained.
Her research evaluates how much credit for the coeducation decision to give to student pressure. She asks whether Princeton’s male students supported coeducation simply to improve their dating prospects or if they held an authentic, disinterested belief in the value of coeducation.
Malkiel said she wanted to teach a freshman seminar upon her return to teaching because growing the freshman seminar program was one of the hallmarks of her deanship.
In addition, she is also teaching a precept for HIS 361: The United States Since 1974. Malkiel said she chose to lead a precept as a way to return gradually to teaching after her time in administration.
While serving as dean, she said she did not have time to read extensively enough to stay up to date in the field. By leading a precept, she said she hopes to familiarize herself with recent historical work and perhaps create a new 20th century American history course in the coming years.
Matt Frakes ’13, a history major in Malkiel’s precept, said that being in Malkiel’s precept has allowed him to hear the perspective of another professor in addition to Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer, who co-teach the course.
“She has a lot of background in the material — more than a normal preceptor would,” Frakes explained. He added that she was extremely knowledgeable about life and economics in the 1970s, as she had lived through the period.
Her husband, Burton Malkiel, is an economics professor at the University and served as an economic adviser to President Ford.
The two met during their early years on the faculty, when both history and economics were housed in Dickinson Hall, Burton Malkiel explained.
He said his wife’s research on the time period had been “a fascinating experience for her,” adding that the creation of the University’s Program in Women’s Studies was a result of her earlier research.
For the next two years, Malkiel said she plans to spend one semester teaching and the other conducting research.
Her former pet, a miniature Schnauzer named Skipper who was well-known in the campus community, passed away in 2011. She now has a new miniature Schnauzer named Piper.