From Wartime Devastation To Academic Discrimination, Cecile DeWitt-Morette Overcame It All (Synopsis)

"Chapel Hill is a beautiful place, and I was wanting to get out of Livermore for an academic position, so we went there, both of us, as visiting research professors. After a few years I was given a regular professorship and Cecile was demoted to a lecturer." -Bryce DeWitt
"Without being told it was a demotion. 'Oh, it will be so much better for you.' And that's the part I didn't like, the hypocrisy of letting me believe that it was better." -Cecile DeWitt-Morette

When you have rules that treat men and women equally in theory, but the practical application of the rules leads to unequal results, that’s a classic example of a rule that doesn’t work. In the case of the towering figure in mathematical physics, Cecile DeWitt-Morette, that meant she was denied a professorship at a number of places, despite her more-than-sufficient qualifications and achievements.

Cécile DeWitt-Morette (on ladder) and colleagues, circa 1973, give a temporary observatory that will be used in Mauritania a dry run in a UT campus parking lot. Image credit: University of Texas at Austin.

But the same woman who overcame the bombing of her hometown and the death of her family in World War II wouldn’t be stopped by institutional sexism, and went on to have a prolific and successful life and career for decades, including more than 40 years as a professor at UT-Austin.

Daughter Chris DeWitt, alumna Alice Young, Cécile DeWitt-Morette and alumnus Neil DeGrasse Tyson on campus in January. Young was a graduate student under DeWitt-Morette. Image credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Learn about and celebrate the life of Cecile DeWitt-Morette, who made it to 94 before passing away earlier this year. A fabulous story contributed by Paul Halpern!


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Ethan wrote:

When you have rules that treat men and women equally in theory, but the practical application of the rules leads to unequal results, that’s a classic example of a rule that doesn’t work.

No Ethan. Bad!

When the practical application of rules leads to unequal opportunity, that’s a classic example of a rule that doesn’t work. The insistence of equality of outcome is a nightmarishly illiberal idea.

Take for example the so-called ‘pay gap’ where men earn more than women in the US. The ‘pay gap’ statistic is compiled by comparing the total earnings of individuals working more than 30 hours per week, so someone who works 30 hours per week is considered the same as someone who works 80 hours per week. It is not broken down by hour. That is to say it is NOT a ‘per hour pay gap’. It is a ‘daily earnings pay gap’.

Understandably, a contributor to that disparity is the number of hours worked by men compared to the number of hours worked by women. Per US labor statistics men work 3.5 more hours per week than do women. It isn’t for lack of opportunity to work. In the US women have a lower unemployment rate than men and on average find a job a full week faster again per US labor statistics. Women are working slightly fewer hours because they choose to.

The practical application of rules allowing women to make this choice is leading to unequal results. If we were to go down your road of insisting on equal results, would you take away women’s rights to choose their position of employment? Would you have the government go into businesses with guns to make sure women starting putting in the extra 3.5 hours each week? What freedoms would you strip away to make sure the choice leading to that result disparity doesn’t happen?

I doubt this Science topic will change the opinions of many.

Nice that Denier goes from a specific instance of discriminatory conduct to a paranoid hypothetical in four paragraphs.

By MobiusKlein (not verified) on 20 Jun 2017 #permalink


Is it? UNC had women faculty officially as far back as 1927 and a female dean as far back as 1932. UNC had a 'No Nepotism' hiring guideline that served to discourage parent / offspring professors, sibling professors, and husband / wife professors.

Bryce DeWitt's work was noticed by one of the school's big spending patrons and brought in as a department head in the mid-1950's. Cécile wasn't denied professorship because she had a vagina. She was denied because DeWitt was the one Mr. Moneybags was writing very large checks to the University for and the nepotism policy prevented making them both professors.

They couldn't have been too upset with the arrangement because they spent 15 years there when their history made it very clear the highly talented pair had little trouble finding employment just about anywhere on 2 continents.

Maybe Ethan should also talk about the political discrimination that pervades academia, and journalism, which is far more prevalent and damning. If you don't tow the political groupthink line, you have little chance of success.
The pay gap Denier is talking about is largely a perpetual grief fiction industry fostered in academia. If you account for the difference in hours worked, hard vs. soft science degree choices, and career vs. family priority differences between men and women, it almost vanishes. You should also take into a account that the most dangerous jobs are overwhelmingly done by men, as a result, 93% of the workplace fatalities are men.

@Sinisa Lazarek,
I personally do not really have any real interest in watching spectator sports, but I am aware that there isn't an even viewing interest in men's and women's tennis. Interest, or popularity pretty much drives sports salaries, so there isn't an even level of financial endorsements which follows interest which is what largely determines the bargaining power of athlete's salaries. The fact is, men and women do not usually compete directly in sports, usually with very good reason, men's and women's bodies are different and have different tolerances and capacities that effect performance. Even at a gay rodeo, you will notice the women have to take far more protective precautions to prevent injury than men due to anatomical differences. If women were to start competing directly with men in track, tennis, football, soccer, etc. and win regularly, you would probably see a shift in salaries more on par.

@Sinisa Lazarek

as far as pay gap… had to put this up

Tennis is bad. Hollywood is even worse with their pay gap.

I’ve never said that sexism doesn’t exist. It absolutely does and it was even worse in the past. What gets me is the kneejerk reaction to condemn EVERYTHING as misogynist, EVERYTHING as racist, EVERYTHING as bigoted. No one gets the benefit of the doubt on anything. It is the opposite. Screechy Progressives demand you prove a negative. To make it even better, they routinely disregard evidence contrary to their accusations.

Keep in mind that Bryce DeWitt and Cécile DeWitt-Morette were employed at UNC after the Civil Rights Act barring discrimination based on sex was passed. Both Ethan and Paul Halpern have essentially said that UNC Chapel Hill was acting in a criminal manner in violation of Federal Law. They have libeled the institution as misogynists engaged in sexual discrimination. Never mind there was an easier explanation that wrecked their narrative. Both decided they’d rather tar the reputation of UNC until UNC could prove a negative.

A true giant of the field passed and all they could think to do was figure out how to use her corpse to virtue signal without care of truth or who got hurt. I find that distasteful. It also serves to desensitize to true issues of sexism and harms the very group their ridiculous defamation intended to ally.

It seems there is no issue that is supported by data immune to ignorant denial by CFT and denier, despite their not having any relevant knowledge.

Funny, to have Denier complain that we shouldn't mistake equality of opportunity for equality of outcome + we should give employers/funders more benefit of doubt, then have CFT complain about journalism an academia on the same day.

Hey Denier, if we took your advice shouldn't we give universities and mainstream news sources the benefit of the doubt? Isn't it bad reasoning for conservatives to see the inequality of outcome in those fields and assume from that inequality of opportunity? Or does your advice only flow one way?

Is what denier said @#4 false? References?

So.. She was seeking "adventure" all the while Natzie occupied her nations land and slautterd a half million fellow french citizens.
She was blessed to come live in America and the GREAT State of TEXAS (Get That Folks... TEXAS) gave her and
and her equal credential"" A Job.
She gave birth to 4 Children, Heck she hit the loto there. and still we need articles of complaints BECAUSE HER HUSBAND GOT SOME OF HER FUICKING CREDIT???

GET REAL, she lived a good life never suffered as did those around her and lived to a ripe old age for frick sake.
"Academic discrimination"
Was on the BOTTOM of her concern bucket list I would say..

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

I know for you it's hard to comprehend that people think differently than you do, and know some things that maybe you don't. Please try to get over that. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean they are ignorant, deplorable, etc., The more you cling to your arrogant elitism, the less people are going to listen to you.
Many conservatives actually did do something about it. They considered their options carefully and realized they had no chance in hell in ever being promoted inside of a news organizations like The New York Times or The Washington Post, NBC, CBS, or ABC, so they created their own news sites and sources, organizations, and have been gaining market share steadily ever since.
Sadly, academia is still largely a tool of left wing politics, but that is soon going to be changing as well as economic forces put increasing pressure on schools to produce something far more useful than intolerant free speech hating snowflakes that require grief counselors and safe spaces to protect their sheltered views.

Some comments here are distasteful, and all this because she dared to speak up about some inequality along the way.

What do you want, that she just had kept it quiet and only talked about how good life has been to her? Don't you realize that this is just an article, some food for thougth.

Does it always has to be some athlete that can be the hero because he or she once scored an important point, can't it for once be this tiny woman that addressed one tiny issue of inequality?

What do you people actually want?

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

@ Denier #8

I gave an example of tennis in reference to a part of your #1 comment, because it seemed to me you were saying that the pay-gap "emerges" because women work less. I think that in your #8 we both agree that sexism and pay-gap is very much alive in some cases. Not everywhere and in everything of course (at least I hope).

I didn't comment on the rest since honestly I don't know the story/history of mrs. de witt or unc. And I can even agree on some of the things you wrote in #8. But be that as it may, pay-gap exists as a default in some places where it absolutely shouldn't be.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

@Sinisa Lazarek wrote:

it seemed to me you were saying that the pay-gap “emerges” because women work less.

In the aggregate US workforce there exists a daily earnings gap between men and women. There are multiple causes for this gap and one of the most significant is the disparity in the number of hours worked.

Another factor is the one mentioned by CFT in that dangerous jobs are overwhelmingly taken by men. As a result those doing that work get paid more but 93% of all workplace deaths are men. It equality of result were mandated it could support the idea of the government forming a death squad to randomly kill women while they worked.

Choices in Secondary Education are another big contributor. Men outnumber women in 4 of the 5 highest paying degree programs:

Petroleum Engineering (87% male)
Pharmaceutical Sciences (53% female</b)
Math and Computer Science (67% male)
Aerospace Engineering (88% male)
Chemical Engineering (72% male)

In the 5 worst paying majors women outnumber men in 4 out of 5:

Counseling and Psychology (74% female)
Early Childhood Education (97% female)
Theology and Religious Vocations (66% male)
Human Services and Community Org (81% female)
Social Work (88% female)

In this last bit the numbers have been changing. Now that women outnumber men in those graduating with STEM degrees there has actually been a reversal. For childless women in their 20's there is an 8% pay gap in their favor. Today young women get paid more than young men.

There are other factors as well that contribute to gender wage inequality and in many cases it is absolutely as it should be because they stem from freedom of choice. I am very wary of anyone who wants to strip away freedoms so the government can enforce who it thinks should be the winners and losers, and that is exactly what those advocating for 'equality of outcome' are doing.


Hey Denier, if we took your advice shouldn’t we give universities and mainstream news sources the benefit of the doubt? Isn’t it bad reasoning for conservatives to see the inequality of outcome in those fields and assume from that inequality of opportunity?

I'm not sure I follow what you are saying. Are you talking about the political leanings of the staff employed by those organizations? If so, I'm not one for mandating any sort of quota but there are a number of studies that conclusively demonstrate that diversity of thought results in a better work product. I think it is to their own detriment that they've become so politically homogeneous.

If you meant something else, can you restate it because I couldn't follow the mental gymnastics you were trying to perform with what you seemed to think was some sort of gotcha.

"What do you people actually want?"

Well, easing up on the social scab picking would be a good start.
This constant need to self flagellate publically in every sort of way is not healthy.
In fact, Habitual picking of scabs is classified in the group of psychological disorders associated with self-harm, such as deliberate skin cutting, head banging, and burning oneself.

This constant need at near every turn to pick at societal "isms" scabs is not healthy.

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

The reason for your picking on others is because they are picking on themselves. That's what you like to do, pick on others.

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

@Elle H.C.

Not at all. To me at least, nothing is personal. I don't jump down anyone's throat just because it is any particular person who said something. I like picking apart ideas, especially with intelligent people.

With many of today's hotly contested topics, on both there are well read people who have put a significant amount of deliberative thought into their stances. Those people are intellectual prize fighters and I seek them out. I don't want to silence them. If I say something stupid or indefensible I want to get verbally punched in the face. I have absolutely no problem being proven wrong publicly. It never creates hard feelings on my end. On the contrary, it raises my game and sharpens my argument.

At the same time I know that when someone who disagrees with me turns to attack me personally, such as calling me a racist, etc., I know it is because they don't have the set of tools necessary to talk about the idea at issue. Those people I mostly leave alone.

I don't pick on people to make myself bigger. If I'm engaging with someone over an inflammatory topic it is because that is how I show respect for your willingness to take a stance with an idea I can see you've put some work into. My #1 target here is Ethan and you may have noticed that he's pretty smart. If you feel picked on then take some pride, you're in good company.

@Elle H.C. #19
Denier didn't pick on anyone, except perhaps Ethan, who was using the death of Cecile DeWitt-Morette to make a blanket statement about academic sexism over something that occurred roughly half a century ago, and apparently didn't slow Cecile down one iota in her pursuit of excellence.

Funny how folks benefiting from the status quo are so quick to criticize those who don't, for the dishonor of asking for more gruel.

By MobiusKlein (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

"it raises my game"

You think that it raises your game, what game?

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

"something that occurred roughly half a century ago"

You take for granted …

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

I thought when two people married the two became one.
Heck, I have given my spouse all sorts of great ideas/suggestions that she has used in her own work and I got no public recognition nor did I want any and vis-versa.
Bottom line is we are a team and regardless the credit, we both benefit.
Perhaps this credit thingy is something that is an anomaly to academia because in the real world most husbands and wives are not jealous that their spouse got credit for something they did behind the scenes.
Most folks I would think are glad to be partners and teammates knowing full well they can't do it all on their own.

Here is the funny thing that I have done as well to my own superiors in the workplace, made them think the Idea was theirs to get the job done and no credit to myself, but I benefitted none the less.

"To gain support from male colleagues for Les Houches, DeWitt-Morette made them think the proposal was their own. She would describe the plan to them and then phone a week later to say, "Oh, that idea you told me about was great.'' Remembering those days now, she says with a laugh, "I was an intellectual geisha.''
See that, she admits to being an intellectual "GEISHA"

And so what, that was part of the whole game. and she had some fun with it, didn't seems she wallowed in bitter sadness dying for not getting credit.

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

@Elle H.C.#24,
"You take for granted …"

By no means.
I'm actually VERY appreciative of the United States, the country I am a citizen of. My father's side of the family was pretty much wiped out between the tender mercies of first the Nazis, and then the Russian 'new world orders'. I'm also looking at when we are living, not what happened fifty years ago to a highly educated white collar woman who hit a minor bump in her otherwise successful career. For some perspective about 'discrimination', Why don't you take a good hard look around the planet right NOW, not fifty years ago.
Pretty much all of Africa?
Mexico, central or south America?
Pray tell, Russsssssia Russia Russia??
Oh hell, how about Japan or Korea?
**shudder** North Korea?
Any middle eastern muslim majority country of your choosing, including Turkey?

Should you go to any of these countries or continents and sit down with the local women over a nice cup of coffee and complain about how terribly unfair current western civilization is to women and how lacking in opportunities American women are...
You had better be prepared for a choking gasp, followed by coffee sprayed in your face, and then be laughed at. A lot. This has actually happened to several female friends of mine who were foreign exchange students or travelling abroad.

"By no means."

Oh man you are such an idiot.

We have here an example that you could show to all the people in the places that you have mentioned, of how things have changed over 50 years in the US, but instead you rather jump on the bandwagon of those who want to downplay her just like what's going on in those places, you are as evil, perhaps even worse, because you know better.

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

@Elle H.C.,

Reading comprehension ( or clear writing ) is really not your strong point.
There is no bandwagon.
I have 'downplayed' nothing Cecile ever said or did, I said nothing negative about her character or her abilities as an academic, a mathematician, a woman, a mother, or anything else. I have merely noted the emptiness of Ethan's argument/complaint that focuses attention on something Ethan didn't apparently bother to research properly before he tried to make a 'teaching moment' about discrimination out of it. Please come down off your high horse and get your facts straight before you shoot your mouth off.
As to your saying drivel like "you are as evil, perhaps even worse, because you know better.", to quote the immortal wit of the diva Ru Paul, "Girlfriend, pleeeeze". What does me 'knowing better' have to do anything whatsoever with my 'being evil' or having influence or responsibility over what other major world cultures do to women or how they treat them? Think for a moment on that before you spew something even more ridiculous. Calm down before you write.
You are of course welcome to your hearts content to clutch at your indignation pearls and feel as angry, betrayed, and victimized as you like until your blood boils and the sun grows cold, just don't expect that to make one whit of difference in actually helping you or anyone else (man or woman) get a good job and lead a successful life or raise a family.
Cecile took her knocks in life, refused to let that stop her, moved on, and did just splendidly living to be ninety-four years old. Maybe you should too.

"I have ‘downplayed’ nothing Cecile ever said"


What Cécile said:

“Without being told it was a demotion. ‘Oh, it will be so much better for you.’ And that’s the part I didn’t like, the hypocrisy of letting me believe that it was better.”


"a blanket statement about academic sexism over something that occurred roughly half a century ago"

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

Since you wish to be slighted, you will be.
"if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Sure, everything looks like a nail.



"a highly educated white collar woman who hit a minor bump"

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink


If you're not with them you must be against them.

Some of the comments about my deceased parents truly repulse me and are so far from the truth. To the person who suggested that my mom never suffered during World War II, you have no earthly idea! Her father was killed in Auschwitz and her mother, grandmother, and 16-year old sister were killed in the allied bombing on D-Day when their home in Caen was bombed. She was more than keenly aware about what was going on around her during the war, but the war dragged on for years and at the same time, she was a young person like any other young person. Young people who live through wars don't just give up their yearnings and desires and it also doesn't mean they are oblivious to the suffering. Clearly, you've never lived through a war if you think the two are mutually exclusive things. If you only knew, as I grew up knowing, how awful it was to go to the cemetery where her mom, grandmother and sister are buried every D-Day, you would not be able to say that my mom didn't suffer! And to the person who said that my parents could not have been too unhappy with the arrangement at UNC, you too have no idea and no idea about what their considerations were in staying at UNC as long as they did, and no there were not faculty positions just waiting for them to fill anywhere else at the time.

By Christiane DeWitt (not verified) on 23 Sep 2017 #permalink