The Radcliffe Institute: Out of the Ivory Tower And Into the Streets
Unless you are a professional woman, chances are that the Radcliffe Institute doesn't know much about you. And if you know anything about the Institute, chances are that you think of it as a support structure for a small elite of academic women.
The Institute, founded in 1960, is best known for its Program of Independent Study which provides fellowships to approximately 35 women each year to pursue their work in the arts, medicine or academic research.
Whether it was because the Institute gave them money to pay for day care services or because it provided them with the classic "room of their own," the women who have been Institute Fellows invariably see their years as the critical link between their aspiration and their achievement.
Radical in its non-traditional approach towards women, the Radcliffe Institute is the only structure of its kind in the country. It has more than demonstrated its value to women, but despite its obvious success, the Institute has projected an image of elitism. Two factors are responsible for this image: The Institute's original goal of seeking women who hold advanced degrees or who have distinguished themselves in scholarship or the arts, and financial constraints which dictate that the Institute invite its Fellows from the Boston area. And whereas the Radcliffe Institute once represented an answer to the problems of women, its image as an institution devoted to the academic careers of the wives of Harvard and MIT faculty wives has caused to fall short of that original promise.
While the image is exaggerated, Radcliffe Institute administrators acknowledge that it is wide-spread. "The Institute has played an enabling role in the past," Susan Storey Lyman '49, acting director of the Institute, explained. "It focused on helping the women Ph.D. to move ahead by giving her a sabbatical year to publish."
While that is hardly something to hold against the Institute, the needs of women have changed during the 13 years of its existence and so have the interests of the foundations who are the Institute's financial backbone. Add to that the new leadership of Radcliffe President Horner and the predictions of a national economic recession, and you have a Radcliffe Institute that is in transition.
Without abandoning individual Ph.D. women, the Institute has begun to re-think the Program of Independent Study. At the same time, it is extending its concern to some broad social issues which will affect the careers of a larger group of women.
Horner last year secured a oneyear planning grant from the Ford Foundation to develop new Institute programs with a broader scope. She considers the Institute an ideal place to study the relationship between women and work by focusing on two or three national social problems. Largely as a result of her direction, the Institute will be helping more women, and not just those in academics, at the transitional points in their lives.
Underlying the efforts to redirect the Institute is the conviction held by Horner and other Radcliffe administrators that the country is entering a long economic recession whose principal victims will be women and minorities.
"I'm becoming an economic pessimist," Horner said. "I worry that in a no-growth economy we are encouraging women into positions that won't be there. The history of women in and out of the work force indicates that people's social consciousness diminishes when the economy gets tight. The recession could backfire on women, and we must be prepared for that."
Horner says that despite the predicted squeeze on certain types of jobs and the probable exclusion of women from them as a result, there are many services which the country will be relying on in the future but no trained people to provide them. Horner sees the Institute as taking the lead in pinpointing these areas and developing para-professional training programs so that women who might otherwise be kept out of work can be redirected towards jobs that will fulfill the needs of the near future.
A long-range goal of the Institute, therefore, is to meet certain national needs at the same time that it helps women to adjust to the gloomy economic conditions ahead. "The worst thing that could happen is that women who have trained for a career will come out of school only to bump their heads against a stone wall," Horner said. "Above all we don't want women to have to take a step backwards."
Through projects such as the Radcliffe Program in Health Careers, which is funded through a $318,000 two-year grant from the Johnson Foundation, the Institute hopes to reach beyond the population of academically-oriented women which has been its major constituency in the past.
Jeannette H. Haase, its director--who describes herself as "the kind of middle-class, Jewish gal for whom the Radcliffe Institute was beyond reach"--says that there is a critical need to re-evaluate the role of women in the health care industry, particularly women in low and mid-level jobs. Although the program's focus is on women, it is tied in with the specific problem of ambulatory health care--any service that is provided outside of a hospital, whether in a doctor's office, in a clinic, or in the home, and including such things as preventitive care, diagnosis, and follow-up.
Haase said that two new federal laws--the Health Maintenance bill for organized pre-paid health services (the Harvard Community Health Plan is an example) and the Professional Services Review Organization bill--call for expanded ambulatory care services. Haase admits that ambulatory care is not the most attractive field medicine has to offer. But the need is there, and if women are going to fill those positions in ambulatory health care, Haase said, "We need rewards for them so they don't get stale. We need to insure the stability of jobs for women, but we also need to encourage their upward-mobility."
Under the program, an interdisciplinary advisory committee will research all aspects of ambulatory care--its economics, the education and training of health service providers, public policy, and ethics--and then develop a pilot training program for next year to implement its findings.
"The means we are using to help women are the same--research, training, fellowships and life planning (another word for counseling)--but the Institute is no longer concerned with just one population of women," Haase said.
There is an obvious excitement among the Radcliffe Institute's administrators about the changes underway, and Lyman insists that the Institute Fellows will not be lost in the shuffle. The shift as she describes it is towards balance, not the exclusion of the individual Ph.D. women.
"The Institute is the kind of flexible unit best able to deal with the problems that the world is bringing to the academics and the experts to solve," Lyman said. "This may mean saying to women: if you want to come to the Institute you have to play our game to some extent."
The Johnson health career program represents a beginning towards a different image and a different function for the Radcliffe Institute. The feeling among its staff members is that the transition from a small intimate haven for a limited number of women to a place with a broader scope is both positive and realistic. Where an elitist, genteel image once seemed to isolate the Institute from the women's movement, there are now claims that it may be in the vanguard. For the changes at the Institute also involve a redefinition of the goals women must seek: in the face of an economic recession, they say, it is no longer realistic or practicable to push as many women as possible to top positions in traditional careers. Rather than fight the fight, only to be frustrated in the end, women should redirect their energies and talents toward halting the inevitable devaluation of jobs held by large numbers of women. If the beginning thrusts now underway succeed, chances are you will be hearing much more about the Radcliffe Institute in the future.