University to Investigate Sexism in the Classroom

The University will this spring conduct a study to investigate whether students react to male and female professors differently, and whether these differences harm the quality of undergraduate education.

The study, which will involve the videotapes of classes, interviews with students and faculty, and undergraduate questionnaires, is the product of President Bok's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, a $25,000 group set up more than a year ago to determine barriers faced by women on campus.

"Some differences between teaching styles of female and male professors have been noticed in the past," Dean K. Whitla, director of the Harvard-Danforth Center, said yesterday. The center will coordinate the study.

Whitla explained that previous video tapes have suggested that women students get along better with women professors than with men professors, and that some women students feel more comfortable speaking in classes led by women.

Whitla noted that further evidence shows male students tend to interrupt female professors more than they interrupt male professors. On the other side of the desk, women teachers apparently are more hesitant to assume control of the class.

Studies at other institutions, such as Wellesley, have shown that women faculty have less prestige than their male counterparts.

Margaret C. Gullette, assistant director of the center, said that the Harvard study will help women at the University become more sensitive to the effects of gender, and consequently may cause changing attitudes, or help in setting up effective counseling.

The study could also encourage the University to hire more women professors, Whitla said, explaining that the investigation may show that women students study better under women professors.

Extra Burden

Assistant Professor of Government Ethel Klein, who recently spoke at the center on "Teaching About Women, Women as Teachers," said that women face classroom problems that men aren't forced to deal with. "One difficulty faced by women professors is in establishing authority," she said Klein attributed this problem to societal attitudes that fail to accept women as dominant figures.

Klein added that some students view women professors as more personable, and are more likely to approach them with academic, or even personal problems. Consequently, she noted, women are often forced to devote more time to teaching, and less to research.

Earlier this week, University officials confirmed that they will probably also fund a study this spring on sexual harassment.

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Sidney Verba '53 said yesterday that the two projects both stemmed from "growing concern over sex-related problems on campus."

He explained that "the sexual harassment study focuses on abuses of someone in a supervisory position to an individual whereas this study will take a more general outlook of gender differences."

Other Projects

Seven projects, in addition to the gender study, have been funded by the Committee or the Status of Women. They include compiling a directory of support programs for women, establishing a daycare program at the Divinity School, and participation in the international conference on women, religion and social change