We Need More Women Faculty
It is recognized in all corners that the disparity between percentages of male and female senior faculty--on the order of more than seven-to-one--is bad for the University. It is bad for men who do not experience lectures by professors of both sexes; it is bad for women who do not have male and female role models to teach them about women's experience in academia; it is bad for everyone at the University whose view of the world is thus skewed. The question that must be answered is what should be done about this glaring problem.
At the outset it should be noted that Harvard has taken important steps toward rooting out inequality. Twenty-four percent of all tenured appointments in the last five years have been to women and in all hiring processes, departments are told to enlarge the applicant pool in ways that make women feel particularly encouraged to apply, and to document these efforts. However, the University has not done enough prior to the tenuring process. For example, Associate Dean of Affirmative Action Marjorie Garber reviews cases only after the fact. In addition, the average annual rate of change during the Rudenstine-Knowles Administration has only been 0.4 percent. This must change if any of us is to actually be alive when we reach an equitable time.
Harvard needs to do more. And yet, short of creating literally hundreds of new professorships, a move that is inadvisable for obvious reasons, there exists no quick-fix solution. However, this does not mean that Harvard must accept the gender disparity as an unfortunate but irredeemable fact. If the Administration truly believes the propaganda about the importance of women on the campus that it has been spouting via the Gazette in recent weeks, it should take concerted positive steps to attract top women scholars.
Simply put, Harvard should do everything in its power to woo top female candidates to join the faculty. Boasting unrivaled intellectual resources, an eight billion dollar endowment and an attractive Cambridge locale, Harvard has many tools at its disposal for attracting the world's leading scholars. And one of those tools is money. If a woman is the top candidate in a department's search, the size of the tenuring package should not be an object in bringing her here; Harvard should be willing to beat all competing offers, and beat them substantially when it is thought that this might be helpful in attracting the scholar.
Another of those tools is quality of life. Harvard should offer to all prospective professors--women and men--the provisions necessary to run a family as well as jump-start a career, such as adequate child care and housing with proximity to good schools. Harvard should also make an effort to change this University's atmosphere so it is more welcoming to women professors. Part of that comes from sheer numbers., but a significant part also arises from negative attitudes toward research done by and about women and from a pervasive "old boys" sentiment in which debates over the beer are the norm.
One way to make this kind of effort less financially painful is to make the scar of gender-inequality an issue with donors. Indeed, the ongoing $2.1 billion campaign makes scarcely any mention of this persistent problem. But it is the prerogatives emphasized in fund-raising drives like this one that determine what kind of University Harvard will become. If President Rudenstine and Dean Knowles are really as distressed about the lack of gender proportionality in the Faculty as they purport to be, they must make a point of emphasizing the need for funds earmarked for closing the gender gap. And this effort must go further that merely encouraging women to participate in future capital campaigns; Rudenstine and Knowles must themselves be willing to convince donors with large wallets to lend their support to the cause, even if this risks alienating the stodgier conservative white men among them.
In addition, Harvard should not shy away from a more aggressive affirmative action approach when it is thought necessary to combat pervasive institutional biases. In order to jump-start diversification efforts, the Administration should tell search committees of departments with the most glaring gender inequalities to include sex as a factor in the evaluation of candidates.
These moves will not bring Harvard gender proportionality in professorships overnight. But they represent positive, responsible steps the University ought to take. And they are moves that Harvard must take if President Rudenstine is to avoid hypocrisy as he continues to flout Harvard's commitment to diversity at every turn.