Faust To Lead New Initiative
President’s blunder may lead to boost in women’s status at Harvard
Summers said Friday that he has asked Faust to collaborate with him in developing a set of initiatives to bolster the status of women within the University. But in separate interviews with The Crimson Friday, both Summers and Faust were short on details.
“All this has been unfolding so fast that the specifics are not yet clear,” Faust said. “Everyone has been playing this whole situation one hour—one day—at a time.”
Summers asked Faust to assume a leading role in drafting his as-yet-undefined initiative late last week—several days after outcry first arose over his suggestion that “innate differences” may help to explain the underrepresentation of female scientists on elite university faculties. Faust’s academic background and her current administrative post make her a natural choice to take charge of the president’s new effort.
Faust, a tenured history professor at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) renowned for her own scholarship on females in the American South, is a national figure in the field of women’s studies. She led the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s studies program for nearly five years, and in 2001 she became the first permanent dean of the Radcliffe Institute, a research center focusing on gender issues.
Faust is also a member of the FAS Standing Committee on Women, the group of female professors who chastised Summers in a letter released Tuesday, saying that his controversial remarks to a conference at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) “serve to reinforce the institutional culture at Harvard that erects numerous barriers to improving the representation of women on the faculty.”
But on Friday, Faust declined to comment on her own personal reaction to Summers’ NBER speech.
“I really want to focus on moving forward and where to go with this,” Faust told The Crimson. “He has spoken eloquently about what he said, what he meant, and how he’s regarded it.”
Faust said she and Summers had discussed the underrepresentation of female scholars on the Harvard faculty at previous meetings of top administrators. The percentage of FAS tenure offers that went to women last year was 13 percent—down from 36 percent in 2000-2001, the last year before Summers became Harvard’s 27th president.
While Faust said the soon-to-be-unveiled presidential initiative to bolster the role of women at Harvard will seek to address the drop in female tenure offers, she added that the initiative will also look to encourage female achievement starting with undergraduates. “We need to expand pipelines in order to make sure that there are substantial numbers of women in pools so that we can do this kind of hiring,” she said.
She said that Summers’ own high profile would add momentum to the nascent effort. “Statements from President Summers mean a tremendous amount,” Faust said. “I think he realizes that he has enormous power, and he wants to figure out how to use it to do good.”
In asking Faust to lead the University’s response, Summers drew praise from Standing Committee member and Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics Susan J. Pharr .
“I think we are all heartened by this new initiative, and delighted to see Drew Faust leading it,” Pharr wrote in an e-mail from Tokyo yesterday.
Pharr expressed support for a set of FAS-wide policies to assure that top female scholars “get a fair shake in hiring and promotion in every possible way.”
But Pharr—a former chair of the government department—emphasized that the Faculty should standardize tenure search policies only “in ways that are consistent…with maintaining departmental decisionmaking.”
Pharr, a former FAS associate dean, also wrote that “there is a crying need for more FAS women in positions of power and visibility in the university.”
“I think it’s fair to say that many of us would like to see more than one woman on the Corporation,” she wrote. Hanna H. Gray, the former president of the University of Chicago, is the only female currently on the seven-member Corporation. Gray will be replaced in June by former Duke University and Wellesley College President Nannerl O. Keohane, who will become only the third woman ever to serve on the Corporation.
Pharr said that Radcliffe’s own researchers could inform the University’s emerging initiative. She cited as one example Cabot Professor of Social Ethics Mahzarin Banaji, a psychologist who has studied gender disparities in attitudes toward mathematics. In online tests that ask subjects to categorize various pictures and words, Banaji has found that females associate “math” with unpleasant stimuli much more readily than males do.
Banaji wrote in an e-mail from India yesterday that “the implicit, not to mention explicit, stereotype associating math with male has been demonstrated time and again to affect women’s performance on math and their attitudes toward math.”
“In this day and age to believe that men and women differ in their basic competence for math and science is as insidious as believing that some people are better suited to be slaves and other masters,” Banaji wrote.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at email@example.com.