Harvard Joins Nine Universities in Reaffirming Pledge To Create Environment Welcoming to Female Faculty

The presidents of nine leading universities, including Harvard’s Lawrence H. Summers, issued a joint statement yesterday reaffirming their commitment to the “full participation of women” among their faculty ranks.

“While considerable progress has been made since 2001, we acknowledge that there are still significant steps to be taken toward making academic careers compatible with family caregiving responsibilities,” the presidents wrote.

The statement came nearly ten months after three of the presidents—Stanford’s John Hennessy, MIT’s Susan Hockfield, and Princeton’s Shirley Tilghman—penned an op-ed for The Boston Globe that appeared to criticize Summers’ now infamous remarks on the “intrinsic aptitude” of women in science.

“The question we must ask as a society is not ‘can women excel in math, science, and engineering?’—Marie Curie exploded that myth a century ago—but ‘how can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields?’” Hennesy, Hockfield, and Tilghman wrote in February.

Yesterday’s brief statement did not touch on the innate abilities of women in science and sought to broaden the issue of female advancement to “academic fields throughout higher education.”

“Our goal as research universities is to create conditions in which all faculty are capable of the highest of academic achievement,” the nine presidents wrote. “Continuing to develop academic personnel policies, institutional resources, and a culture that supports family commitments is therefore essential for maximizing the productivity of our faculty.”

The statement followed up on their 2001 pledge to establish “equity for, and full participation by, women faculty.” Summers had yet to be appointed president at the time.

Aside from Summers, Hennesy, Hockfield, and Tilghman, the other presidents to sign yesterday’s statement were: CalTech’s David Baltimore, UC Berkeley’s Robert Birgeneau, UMich’s Mary Sue Coleman, UPenn’s Amy Gutmann, and Yale’s Richard C. Levin.

Levin faced protests from graduate students on his campus last February for not condemning Summers’ remarks on women in science.

—ZACHARY M. SEWARD