Harvard administrators recently announced that $50 million will be spent over the next decade to increase the number of women and minority faculty. We realize that this figure is only a first step towards effecting long term change, but it is a sign that the University is trying to address a serious problem. The number of newly-tenured female faculty has been falling since University President Lawrence H. Summers took office—a trend that has been highlighted following Summers’ controversial comments regarding women in science earlier this year. This inexcusable trend must come to an end, and the $50 million allocated to fund the recommendations made by the two faculty task forces is a step in the right direction.
The very conspicuous announcement the University made about the allotment of funds was a necessary public relations move. President Summers, and as a result Harvard, have taken some beatings in the national media, particularly over the issue of hiring women faculty in the sciences. Harvard needed to show students and the public at large that it is committed to hiring more women and minority faculty. The $50 million does just that.
However, $50 million appears to be a rather arbitrary number, and will by no means be enough to bring true diversity to the faculty. President Summers has said that more money will follow as proposals become implemented—and the University must stand by that commitment. In addition, there are some aspects of the task forces’ recommendations that are troubling. While it is too early to truly critique Harvard’s new policies, as none have been truly fleshed out, there are still some areas of the task forces’ reports of which we are wary.
First, the University has already said that it will create a new position—a senior vice provost for diversity and faculty development—to increase diversity in the faculty. This decision is a mistake. We support the ends this vice provost will try to meet, but we do not support the means. The creation of this position has the unfortunate effect of letting everyone else involved in the tenure process ignore diversity as such considerations become the responsibility of one person. Every department should be considering diversity when it comes to giving tenure to faculty, not just one vice provost.
Moreover, the creation of the vice provost position may cast a negative light on minority and women hires, as some may view these hires as less prestigious. Tenure decisions must evaluate all candidates on their own qualifications, experiences, perspectives, and what they would bring to Harvard; race and sex should be a part of this evaluation process.
Another worrying aspect of the recent report is the possibility that the system Harvard will eventually employ will become in effect a quota system. Just as we are against quota systems in universities’ admissions process, we are against one in Harvard’s hiring process. A quota system would be the wrong approach because it could stigmatize minority and women hires. Even worse, it would be completely the wrong way to make decisions on tenure. Again, each individual candidate for tenure must be evaluated on what he or she will contribute to Harvard, and race and sex should be a factor in the final decision.
Ultimately, it is most important that the number of tenured women and minorities increases, and that the progress Harvard has made does not end. Harvard cannot be seen as an institution that is antagonistic towards women or minorities; yet, unfortunately, some departments and some faculty at Harvard are still hostile towards both. Of course, this is unacceptable. While allotting $50 million towards efforts to increase diversity amongst the faculty is a great step—and a great signal that Harvard has its priorities straight—creating a more accommodating academic environment is imperative if Harvard is to every fully bring diversity to its faculty.