Harvard Increases Female Tenure Offers

The number of tenure offers Harvard made to women increased this year for the first time during Lawrence H. Summers’ presidency, reversing a three-year decline that resulted in only 13% of offers going to women last year.

The increase comes during a year in which professors publicly questioned Summers’ commitment to gender diversity, not only because of the downward trend in tenure offers made to women, but also in response to the president’s controversial January remarks on women in science.

Of the 33 tenure offers extended by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) during the 2004-2005 academic year, nine of those, or 27 percent of all offers, went to women. By contrast, in the previous year only four of 32 offers, or 13 percent of all offers, went to women. And during the first two years of Summers’ presidency, the proportion of tenure offers made to women fell from 26 percent of all offers in 2001-2002 to 19 percent of all offers in 2002-2003.

These numbers contrast with those of the last years of the presidency of Neil L. Rudenstine, Summers’ predecessor. During the 1999-2000 year, 34 percent of all offers went to women, and during the 2000-2001 year—Rudenstine’s last year—36 percent of all offers went to women.

Although faculty concern with the decline in tenure offers began to brim last summer, when a group of professors expressed its disappointment with the tenure numbers in a letter to Summers and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, it did not begin to boil until Summers suggested on Jan. 14 that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” might be responsible for the dearth of female professors in the sciences. The firestorm over those comments—and over broader concerns with Summers’ leadership that were voiced in a series of contentious Faculty meetings—culminated in a March 15 FAS vote of no confidence in the president’s leadership.

Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan wrote in an e-mail that, although criticism of Summers’ management style placed “additional pressure” on the president to offer tenure to more women, both Summers and Kirby were already aware of the need to offer more women tenure.

She wrote that administrators began to take action after an October 7, 2004, meeting between over 50 tenured female professors, Summers, and Kirby, in which the professors voiced their concerns with the three-year slide in female tenure offers.

After those meetings, “Dean Kirby asked the divisional deans to monitor all searches, and chairs of departments were required to fill out quite meticulous forms at various points in both non-tenured and tenured searches,” Ryan wrote. “All this was before President Summers’ remarks at the economics conference of January 2005.”

In an e-mail this week, Kirby echoed Ryan’s argument.

“The offers we are now reporting are the result not of the last six months, but—given the time it takes to make tenure offers at Harvard—of the last two years,” he wrote. “All of these cases were well under consideration, at the department level or beyond, before the events of this past winter and spring,” Kirby added.

But Kay K. Shelemay, chair of the ethnic studies committee, detected in this year’s improved numbers a signals that the administration is more attentive to issues of gender diversity.

“I think this shows that the issue is now front and center, where it needs to stay if we are to sustain and increase the improved numbers of the last year,” Shelemay said.

Lisa Martin, who was recently appointed special advisor to Kirby on matters related to gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, cautioned in an e-mail that data from any one year do little to indicate a commitment, or lack thereof, to diversity.

“When the total number of offers being made each year is fairly small, 32 or 33, the percentages going to women will bounce around a lot from year to year,” she wrote. “So I would not attribute much to significance to the difference between 4 and 9, I don’t think one year’s experience tells us much.”

To ensure that diversity issues remain on the radar in years to come, administrators have over the past two weeks appointed two diversity advisors—Martin’s post at the FAS-level, and another at the University-level—whose task it will be to ensure that women and minority candidates are fully considered during faculty searches.

Of the 33 tenure offers made this year, 17 have been accepted thus far, two of those by women. Three have been turned down, one of those by a woman. The remaining 13 offers, six of which went to women, are still pending.

Harvard also made 66 non-tenure offers this year, with 25 of those—or 38 percent—going to women.

Unlike with tenure offers, there has not been a downward trend in the number of non-tenure offers made to women since Summers took office.

During Summers’ first year, 31 percent of non-tenure offers went to women. That number decreased to 23 percent the next year, but increased to 35 percent last year.

Forty-six of this year’s non-tenure offers have been accepted thus far, 19 of them by women. Twelve offers have been turned down, three of those by women. Eight offers, three of which went to women, are still pending.

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.