Report Reviews Female Professors

The Office of Faculty Development and Diversity included the first-ever historical overview of the role of tenured women professors across Harvard University in its 2011 Annual Report.

Published yesterday, the report found that women now comprise 26 percent of Harvard’s 1,570 ladder faculty members, 63 years since Harvard tenured its first female professor.

The report features a seventy-year timeline highlighting the careers of the first five tenured women professors in each school of the University as well as notable milestones in the inclusion of women at Harvard.

“We saw this timeline as an opportunity to honor the appointments of women, and to give people a continued sense of urgency to diversify the faculty with respect to gender,” said Judith D. Singer, senior vice provost of the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and curator of the report.

Since Helen Maud Cam became the first woman to receive tenure from Harvard in 1948, the number of tenured females has steadily increased. Today, 22 percent of tenured professors are female, up from 18 percent in 2004. Among junior faculty, 36 percent are female, up from 34 percent in 2004.

But the number of women in the sciences remains proportionately lower than in other areas of study.

At the Medical School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, women comprise 16 percent and 10 percent of senior faculty, respectively. In natural sciences at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—the University’s largest school—women comprise 13 percent of senior faculty.

The gradual inclusion of women in the academic community was a process that occurred through a variety of ways at each of Harvard’s schools.

In FAS, Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray-Stone established the Radcliffe Professorship in 1947, which reserved a senior faculty position for a distinguished woman scholar.

The next schools to include women among their ranks were the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Education—“‘women’s work’ schools,” according to Singer.

In other schools, including Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Kennedy School, the inclusion of women has only occurred more recently. In fact, a number of these pioneering women are still active in the classroom.

Law School Professor Martha A. Field ’65 was the second female to receive tenure at the Law School and has had the longest career at Harvard of all the tenured women currently teaching.

“We continue to make progress, but it’s definitely slow-going,” said Singer, who pointed out that because the vast majority of faculty members will stay on from year to year, any demographic change will naturally occur “at the margin.”

Government Professor Theda R. Skocpol, who received tenure from FAS in 1985 and also served as the second female dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, pointed out other factors that could explain the continued unequal gender representation among Harvard faculty.

“A lot of times, women get left out not because they are prejudiced against, but what’s defined as exciting scholarship is primarily defined in terms of men’s point of view,” said Skocpol.

—Staff writer Matthew T. Lowe can be reached at mlowe@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at kwu@college.harvard.edu.

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