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The Bunting Institute Redefines Itself

Looking Inward, Outward

By Maggie S. Tucker

After nearly 30 years as a leading research center for women, the Bunting Institute is re-evaluating its relationship with Radcliffe, and its role in the advancement of women worldwide, according to top administrators.

Spurred by the recent appointments of Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson, Bunting Institute Director Florence C. Ladd and Assistant Director Linda M. Eisenmann, the multi-disciplinary center is reassessing the role it has played in helping women scholars over the years, and is preparing for changes that will affect women in the future.

Calling the institute a "dynamic institution," Wilson says the program can be "a very constructive force at the frontier of social change" by increasing the opportunities for women through instruction, research and service. "The Bunting will clearly play a critical role in Radcliffe's future," she says.

But administrators are not sure exactly what that role will be. In particular, they say, the institute needs to define better its relationship with undergraduates, its funding priorities and examine how well it fulfills its role as a resource for women pursuing careers as professors.

Founded in 1961 by then-Radcliffe President Mary Ingraham Bunting, the institute was intended to fight what Bunting called the "climate of unexpectation" facing American women. The stated goal of the center was to enable women who had given up their careers for marriage or other reasons to have a chance to return to academic pursuits.

But as the women's movement progressed, other universities and funding agencies started to offer continuing education programs for women. As a result, administrators say, the Bunting Institute began to reach out specifically to women who had achieved distinction in their careers. Over time, the institute gradually became a center devoted largely to helping women advance in academia or the arts.

"Radcliffe realized another need no one was addressing, a place for scholars at a critical time in their careers," says Wilson.

With its reputation and resources, Radcliffe officials say the institute is well-suited to meet the needs of women who will comprise a growing portion of the academic population in the 1990s.

Today, the 40 to 45 women each year who are named Bunting fellows pursue subjects ranging from public policy to biochemistry to film-making. Fellows are provided with offices or studio space and have access to the University's libraries and other facilities. About half also receive what Ladd calls a "modest" stipend of approximately $20,000.

Although the fellowships go to women in a wide range of careers, many Bunting fellows see their year at the institute as a step on the path to a tenured faculty post. Many of the 43 current fellows are junior professors who hope to follow previous Bunting fellows into lifetime teaching positions at universities around the nation.

Of the 23 tenured women now in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), four were Bunting fellows, as were Education School Dean Patricia A. Graham and FAS Associate Dean for Academic Planning Phyllis Keller, two of the University's top women administrators.

At a time when many people are concerned about the lack of women professors at universities in the United States, administrators say the Bunting Institute provides a much-needed service to women by giving them the chance to complete work that may earn them promotions to the senior faculty level.

"We don't have true co-education in this country," Ladd says, "not until we have a gender balance, equal numbers of men and women represented on the faculties and administrations of colleges and universities in this country."

"In academia, it's easy to think that the job's been done," says Elizabeth R. McKinsey, the former director of the institute who left last July to become dean of Carleton College. "There certainly are more women, particularly if you look at assistant professor ranks. It looks heartening, but that's misleading. If you look at associate professor and professor ranks, it's still quite sobering."

At Harvard, women make up just 8 percent of the tenured faculty and 28 percent of the junior faculty. The numbers are similar at other institutions of higher education.

Overt sexism is no longer the primary reason that few women hold faculty positions, fellows and faculty members say. Instead, they say, the problem stems from subtle forms of discrimination and the efforts at accommodation women feel they must make if they are to succeed in what some still consider a man's world.

"One of the difficulties is the expectation that now the rules have changed, the whole system will. But expectations haven't changed," Wilson says. "People don't have a sense of it in their bones. We don't call on women [as authorities on an issue]."

"The propaganda of the '50s, that normal women wouldn't want careers--much of that has vanished," says Olwen Hufton, professor of history and of women's studies.

Even when women overcome these obstacles, however, they are faced with greater demands than their male counterparts, Hufton says. "The fact that there are so few of them and that [universities] want them to be visible [means that] they're overstretched."

Helping women gain tenure has been a priority at the Bunting Institute for more than a decade. In 1976, the institute began a Non-Tenured Faculty Fellowship program--sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation--which set aside a number of fellowships specifically for women junior professors.

Although the program was a success--24 of the 36 fellows have received lifetime poistions and seven more are tenure-track--officials say they had to discontinue the program in 1986 because of financial reasons. According to McKinsey, the initial program was slated to run only 10 years and "Carnegie's priorities shifted."

The cessation of the non-tenured faculty program vividly demonstrates how dependent the work of the institute is on funding sources. Although the center last July received a $1.7 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to support the work of 45 women scientists over the next five years, Bunting officials say that there is a continued need for funding.

As a result of the growing interest of funding sources in political and social issues, institute officials have begun to set aside a larger number of fellowships for women interested in those fields.

The Peace Fellowship, given by an anonymous donor in 1983, supports a woman "actively involved in finding peaceful solutions to conflict or potential conflict among groups or nations." This year's peace fellow, Dessima Williams, former Granadian ambassador to the Organization of American States, is working on a project addressing U.S.-Caribbean relations.

Kip Tiernan, a Radcliffe visitor-in-residence who is working on a project about homeless shelters, says women could be doing more work in "the whole area of social ethics." Although women are often left out of public policy planning, they often end up being victims of bad policies, she says.

In order to gain a different perspective to the study of these social issues, an increased effort should be made to bring more working class and minority women to the institute, several fellows say. Such a step, they say, would also lead to added faculty diversity in universities around the country.

"Of the triple agenda of race, class and gender, the Bunting Institute touches gender. It has not yet responded to the necessity of transforming the class and racial [makeup] of academics," Williams says. "This could be a timely moment to make that transition."

Wilson says she does not think the institute is socio-economically elitist, but she too agrees that it "must look to people of all nations and socioeconomic levels."

Ladd, a former associate executive director of Oxfam America--an organization that supports self-help projects in developing nations, says she hopes to bring more minorities and women from the Third World to the institute.

"The moment in history has come for the Bunting Institute to increase its contribution to the advancement of the intellectual projects and pursuits of Third World women--Asian, African and Latin American women," Ladd says.

Last year, Radcliffe and the Carnegie Corporation instituted a program to bring distinguished international visitors from developing countries to the program.

For the internationalization of the Bunting Institute to be effective, however, fellows say the fellowship program needs to be better coordinated. According to Patricia S. Yaeger, a Bunting fellow on leave from her position as assistant professor of history and literature at Harvard, it would be more productive if the work of the different fellows were better integrated. Right now, Yaeger says, "It's a rich dialogue, but it's not always concentrated."

Officials also say that they hope the institute can be more involved in the lives of undergraduates, many of whom never come in contact with the program or its fellows.

According to Ladd, Radcliffe may soon increase the number of work-study students and interns at the institute so that more undergraduates can work with fellows. She says she also encourages undergraduates to attend weekly colloquia in which different fellows describe their research projects.

Ladd hopes students will bring their mothers to the institute on parents' weekends, since "I think what we offer would have the kind of meaning for them that it doesn't yet offer for undergraduate women."

Many fellows also say they would like to have a closer relationship with undergraduates. "Maybe we can be examples for them but they could also enliven us with new ideas," says Williams, "That interaction is very healthy and could be strengthened."

Nonetheless, many fellows are reluctant to say what types of commitment they are willing to make to spend more time with students.

According to Holly R. Zellweger '90, co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, the institute needs to reach out to undergraduates more effectively. "One of the Bunting Institute's purposes is to be a source of role models," she says. "It could fulfill that a bit more visibly."

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