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Math Department Seeking Women Profs.

By Lan N. Nguyen

A June article in Science magazine ranked Harvard's Mathematics Department among the top 10 in the nation, but noted that there are no tenured women professors among the faculty ranks.

Indeed, even as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences takes steps to improve the experience of women scholars in the sciences, the issue of recruitment and hiring remains a primary concern.

The Science article claimed that mathematics is "the last bastion of male exclusivity in U.S. academics." The article reported that out of the top 10 math departments in the U.S., there are only four women professors with tenure. This does not adequately reflect the number of math Ph.D.s going to women today, the author wrote.

At Harvard, three women hold non-tenured teaching posts, and one woman holds a Benjamin Pierce lectureship, which is also an untenured position, but sometimes leads to tenure.

Wilfried Schmid, chair of Harvard's Mathematics Department, says that his faculty has made efforts to recruit female scholars. Of four junior offers made last year, two were extended to women, he says. One of these women accepted the Pierce lectureship, but the other chose Princeton University instead.

"The number of women has gone up in applying for assistant professorships," says Schmid, adding that with senior faculty, it will take a little longer for the larger number of female Ph.D.s to "percolate" through.

"There is a time lag," he says. "And it will take a while to work itself through."

Members of the department say the number of women in the field has grown and that the department is changing to reflect that shift. "There are more women here now then there used to be," says Robin J. Gottlieb, a preceptor, adding "the department shows awareness of the problem."

Gottlieb says that given the small number of jobs, the department is correct in "looking" at women but hiring the best candidate regardless of gender. "With the small number of jobs, it is impossible for [departments] to say they will take equal number of [men and women] and still have the same high standards," says Gottlieb.

Most women in the Math Department are preceptors, responsible for teaching and administrating the general calculus classes. Outside of training mathematicians, the department offers general math courses for students in other concentrations who need to take them to fill requirements. These courses represent a large portion of the department's activity, according to Schmid.

Deborah Hughes Hallett holds the wordy title, professor of the practice in the teaching of mathematics. She is considered a senior member of the Math faculty, although she does not have tenure. Her national reputation as an outstanding teacher of math prompted the department to grant her a professorship, says Schmid. Hughes Hallett is responsible for establishing curriculum, solving problems in the teaching of math and overseeing all the remedial math courses.

Numbers Increasing

Although change has come slowly on the faculty level, undergraduate and graduate programs show that the number of women are increasing. Schmid says that the department cannot tell Harvard how to pick the entering class but where they can help is in retaining students who are interested in mathematics.

"We are aware that there is a traditionally higher dropout rate for women than men," he says of math concentrators. Schmid says the department decided last year to offer Math 101 for students interested in the field. "Math 101 exposes students to what math is like," he says.

Gottlieb says the department has also taken steps to provide a support network for women in math. In addition, there is a study group for women undergraduates and the department each year holds a brunch for female faculty members and students to "foster a sense of community."

As more and more women enter mathematics, the number of female professors will reflect this swing, says Raoul Bott, Graustein professor of mathematics. But in the meantime, women should be encouraged on the elementary and high school levels to pursue their interest in mathematics, says Noam D. Elkies, Loeb professor of the natural sciences.

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