Increasing Women on the Faculty

Does Anybody Do it Better Than Harvard?; How Can the Percentages Change Over Time?

When Mara Prentiss received tenure earlier this year, she doubled the number of female senior faculty in the Physics Department.

But as more women are tenured in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), tenures like Prentiss's may not be considered unusual.

Of the 20 professors to receive tenure in the FAS during the last academic year, a record six were women.

And administrators have indicated that Harvard is beginning an attempt to increase the number of women in the senior faculty.

"Harvard is working very hard and showing good results," Joseph J. McCarthy, assistant dean for academic planning in the FAS, said earlier this semester. "Are we where we want to be! No. Are we moving in the right direction? Yes."


But many critics say Harvard is not moving fast enough or far enough.

Earlier this semester, a group of Radcliffe alumnae announced they would boycott the University's $2.1 billion capital campaign, citing the dismal number of women on the faculty.

And during Commencement last year, the Radcliffe Class of 1960 voted to withhold its annual gift from Harvard because of a lack of tenured women in the faculty.

"I'd like to see them do something now--not 10 years from now, not at the millennium, now--to improve the rate of women being tenured to the rate of women earning Ph.D.'s," Joan Bolker '60 told The Crimson earlier this semester.


But administrators say the goal of tenuring women at the rate they earn Ph.D.'s is impossible because Harvard tenures only those at the top of their field, not those coming out of graduate school.

The candidate pool of women at the top of their fields is heavily recruited by other schools, administrators say. And tenuring women at higher rates is also difficult because Harvard's turnover rate of less than five percent a year means few slots are open.

"We are always looking for the leading person so you might say we are more risk-averse than some institutions," says Carol J. Thompson, associate dean for academic affairs in the FAS. "Maybe one of the reasons we are very cautious is that our faculty generally spend 35 years here."

McCarthy acknowledges that Harvard has a historically bad record of hiring women, but he says Harvard does not lag behind other major research universities.

But statistics show that while Harvard does not lag far behind, it is hardly leading the pack.