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Women Scarce In 'Kappa Elections

News Feature

By Geoffrey C. Upton

In the fourth round of elections since men and women have faced the same selection procedures to Phi Beta Kappa, just seven of 24 juniors elected to the academic honor society were female.

The results, announced last week, continue a two-year trend in favor of male students. Of the 72 students thus far elected to Phi Beta Kappa from the Class of 1997, only 26 are female.

In the first combined election, held in 1996, just 11 of 48 inductees were women.

Yet most students said they do not believe the gender imbalance is a result of bias in the Phi Beta Kappa selection process.

"I think the system is very fair because it is done by GPA and looking at the rest of your curriculum. It is purely academic--extra-curriculars, race and gender are not involved," said Luba A. Kobrinsky '97, a member of Phi Beta Kappa who helped select this year's first 24 inductees.

Agnes Dunogue '98, who was recently elected to the society, said it is difficult to establish the cause of such discrepancy.

"Feminism is a big issue for me anyway, but I don't think there's anything to do in this case to further the cause," she said. "It would be hard to say exactly where the problem lies."

Students are nominated for election into the honor society on the basis of their grade-point averages (GPAs). Those students must then solicit recommendations from two faculty members. Final selection is based on grades and on the depth and difficulty of the student's course work, according to Kobrinsky.

Student nominees are evaluated in three committees--social sciences, humanities and natural sciences. Each committee is allotted a number of students to be elected based on the percentage of students concentrating in those fields in the College.

Each selection committee is composed of undergraduate Phi Beta Kappa members, faculty Phi Beta Kappa alumni and college officials.

The gender discrepancy in Phi Beta Kappa membership may be a reflection of male dominance in the classroom, according to Robin S. Goldstein '98, who was recently elected.

"The higher end of the GPA scale tends to be more male-dominated," he said. "One factor is that in small seminars, professors give very high grades in general to anyone who participates, and that's one of the areas that has traditionally been male-dominated."

Clifford M. Ginn '98 also said the skewed membership of Phi Beta Kappa is a symptom and not a cause of gender inequality in education.

"I don't think the changes can take place on the level of Phi Beta Kappa. The changes have to take place in the way classes are structured, or in the way young women are brought up to think about themselves or to act," Ginn said.

College and faculty selection committee members were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Last November, Alpha-Iota Chapter President James T. Engell '73, who is also professor of English and comparative literature, told The Crimson that the selection process is "gender blind."

When the final 48 members from the Class of 1997 are elected in June the male-female Phi Beta Kappa ratio should approximately equal the ratio of the graduating class, according to Engell.

There are three rounds of elections to Phi Beta Kappa for each class. Twenty-four members are elected in April, followed by 48 in November and 48 just before Commencement.

At the end of the three elections, approximately 10 percent of a given class will have been elected.

Until July 1995, male and female students were selected separately for admission to the honor society. The selection process for the male Alpha and female Iota chapters was merged in accordance with the integration of Harvard and Radcliffe colleges, according to Kobrinsky.

There has been more controversy over why the merger occurred so late than over why it occurred so at all, Kobrinsky added.

"Everyone has been very happy with the change and the change was kind of late in coming," she said.

But Kavita Kacholia '98, co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, said any disparity between men and women deserves attention.

"In terms of selection criteria the most basic thing to be aware of is [that] we are being critical of all subjective measures, making sure that they are in fact gender- and race-blind," Kacholia said.

If the criteria are indeed unbiased, Kacholia said, she supports a gender-neutral selection process.

"People should be selected based on their academic achievement," Kacholia said. "But our college should definitely be working towards academic excellence for women students."

Most students said they support males and females facing the same selection process to the society.

"If you're not going to distinguish the two colleges then you shouldn't distinguish males and females afterward," Dunogue added. "It is strange and disconcerting that there was this ratio, but I feel that it would be inconsistent to have two separate chapters.

When the final 48 members from the Class of 1997 are elected in June the male-female Phi Beta Kappa ratio should approximately equal the ratio of the graduating class, according to Engell.

There are three rounds of elections to Phi Beta Kappa for each class. Twenty-four members are elected in April, followed by 48 in November and 48 just before Commencement.

At the end of the three elections, approximately 10 percent of a given class will have been elected.

Until July 1995, male and female students were selected separately for admission to the honor society. The selection process for the male Alpha and female Iota chapters was merged in accordance with the integration of Harvard and Radcliffe colleges, according to Kobrinsky.

There has been more controversy over why the merger occurred so late than over why it occurred so at all, Kobrinsky added.

"Everyone has been very happy with the change and the change was kind of late in coming," she said.

But Kavita Kacholia '98, co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, said any disparity between men and women deserves attention.

"In terms of selection criteria the most basic thing to be aware of is [that] we are being critical of all subjective measures, making sure that they are in fact gender- and race-blind," Kacholia said.

If the criteria are indeed unbiased, Kacholia said, she supports a gender-neutral selection process.

"People should be selected based on their academic achievement," Kacholia said. "But our college should definitely be working towards academic excellence for women students."

Most students said they support males and females facing the same selection process to the society.

"If you're not going to distinguish the two colleges then you shouldn't distinguish males and females afterward," Dunogue added. "It is strange and disconcerting that there was this ratio, but I feel that it would be inconsistent to have two separate chapters.

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