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Professors debated the recent decline in tenure offers to women and how best to appoint diverse candidates at the first full Faculty meeting of the year yesterday.
The scheduled final and two most substantial agenda items—a discussion of Allston planning and a report on the status of the Harvard College Curricular Review—were postponed until the November meeting due to a lack of time.
During the dean’s customary business, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) William C. Kirby called the “unacceptably small number of tenure offers to women...a matter of some emergency and much consequence.”
Of 32 offers of tenure given last year, only four, or 12.5 percent, went to women.
This number reflects a steady decline from the 37 percent of tenure offers given to women during the 2000-2001 academic year.
Last June, 26 professors expressed their concerns about the trend in a letter to Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers, and earlier this month, Summers met with 50 professors to discuss ways to reverse it.
The movement continued to gain steam as 86 professors, including 73 of the 86 female senior Faculty members, signed a statement “to urge the Harvard administration to assign its highest priority to reversing the downward trend of the past three years in FAS senior offers to women.”
At yesterday’s meeting, Summers attributed the low female representation to the “sinusoidal character” of attention given to the recruitment of women over the years. When it is a focus, he said, numbers climb—and when it is not, they drop.
Summers said that FAS must work “to identify outstanding candidates, to promote outstanding candidates, to recruit outstanding candidates, and...[to] do so not just now, but on a continual basis.”
He also announced his intention to utilize the Outreach Fund dedicated to diversifying the faculty to “ensure no appointment that would contribute to the diversity of the faculty would be missed because of a lack of available slots” in a particular department.
Kirby said that long-term plans to increase the size of FAS, which has already grown from 636 to 676 over the past two years, gives Harvard a new opportunity to focus on diversity.
In addition, the retirement of the third of FAS currently over 60, will leave hundreds of spots to be filled.
“The Faculty is in the midst of a very serious demographic transition,” he said.
But as administrators pledged to hire more women, Harvard College Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Ruth R. Wisse protested the policy of targeting women over men, saying the “introduction of group preferences” may lead to a “homogenous campus.”
“What I understand by gender equality is that all persons should be treated equally,” Wisse explained in an e-mail after the meeting. “[This] argues not for equal opportunity but for equal outcome.”
But Summers said that the proposed efforts would compromise the University’s standards and reaffirmed their importance.
“There is...significant evidence that suggests [there exist], if not overt discrimination, habits of mind that lead to a kind of passive discrimination,” he said.
Kirby said the matter would be put to a longer discussion at November’s Faculty meeting.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
Also at yesterday’s meeting, Summers spoke optimistically about the University’s continued accessibility to foreign students despite the introduction of stricter visa procedures following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
While the number of international students has dropped in past years, Summers said more foreign students came to Harvard this year. He said that the number of students unable to attend Harvard decreased by 80 percent this year because of the government’s procedural reform and the continuing dialogue between University and government officials.
Summers said the University is also working to change the perception among foreign students that barriers to attending American universities are prohibitive. He mentioned the University’s decision to cover the cost of the fee for the immigration check to enter the United States as “an important symbolic step” towards altering that perception.
He also raised concerns regarding export control rules that may be interpreted to ban foreigners’ ability to use sophisticated scientific equipment in the lab. Such laws are laxly interpreted today though may be reapplied in the future to inhibit foreign professors’ and students’ access to such equipment.
Summers said that “the currently prevailing interpretation [of the law] will be the continuing interpretation.” The Faculty also unanimously approved the creation of standing committees of higher degrees in systems biology and in chemical biology.
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com. —Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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