Low Female Tenure Numbers Decried in Letter to Summers

26 professors ask president to focus on promoting women

A letter signed last June by 26 professors lamenting the declining number of female tenure appointments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) sparked heated discussions at a meeting of the FAS governing body yesterday.

Just one of the 22 new tenure appointments during the 2003-2004 academic year—Professor of Anthropology Noreen Tuross—was female, according to statistics released this summer.

And women received just 13 percent of the 32 tenure offers last year, down from 36 percent of senior offers during 2000-2001, the last year of Neil L. Rudenstine’s presidency, according to Science magazine, which first reported the letter last week.

The professors’ letter and the complaints voiced at yesterday’s meeting echoed concerns about the female tenure statistics that appeared last year, when Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby highlighted the declining numbers in his annual letter.

“It is going to be a smaller group of women within the people who have been offered tenure,” Kirby told The Crimson in June. “[But] we have had stronger and weaker years in recruitment of women at all levels of the Faculty.”

Kirby wrote in an e-mail yesterday that while the numbers have not changed significantly since the latest statistics were released over the summer, a number of pending offers “lead me to expect that the coming academic year may have rather different results.”

In their June 18 letter, professors warned Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers that the decline may be an unintended result of new policies—including a push to tenure younger faculty—enacted over the past few years, Science reported.

But Summers said yesterday that the “pattern is determined by departments” and their recommendations for tenure.

“The appointments the University makes are the appointments the departments recommend,” he said. “A very small percentage are turned down...the real issue is the appointments that departments make.”

Summers said he is meeting in October with a standing group of women faculty.

Kirby wrote that a new, more transparent tenure procedure and divisional deans would help, and added that he would emphasize the issue in upcoming meetings with department chairs.

“Deans and presidents can approve proposed appointments, but sustained progress has to be built primarily on proposals brought forward by departments,” Kirby wrote.

But leadership from Kirby and Summers is critical, said one member of the Faculty Council, the 18-member FAS governing body.

“It’s got to be led by the dean or the president for it to get anywhere,” said the member, who asked to remain anonymous.

Some faculty said they worry that department chairs are not making the recruitment of women a high enough priority.

“Most members of the search committee are men, and they’ll often bring in a token woman candidate after they’ve decided to hire somebody else,” one signer of the letter told Science.