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A Graduate School of Design (GSD) professor who penned a searing critique of her department last week in a resignation letter has since been persuaded to remain at the school.
In a Jan. 12 letter to Interim University President Derek C. Bok, Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture Martha Schwartz alleged gender discrimination within the landscape architecture department, which has never tenured a female professor.
“In general, the record with regard to the fair treatment of women within the Design School is poor; however, the record specifically within the Department of Landscape Architecture is appalling,” Schwartz wrote in the letter.
The department of landscape architecture has six tenured faculty, all of whom are male, and 11 untenured faculty, including four women.
“How can this lack of parity be allowed to exist in this day and age in any department within Harvard University no matter how small the department may be?” Schwartz asked in her letter.
Bok wrote in an e-mail last night that he has not read the letter but has been informed of the situation by GSD Dean Alan A. Altshuler.
“As for the history of Landscape Architecture with regard to women, I can’t comment, since it is a very small department, and I haven’t been around for the past 100 years,” Bok said yesterday.
The department is 106 years old.
Since the letter was sent to Bok Friday, both Bok and Altshuler have spoken to Schwartz, who is currently in London on a year-long leave of absence.
Schwartz said Monday that she decided to put her resignation “on hold” after conversations with Altshuler. At the time, she had not yet spoken with Bok.
She said she was “completely unprepared and surprised” at the speed with which Altshuler responded.
Although Bok would not discuss the details of his phone conversation with Schwartz, which took place yesterday morning, Altshuler wrote in an e-mail that Schwartz plans to “remain among us.”
Soon, Schwartz will face her second tenure review for the post of professor in practice, a tenured position created during the 1992-1993 school year that allows faculty to teach and maintain private practice.
If the bid is successful, Schwartz could become the first woman in the department’s history to be tenured.
“The world of architecture is still a major, major boys’ club, major, it’s an uphill battle still for women,” said Schwartz.
According to the chair of the architecture department, Toshiko Mori, six of the 29 senior GSD faculty are female. In her own department, four of the 12 senior faculty are women.
Mori, who became the first woman to be tenured at GSD when she arrived in 1995, said a “generation gap” exists in architecture: women comprise nearly half of the student body, but there are few female faculty.
“It is problematic because they don’t have women mentors yet,” Mori said of the female students. “I certainly did not have a woman professor, so no role models or mentors in my generation.”
This problem is “acute” in the landscape architecture department, Mori said, which sometimes has a student body that is three-quarters female.
Mori has not read Schwartz’s letter, but she said that the “Harvard tenure system is tough for everybody, I don’t think it’s anything to do with gender.”
Altshuler wrote in his e-mail yesterday that the lack of female tenured faculty is “deeply regrettable.”
“I am acutely sensitive to this, as is the current leadership of the department,” he said.
Students may not notice the disparity, Schwartz said, but female faculty members feel unsupported.
“Usually you have mentors, the guys do, and they have supporters take them through the ranks and process,” Schwartz said. “That doesn’t exist if you’re a girl, it just doesn’t, because there’s no real system, you really are an outsider, and I have felt that.”
As a GSD student in 1977, Schwartz remembers that half of the student population was then female, but there was no representation among the voting staff of the department.
Adjunct professors like Schwartz have had voting privileges depending on the dean in office. Since Schwartz joined the department in 1992 though, only tenured faculty could vote.
“When our faculty does vote, I have to get up and leave the room,” Schwartz said.
Her current position means that Schwartz can teach as well as maintain a practice.
Her landscape design firm, Martha Schwartz Partners, is based in Cambridge. The professor is currently in London setting up a new office.
Schwartz’s designs of plazas and gardens are renowned for defying traditional distinctions between art and architecture.
A successful architecture firm made it easier for Schwartz to pen the letter to Bok, she said.
“Other people don’t really have that option,” she said. “Harvard is a pinnacle, how do you give up a endangered position at Harvard? You‘d have to have your head examined.”
‘LIKE A GULAG’
Schwartz’s original decision to resign was influenced by “a review process that has previously been such a negative experience for me.”
The previous search for the position of professor in practice, began by former department chair George Hargreaves and former GSD Dean Peter G. Rowe, concluded in 2004 and was declared “unsuccessful.”
“It could really be that there aren’t any women who couldn’t fit the bill but that can’t be an explanation for it,” said Schwartz, who had been considered for the position.
She hopes to have a conversation with Bok about forming a group where women discuss difficulties with the tenure process.
“This is not to say that people haven’t been supportive, but not enough to change the history in 106 years,” Schwartz said. “The design school is like a gulag, nobody’s quite sure what’s going on there, but there are still people in there, human beings.”
Altshuler, who became acting dean in 2004, said that he is “not familiar with any of the details surrounding the specific search” mentioned in Schwartz’s letter. “I have chosen to focus on the road ahead rather than a reexamination of that history,” said the dean, who announced in October that he will step down this year.
The department of landscape architecture is searching for three new senior faculty appointments, Altshuler said.
Of the six tenured faculty in the department of landscape architecture, two are professors in practice, Hargreaves and Michael Van Valkenburgh.
Rowe, Hargreaves, Van Valkenburgh, and the current department chair, Niall Kirkwood, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
“We’re all the same age, and we all started at the same time,” Schwartz said of her colleagues who were promoted to professors in practice. “But I never got that far.”
Mori said that in the architecture profession, women are underrepresented everwhere. “You can’t just say the department is at fault,” she said.
But Schwartz said that “the design school is a difficult place for woman designers to succeed.” Getting things done requires “force,” but “it’s damn unladylike to have an opinion to have an ego, it’s antithetical to get things done,” she said. “I’m a bit of a dancing bear.”
—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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