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The Progressive Caucus at Harvard Kennedy School gave away home-made pastries yesterday in the John F. Kennedy Forum as a tongue-in-cheek attempt to raise awareness of the low percentage of women faculty members at the school.
Timed to coincide with the return of former University President Lawrence H. Summers to teach at HKS, the event was titled “Welcome Back Larry—Availability of Aptitude Bakeoff for Girls and Math.” In 2005, Summers made controversial statements about women and science, suggesting that innate differences, rather than gender discrimination, may explain why women are less likely than men to succeed in the hard sciences.
The organization decided to give away pastries to make fun of the archaic belief that women might only be good at baking, according to Emily R. Polak, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.
According to the 2010 annual report of the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, women accounted for approximately 27 percent of the junior faculty and 22 percent of the senior faculty at HKS in 2009-10.
By comparison, three out of the four peer institutions used as benchmarks in the report boasted a higher percentage of female junior faculty members in 2010, while the fourth had an equal number. Senior faculty percentages were higher at two of the peer schools.
“Increasing the number of women faculty at HKS—particularly tenured women faculty—has been an important priority of Dean [David T.] Ellwood’s,” HKS spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an e-mailed statement. Jackson noted that the number of tenured women faculty has more than doubled since Ellwood took office in 2004.
Yesterday’s event is the first step the Progressive Caucus, an HKS student organization that aims to bring greater social justice to both the school and to society at large, has taken towards raising awareness of the gender imbalance.
Alexander W.C. Way, a member of the Progressive Caucus, added that, because of the low number of women in politics in general, it is essential that HKS take steps to increase their roles.
But despite the event’s title, Polak remained positive about Summers’ return to Harvard.
“I think the fact that he’s apologized suggests that he’s eager to make changes,” Polak said.
A wide range of HKS students, both conservative and liberal, supported the pastry giveaway.
“It’s a bipartisan cause,” said Casey E. Osterkamp, co-chair of the HKS Republican Caucus.
“I just think that we need to generate supported dialogue about women’s issues here,” said Beth S. Pollack, co-chair of the HKS Democratic Caucus.
—Staff writer Ariane Litalien can be reached at email@example.com.
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