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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Faculty, Family, Diversity

January-February 2007

In her first annual report, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ (FAS) senior advisor to the dean on diversity issues has highlighted recent results in recruiting female faculty members, and some of the real obstacles to effecting change in the composition of the professoriate (see the text at www.fas.harvard.edu/~diverse/reports.html).

Dillon professor of international affairs Lisa Martin reports that the proportion of tenure offers made to women rose to nearly 30 percent during the past two academic years. (The sharp decline from 36 percent to about one-third that level from 2000-2001 through 2003-2004 had prompted wide concern and discussion within the faculty and between FAS and the central administration.) Since 2003-2004, however, the percentage of women accepting such offers from Harvard has trailed the proportion of offers made, reversing prior experience. And among women offered tenure-track positions, the rate of acceptance collapsed in the 2005-2006 academic year: 71 percent of men offered tenure-track positions accepted, but just 47 percent of women did so, Martin wrote in a subsequent e-mail. She will monitor the results to determine whether the past year was an anomaly or the beginning of a trend. Candidates who rejected Harvards offer cited perceived better chances of attaining tenure elsewhere, and the problems of relocating as a member of a dual-career couple.

Martin devotes considerable attention to search processes (as a key to ensuring the effectiveness of faculty recruiting), and to mentoring young faculty members once they arrive. Detailed manuals on junior and senior searches are now available, as are new protocols for assessing the pool of candidates, learning about the performance of peer departments, and keeping adequate records. Twenty-five senior women faculty members are now serving as formal mentors for small groups of junior women.


Farther from home: Faculty residences in and around Greater Boston and its suburbs in 1905 (top) and 2006 show much longer commutes, leading to far greater challenges in balancing family and academic obligations.
Maps courtesy of Wendy Guan / GIS Research Services

But all these efforts run into a complicating fact of faculty life. Maps prepared for Martin’s report show that the costly Boston-Cambridge housing market and dispersed employers in dual-career families have caused the faculty to spread far afield geographically. (These patterns may be understated, because some of the addresses used in the mapping appear to be campus office locations.) “Harvard is no longer a residential college, from the faculty perspective,”Martin observes, yet it “continues to operate using the same norms.” Thus, faculty members who face hour commutes (not unusual) to get home before caregivers end their work day are disadvantaged by a schedule with FAS meetings that run until 5:30, departmental meetings and seminars that run even later, and frequent dinners and evening hours. These conflicts fall especially heavily on untenured faculty with young children, on women, and on single parents, Martin notes. Beyond “providing better access to childcare, leave, and tenure-clock policies,” she says, Harvard and FAS will have to “reconsider the way that we do business” if faculty members are to have any opportunity to balance work and family-life obligations in an era when professors can no longer depend on a stay-at-home spouse.

These issues are being raised elsewhere as well. Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research (www.stanford.edu/group/gender) has just launched a “dual-career academic couples” study, focusing on 30,000 faculty members at leading research universities; the study design notes that an extraordinary number of women scientists and mathematicians are married to men in their own fields, raising difficult problems of mobility and advancement.

The 2006 report of Johns Hopkins University’s Committee on the Status of Women, issued this fall, focuses on “longstanding traditions and attitudes in the culture” that have had “pernicious effects on career success and satisfaction” among women. An “inflated emphasis on the work environment, to the exclusion of all else,” is perceived internally as distinguishing that university “as a male-dominated environment, non-supportive to women.” The report advocates 50 percent representation of women in senior faculty and administrative leadership positions by the year 2020, a goal endorsed, at least as an aspiration, by the provost, who suggests that attaining it will be more difficult in the tenured faculty ranks.

More broadly, the American Association of University Professors (www.aaup.org) examines 1,445 universities and colleges in a new report, “Faculty Gender Equity Indicators 2006.” It reveals disproportionately lower representation of women in the tenured ranks at research universities compared to other institutions, and equivalent disparities in the full- versus part-time ranks and in compensation (the latter in part representing differences in pay scale among professional and liberal-arts schools).

Finally, the most difficult challenges in evolving a diverse faculty remain in the natural sciences, where Martin’s data indicate that just 11 percent of tenured positions are held by minorities, and 8 percent by women. The ”pipeline” issues are most pronounced in these disciplines, as underrepresented students who enter college interested in science wash out of the field at a disproportionate rate. Molecular geneticist Wendy E. Raymond, Ph.D. ’90, associate professor of biology at Williams, and Robert A. Lue, director of life sciences education in Harvard College, recently reported on ways to sustain such students’ commitment to science by using practices proven “effective at minority-serving institutions, but…successfully implemented at [only] a handful of traditionally white institutions.” Their work for the Diversity in the Sciences collaborative (www.williams.edu/biology/divsciences, supported by the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard, University of Louisiana at Monroe, and University of Washington) suggests the importance of introducing entering freshmen to college science even before they enroll, immediate and continued mentoring by faculty members and student peers, early involvement in research, and mandated peer study groups.

In this, Raymond and Lue echo Martin and other scholars who have probed the issues of academic and intellectual diversity in depth: they all find close, committed investment in students, or in junior scholars at the outset of their academic careers, fundamental to further development.