Friday, September 6, 2013

Women in Academia

by Sheila Connolly

After my post last week about The Battle of the Sexes and the status of women in the 1970s, it is ironic that the Harvard Magazine included in its most recent issue the results of a recent Harvard University study of faculty gender distribution at Harvard.

The authors report: "Women now hold nearly 23 percent of the tenured professorships in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, more than double their 10.7 percent share of 20 years earlier . . . 127 of the 557 senior faculty members during the 2012-2013 academic year."

It gets worse:  among junior faculty "the female proportion has fluctuated between roughly 30 percent and 40 percent for nearly two decades." Mind you, this is at a time when the proportion of women earning doctorates, a general requirement for senior academic status, across diverse fields, has been rising. In 2010 the Washington Post reported that women had passed men in receiving doctoral degrees.  And women hold a 3:2 majority on both undergraduate and graduate education.

Guess what:  Harvard admits that they don't do very well at recruiting women. Worse, they recognize that they trail far behind many of their peer institutions at every step of the process of attracting and keeping qualified women faculty. I'm sorry, but I don't think that's an accident:  if Harvard really wanted to recruit qualified women for their faculty, they could. I hate to say it, but this whole discussion sounds depressingly like it did when I was at Harvard in the 1970s.  Harvard doesn't want to change.

And if that isn't enough, the capper is another (tiny) article in the same issue of the publication, saying that The Committee of the Equality of Women at Harvard, founded in 1988, decided that "its goals had been achieved and it will dissolve this year." Uh-huh.

As a dues-paying member of the community of writers, where I know a lot of very smart, hardworking women, I refuse to say that we are any less intelligent and capable than our male counterparts.  Maybe we're just smart enough to realize being a writer and hanging out with kindred spirits
is a heck of a lot more fun that sitting through Harvard faculty meetings.


1 comment:

Steven M. Moore said...

I've admired smart women for years. I competed with a very smart woman at UCSB (she was better at abstract math, I was better at applied math and physics) and admired from afar. I later married another smart woman and we lived in South America where macho attitudes abound (she nobly fought it and I helped). She died in an auto accident. Three years later, I married another smart woman. All this plus meeting many others gave me material to create strong female characters in my prose.
In brief, my take on academia is that it's all too often an old boys' club, just like many other institutions (e.g. the Catholic Church). There have been some battles won toward a gender-neutral society, but we (I consider myself a participant) have not won the war. To paraphrase MLK, I dream of a society that's blind to gender, religious preferences, race, and sexual orientation. So far, it still remains a dream.
All the best,