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Harvard offering fewer tenured jobs to women

Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences has offered a declining percentage of its senior jobs to women in each year of Lawrence H. Summers's term as president, according to figures from the university.

During the 2000-2001 academic year, the last of former president Neil L. Rudenstine's term, 36 percent of Harvard's offers of tenured jobs were made to women. Last year, 2003-2004, women received only 13 percent of the tenured job offers. Out of a total of 32 offers last year, just four were made to women, and of the 22 candidates who accepted, only one was a woman.

The drop has prompted 26 professors to sign a letter contending that the school will see a continuing decline in women on the faculty if Summers does not take action.

''When you see statistics like that, you have to wonder whether the president of the university takes women scholars seriously," said Ingrid Monson, a music professor who says she did not sign the letter because she was away when it circulated. ''Anybody in academia who has heard these numbers has been shocked."

The letter suggests that Summers may have inadvertently caused the decline simply by failing to highlight the issue, by concentrating new hires in disciplines with fewer women, and by seeking out ''rising young stars," who are more likely to be at an an age when women pause in their careers to have children.

Summers has agreed to meet with the professors who signed the letter, and he has asked deans to take a closer look at the procedures in place to make sure women are considered in every search.

''There's no question that hiring as many extraordinary women members of the faculty as we can has to be a crucial priority for the university," he said in an interview yesterday. ''It is something that demands our continuing attention, particularly in light of the disappointing results last year."

Summers also said that some of the responsibility lies with Harvard's academic departments. Departments nominate and review candidates for senior jobs, though all must ultimately be approved by him. ''Last year basically departments proposed male candidates, and that's why the university appointed male candidates," he said. ''Departments do need to step up their energy in this regard."

Overall, the senior ranks of elite schools like Harvard remain overwhelmingly male. Women currently make up 18 percent of Harvard's senior faculty and 34 percent of the junior faculty, proportions similar to those of peer institutions. That stands in sharp contrast to the student body: For the first time, Harvard College admitted more women than men to this fall's freshman class.

From its height of 36 percent, the proportion of women receiving tenured job offers fell to 26 percent in 2001-2002 and then to 19 percent in 2002-2003, before another drop last year. Of the four offers made last year, one of them was to a woman already tenured at Harvard who would simply be switching from another one of its schools, according to the letter.

The numbers all apply to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which comprises the teaching ranks of Harvard College and most of the university's PhD programs. They do not apply to Harvard's other graduate schools.

The letter, addressed to Summers and William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, was provided to the Globe without the signatures. It was first reported in Science magazine.

The hiring of women and minorities has been discussed less often than it had been at meetings of the faculty, the faculty council, and department heads, the letter says. ''There is a perception that in the change to a new administration, and with the press of numerous new initiatives, such efforts have lagged at Harvard."

In an interview yesterday, Barbara J. Grosz, a professor of natural sciences, said, ''This is a problem that takes constant vigilance, and it isn't about bad intentions or good intentions.

''The psychological literature is clear that there are unintentional biases in judgment that lead to women's contributions being undervalued," she said. ''Unless one specifically grasps these biases and puts mechanisms in place to combat them, it's easy to find yourself in situations like this." Grosz said she signed the letter.

Top universities have in general been increasing their hiring of women in recent years, although most are reluctant to release numbers.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which in 1999 publicly acknowledged it had discriminated against women, almost half of the recent job offers in engineering went to women, bringing their total to 14 percent of the engineering faculty, far above the national average of 4 percent in that field.

Harvard itself was quite successful last year in hiring women in junior faculty positions, with 37 percent of these offers going to women. But Harvard has seen a significant drop in the percentage of women junior professors in the humanities, while MIT has had a decline in nontenured women in both humanities and social sciences.

Summers and the professors who wrote to him are scheduled to meet Oct. 6. The president has also asked several faculty members to work on a study of women in a range of professions, including academia, business, and medicine, where they have not achieved numerical parity with men.

He also pointed to a number of initiatives aimed at supporting women at Harvard, including pouring $25 million into an outreach fund to help recruit women, and creating a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to bring female scholars to campus for a year, with the idea that they may then become job candidates.

Bombardieri can be reached at

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