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Harvard professor who alleges sexism withdraws resignation

A noted design professor who charged Harvard University with gender discrimination has withdrawn her resignation, but said yesterday the landscape architecture department remains a bastion of sexism without a tenured female professor in its 106 years of existence.

Martha Schwartz, who lives in London, said she decided to continue teaching at Harvard "not because the problem's fixed. It isn't."

Schwartz, 56, who has taught at the university since 1992 while developing her international landscape architecture practice, submitted a letter of resignation Jan. 12.

But she said Harvard's interim president, Derek Bok; the Graduate School of Design dean, Alan Altshuler; and a host of fellow faculty members contacted her to persuade her to change her mind.

"A couple people who I respect very highly encouraged me to try to change things from the inside," Schwartz said during a telephone interview.

The landscape architecture department within the Graduate School of Design has six tenured professors and 11 nonvisiting adjunct faculty members, four of whom are women.

Roughly 70 percent of the department's students are women. In 1977, when Schwartz was a student in the program, about 50 percent of the students were women.

She said there never has been a female tenured professor.

"Just the facts themselves are appalling. I'm not pointing at any one person or any one thing, but this should have happened a long time ago," she said.

Schwartz, in her resignation letter to Bok, wrote, "I ask you, President Bok, 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?"

Altshuler said he has made three senior appointments, all of them women, since he took over as dean in 2004.

"And we are now far along in the consideration of Martha Schwartz," he said in an e-mail. "I prefer to leave it at that."

Schwartz said that she joined the faculty at the same time as two of the tenured male professors, but that she must leave the room on occasions when tenured faculty members are called upon to vote on an issue.

Schwartz said she does not need tenure to make a living because her private practice is thriving, with offices in Cambridge and London.

She acknowledges that tenure would be largely symbolic for her, but contends that symbolism is important to her and other women.

"I need to have parity with my male colleagues," she said.

"The design field is an old boy bastion. It's very tough for women in this field."

Harvard had created a tenured position for a "professor in practice" to accommodate the desires of some of its top talent to maintain private practices.

Schwartz said she applied for the tenured position before and was not approved.

When another chance to apply came up, she said, the teaching requirements had been tightened and would restrict professional work in ways that previous tenured professors had not been restricted.

"I thought this would be a good time to bow out and get on with my business," Schwartz said about her decision to leave

Her work includes an urban park at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City; a plaza in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C.; a public square in Manchester, England; and the Mesa Center for Performing Arts in Mesa, Ariz.