Harvard President Outlines Mission For Two Committees on Women

Harvard President Outlines Mission For Two Committees on Women

BOSTON
Saying he hoped to “turn heat into light” after the recent controversy over his remarks on women in science, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers recently announced the appointment of two faculty task forces on women and pledged to create a senior administrative position to support gender diversity.

Summers said the committees, one on women faculty and the other on women in science and engineering, would report back this spring and recommendations would be implemented by the fall — lightning speed by academic standards. Some recommendations could even be implemented sooner.

Summers’ comments at an academic conference last month — suggesting that innate differences between the sexes may explain why women have difficulty reaching top science jobs — sparked criticism from many academics as well as Harvard faculty and alumni, though some who were present at Summers’ talk say he was misunderstood. Summers has issued several public apologies.

“This is not something any of us would have chosen,” Summers, speaking of the controversy, said in a telephone interview. But “I think we now have a real opportunity to make great progress on these issues.”

Summers said he had committed to creating a new, senior administration post on gender diversity and had asked the committee on women faculty to propose a job description.

The task force on women will be chaired by Dr. Evelynn Hammonds, a professor of history of science and of African and African-American studies. It will focus on improving searches for women faculty, ensuring they get fair consideration for promotion and exploring ways to support them in meeting family demands. It will also consider “targeted searches as a means of enhancing gender diversity on the faculty,” according to Harvard’s announcement.

The women in science task force will be chaired by Dr. Barbara Grosz, dean of science at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. It will explore so-called “pipeline” issues affecting the pool of women scientists, such as why women who major in science as undergraduates may not pursue science careers.

“The object of these task forces is not to study the problem, which has been extensively studied, but to propose a set of concrete measures,” Summers said.

Summers said he expected to meet regularly with committee members and leaders. The task forces will include faculty from all of Harvard’s independent-minded schools. Until now, bringing them together has been one impediment to the kind of comprehensive review of gender issues other schools such as Duke and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have undertaken.

Pressure for action at Harvard had mounted even before the flap over Summers’ remarks. The number of women offered tenure in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Science has declined every year since Summers became president in 2001, and last year women received just four of 32 tenure offers. Faculty are put forward for tenure by their departments. Women account for about 20 percent of tenured faculty at Harvard.

Summers and Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, the Radcliffe dean who has helped Summers establish the task forces, said the committees would borrow from the experiences of other schools but also look to innovate.

“What we have a chance to do now is draw on all the work that has been done at other universities and implement at Harvard a program that will ensure we are at the cutting edge,” Summers said.

Asked if the furor over his remarks had permanently hampered his effectiveness, Summers said: “I think what’s important is that we move forward in strong and exciting ways.”

— Associated Press



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