Friday, February 16
First in a three-part series
Harvard University named Drew Gilpin Faust its new president on February 11. Faust, a historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is now the fourth female Ivy League president. In recent years, she had been considered for the presidencies of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago, and was widely acknowledged as a scholar and administrator with the credentials to lead a major research university.
Yet her appointment has been widely portrayed in the media as a capitulation to feminists and members of the Harvard liberal arts faculty, many of whom loudly rebelled against former President Lawrence Summers in 2005 after he publicly suggested that the dearth of female faculty in the sciences may be related to genetic differences between women and men. A widely-reprinted Associated Press story on Faust’s appointment noted, “Her selection is noteworthy given the uproar over Summers’s comments.” In a staff editorial, The Harvard Crimson worried, “We hope…that Faust does not arrive at the door of Massachusetts Hall with an unshakeable label as the ‘anti-Summers': the woman, the historian, the life-long academic, the gentle administrator.”
Though Faust’s promotion is certainly a watershed moment for women in academia, her success comes amid continued underrepresentation of women on university faculties, particularly in the hard sciences. It’s been 35 years since Congress passed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, including at private institutions. But although women now make up 56 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate population and are predicted to earn more than 60 percent of the university’s master’s degrees and nearly half of doctoral degrees by 2010, only 20 percent of full professors at Harvard are female, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors on gender indicators in higher education. In 2004, which was during Summers’ presidency, only four of the 32 faculty members offered tenure were female.
The numbers at Harvard are indicative of those at many research institutions. On average, women hold only 24 percent of full professorships in the United States.
“I don’t know if [Faust] can change a whole institutional culture” said Ann Higgenbottom, chair of the Committee on Women in the Academic Profession and a professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University. Pay disparities may be a particularly intractable problem. The AAUP survey reports that women academics earn 2 to 9 percent less than their male colleagues who hold the exact same rank.