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John Harvard's Journal

Tenure Travails

November-December 2004

During the 2003-2004 academic year, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) extended 32 tenure offers, just four of them to women (only one of whom accepted). Citing those figures — and a steady decline in the proportion of offers made to women since 1999 to 2001, when more than one-third of the candidates sought as FAS professors were women — 26 tenured men and women wrote a detailed letter of concern to President Lawrence H. Summers and FAS dean William C. Kirby in mid June. The letter and the replies, dated July 23, were leaked to Science in mid September, prompting broad debate on the faculty's makeup.

The FAS professors' letter emphasized the importance of "statements from university leaders that regularly affirm a strong institutional commitment" to diversity. Summers stressed that "our recruitment process [must] not be hindered by failures of energy, imagination, or openness," and focused on "increasing the fraction of departmental offers that go to women." Kirby addressed departmental processes, too, and outlined "extra-departmental mechanisms," driven by his new divisional academic deans, to prompt progress.

All the parties were to discuss matters further on October 6, after this issue went to press; a full report will appear in the January-February issue of this magazine.