Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in Science and Engineering issue reports

At every stage of study and career development, the number of women interested in pursuing science and engineering decreases, Grosz noted, diminishing pools...

Harvard's task forces on women faculty and on women in science and engineering, created in February, issued their reports on Monday, May 16. The reports are available in PDF format below; for a link to the official University news release, click here.

    Statement of President Lawrence H. Summers and Provost Steven E. Hyman

    The participants in the news conference were: Drew Gilpin Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Lincoln professor of history, who oversaw the task forces; WF chair Evelynn Hammonds, professor of the history of science and of African and African American studies; WISE chair Barbara J. Grosz, Higgins professor of Natural Sciences (Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences) and dean of science at the Radcliffe Institute; President Lawrence H. Summers; and Provost Steven E. Hyman.

    The recommendations that will be implemented now are: searching for a senior vice provost for diversity and faculty development, a new position; creating a leadership training program for senior Harvard administrators and deans at their summer retreat; preparing to survey junior faculty on conditions they face; and planning for undergraduate science-study centers and summer research internships. Considering the reports as a whole, Harvard expects to devote substantial resources to the effort to make the faculty more diverse and to encourage women and minorities to pursue academic science careers (see below).

    Oversight and accountability. The two task-force reports share a common introduction, which begins, “In spite of more than three decades of concern, Harvard has made only limited progress in its efforts to create a genuinely diverse faculty.” What is different now, said Faust, is the emphasis on “structures of oversight and accountability.” She cited the future senior vice provost, who will report to the president and provost. As described in the WF report, the new officer will work with each dean to create uniform policies; develop and publish extensive data on faculty composition, hiring, and development; recommend changes in appointment processes where needed; and oversee disbursement of funds designed to diversify the faculties. Faust also noted the recommended changes in Harvard’s visiting-committee process, to involve the University’s governing boards in regular evaluation of the status of women and minorities and of progress toward diversifying the faculties. The whole community, she said, would have to be, and would be enabled to become, “aware and vigilant.”

    The “pipeline.” At every stage of study and career development, the number of women interested in pursuing science and engineering decreases, Grosz noted, diminishing pools of applicants for academic positions at leading research universities. Accordingly, the WISE recommendations attempt to enhance the appeal of scientific study and research from the beginning of undergraduate enrollment, with better freshman academic advising, through closer mentoring for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. Grosz particularly cited the recommendations to create formal study centers for introductory science classes (modeled on successful efforts in mathematics and physics) and summer science-research programs for undergraduates. She also cited two proposed innovative support measures for later in young scientists’ careers: “research enabling grants” for postdocs and junior faculty members who are primary caregivers, to hire staff assistance or buy equipment that would help them conduct research when family needs are greatest; and “transition grants” to help scholars make the next step in their careers, or to “re-engage” in academic progress after short career interruptions for family or other needs.

    Hammonds noted that it was the “comprehensiveness” of these proposals that characterized the task forces’ work. She and her colleagues, Hammonds said, had been able to benefit from the many programs and procedures that peer institutions already have in place or are testing, and were accordingly able to draw on the best practices in shaping their recommendations for Harvard. Summers noted that several of the recommendations—on junior-faculty development and undergraduate research, for instance—emerged from analysis of issues that “bore on diversity but also bore on the quality of the University” as a whole, and so would enhance the academic experience and prospects of all students and faculty members.

    Changing the institutional culture. The WISE recommendations—adopted by the WF task force—detail training programs for administrators, deans, and department chairs, aimed at educating them about “current research on bias and successful approaches to incorporating this research into faculty decisionmaking.” WISE also targets search committees for such training, and outlines procedures to identify candidates, define searches broadly, and structure search committees and vet applications fairly. Such emphasis is warranted in science and engineering, Grosz said, because of the “lack of role models, the paucity of women” on faculties now. Hammonds noted that although the problem is less acute in other fields, similar measures should be employed widely, and their use should “build outward to the rest of our faculties.”

    Reflecting on the scope of the recommendations, from undergraduate education through faculty hiring, development, and retention, Summers said, “The whole is likely to be significantly greater than the sum of the parts,” as Harvard attempts to “bring about some very significant cultural changes.”

    Investing in diversity. To that end, in their statement, Summers and Hyman said Harvard would commit $50 million during the next decade “to support the proposed initiatives” while conducting the “feasibility and cost analyses that will enable us to further shape and implement the proposals.”

    Faust said the recommendations were still being drafted until just before the reports were released, so details on how much the recommendations would cost, and on which measures would be funded, were as yet undetermined. For example, the WF report calls for both a “Faculty Development and Diversity Fund” to succeed the current $25-million “Outreach Fund” used to pay the salaries of targeted faculty appointments, and a “Special Assistance Fund” to help defray those appointees’ research or laboratory expenses, or to make spousal hires in support of such an appointment. WISE recommendations include the two new grant programs Grosz cited, plus paid maternity leave and increased childcare scholarships for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, dependent-care funds for short-term professional travel (to scientific conferences, for example), and other investments. The recommendations on conducting faculty surveys, collecting and analyzing data, bringing Harvard’s family and other leave policies and support up to the “best practice” level at peer institutions, and administering all these new initiatives all await analysis and budgeting.

    Faust accordingly called the $5 million to be spent annually “earnest money to get started with the most important initiatives.”

    Hyman said the search for the senior vice provost would proceed quickly, so the office could be filled before the beginning of the new academic year in September. In the meantime, Faust, Grosz, and Hammonds will form a transition committee to provide interim oversight on implementation.

    Harvard community comment on the task force reports and recommendations is being solicited through June 30, by e-mail to [email protected]

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