Diversity Director

Evelynn M. Hammonds has become Harvard’s first senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity. She will direct implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force on Women Faculty and the Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering, which reported in May (see “Engineering Equity,” July-August, page 55). The former, which Hammonds chaired, proposed the new post; her decision to administer the initiative should speed action on a daunting agenda that may have significant effects on the future composition of the University’s faculty. Meanwhile, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) designated its own senior diversity adviser—one of a set of counterparts in each school who will work internally and, with Hammonds, on University-wide concerns. Separately, new research by a Harvard Graduate School of Education (GSE) scholar indicates some of the effects of teachers’ gender on students’ courses of study.

Evelynn M. Hammonds
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Hammonds, professor of the history of science and of African and African American studies, said in an interview that she had “learned a great deal about Harvard” through the task force’s investigations, and now wanted “to be a part of the implementation,” even at the cost of forgone teaching and research. Although dozens of steps are involved—from faculty and staff training programs to new recruiting procedures, changes in family benefits, and innovative ways of funding research—Hammonds described as her overarching priorities tenured appointments and the environment in which Harvard junior faculty members work.

As adviser to the president and provost, Hammonds will vet the files submitted when candidates for tenure are reviewed during the appointment procedure. Her aim, she said, will be to assess whether “the process of building the case has been as broad as possible.” She will also “review junior-faculty and other term appointments across the University,” according to the July 20 news release accompanying her appointment.

Paying systematic attention to junior appointments, she said, is “a new area for Harvard,” which is “widely known for not promoting its own,” with tenured appointments in FAS going primarily to senior scholars from elsewhere. As FAS dean William C. Kirby emphasizes the importance of “ladder-faculty” hiring, these junior professors must receive support so they can flourish and earn tenure. Today, Hammonds said, younger scholars still regard their chances of attaining tenure as “slim.” There is insufficient evidence to understand the professional conditions in which they work. She expects to gather data on their perceptions of Harvard, as the first step toward reshaping “policies, procedures, and practices” in support of the goal of enabling junior faculty to “thrive and succeed.”

Two groups will advise her. Hammonds intends to form a council of expert faculty members—such as sociologists who have studied the influence of affirmative action guidelines and practices on institutional behavior—who can help the University create a more diverse faculty. They will also assist in allocating the funds set aside to facilitate appointments that contribute to faculty diversity. The second group will be the diversity advisers designated by each dean.

The first of these officers to be announced is Dillon professor of international affairs Lisa Martin. As one of FAS’s senior academic deans, Martin will work with Kirby, divisional deans, and the faculty as a whole “on matters related to gender, racial, and ethnic diversity,” according to the July 13 news release about her appointment. Martin will also become the new chair of FAS’s Standing Committee on Women.

Like Hammonds, she said the work would require much collection and analysis of data on the status of women and underrepresented minorities—not just on salaries and office space, which are already measured, but on important demands such as committee assignments and teaching loads. Martin anticipates extensive discussion with department and search-committee chairs (who also need to be trained on procedures to overcome bias in letters of recommendation, and on better recordkeeping during searches). “In this position,” she said, “I hope I can focus on those kinds of environmental issues, rather than just individual hiring decisions. In the long run, that will have a greater impact.”

Given the emphasis on recruiting and retaining scientists, and the past problem of achieving diversity in those departments (see “Harvard by the Numbers”), it may be useful that both Hammonds and Martin have pertinent backgrounds. Hammonds acquired bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics, and another degree in electrical engineering, before completing her doctorate in the history of science at Harvard. She founded MIT’s Center for Diversity in Science, Technology, and Medicine.

Martin, who studied biology as an undergraduate at Cal Tech, said she now perceives that “one reason I didn’t stick with biology was that I found the lab environment so unpleasant,” with a subtext of “men doing the glamorous stuff and women killing the mice.” That experience plus her years as a junior professor at Harvard (1992-1996) and more recently as a single mother “have made me much more sensitive to the way Harvard’s practices make it hard” to balance scholarly and family needs and to progress up the faculty ranks. Scheduling academic work well into the evening, for example, is a particular difficulty for “colleagues in Braintree and Framingham” who have arduous commutes through the area’s choked traffic. At the same time, she said, expansion of the life-sciences faculty within FAS is “good for women,” who today earn half the doctorates in the relevant fields.

Martin cited as “the hardest problem” the issue of improving diversity for members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. There is not even a framework for understanding the problems of hiring and retention in relation to race, and the “pool problem”—the number of academically qualified candidates for searches— is “much different” and more constrained than for women. “I think the issues of gender and diversity are linked,” said Hammonds. In absolute numbers, she said, the population of underrepresented minority scholars at Harvard is small, but not substantially smaller than at peer institutions. She hopes to maintain data on the “pool of outstanding scholars of color that we choose from”—data not now readily available—and also emphasized the importance of making a concerted effort to enlarge those pools by enrolling more qualified minority applicants in graduate school.

As Hammonds reaches out for her colleagues’ expertise, she may make use of a new paper by GSE associate professor of education and economics Bridget Terry Long (with Eric P. Bettinger at Case Western Reserve University). “Do Faculty Serve as Role Models? The Impact of Instructor Gender on Female Students,” published this spring in the American Economic Review, examines 54,000 students’ choice of subjects for further study, and of field of concentration, based on their initial exposure to same-gender faculty members. Women teachers, they found, positively affected female students’ interest in pursuing work in geology, mathematics, and statistics, among quantitative subjects. The opposite effect occurred in biology and physics. No statistically significant effects appeared in certain fields where women have been underrepresented, such as engineering and computer science—at least in part, apparently, because there are so few female faculty members in such fields now. Results were mixed in various humanities and social sciences courses. In all, the authors found, “The results suggest that female faculty members do have the potential to increase student interest in a subject as measured by course election and major choice.”  

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