9 universities vow to correct past inequities

Pledge to remove barriers that are harmful to women

January 31, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Acknowledging that women face hurdles in the fields of science and engineering, the leaders of nine of the nation's top universities have vowed to work together and individually toward "equity and full participation" of their women faculty members.

The university leaders made their statement after gathering Monday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a group of female professors became folk heroes of a sort two years ago after producing a detailed analysis of inequities that prompted the institution to admit that it had unintentionally discriminated against women.

That widely publicized admission prompted women at other universities to say they had been reporting the same problem - to deaf ears - for years.

The university provosts and presidents pledged to work toward diversity in their faculties, equity for women in compensation and resources and policies that do not unduly burden women with families. They also promised to produce and share annual reports on salaries, resources and hiring, and to include women in their analyses.

"This is a clear and unambiguous recognition that there do remain barriers, that we face significant issues in getting the full participation of women," said Charles M. Vest, president of MIT.

The meeting included presidents, provosts and a handful of faculty members from Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology.

Simply requiring the sharing of data on salaries, hiring and resources is an accomplishment for the equity advocates. When the women at MIT began to work on their report about bias in 1994, several administrators initially blocked their efforts to get the information they requested.

After the original report by the MIT professors, the Ford Foundation gave the institute a $1 million grant to promote similar efforts on other campuses, and Monday's meeting was part of that effort.

"One of the things that was heartening to me was the recognition on the part of top universities that this is not a one-shot deal; it's a long-term problem that requires continual monitoring," said Barbara J. Grosz, a professor of computer science at Harvard, who attended the meeting.

The original MIT report was attacked by Judith S. Kleinfeld, a University of Alaska psychology professor who has criticized studies suggesting schools shortchange girls, as being light on data and heavy on political correctness. (The data on hiring and salaries was eliminated from the final report to the MIT faculty because it was confidential.)

But professors at this week's meeting said the problems were real and not limited to science.

"I've been serving on a committee of women mostly in nonscience fields, and they're desperate about many of these same things," said Howard Georgi, a physics professor at Harvard.

Those problems, Georgi and others said, include feelings of being marginalized after taking time off to have children, a lack of support because of the small number of women in the field and a dearth of women in leadership posts.

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