The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 59.0°F | Fog/Mist

Number of Female Faculty Increases

By Kelley Rivoire


Since the 1999 School of Science and 2002 Institute-wide reports on the status of women faculty, MIT has increased the number of female professors and initiated many policies to accommodate the needs of female faculty members.

Recent results of MIT’s efforts to were presented at the faculty meeting in March and gave a broad overview of MIT’s progress since 1984.

In 1993, two years before the creation of the Committee on Women Faculty that released the reports, only 20 women, or eight percent of faculty in the School of Science and 19 women, or six percent of faculty in the School of Engineering were professors, said Professor Nancy H. Hopkins, the original chair of the committee.

By 1999, that number had increased to 31 female faculty members in the two schools according to their respective reports. Today, these numbers have increased to 13.5 percent in the School of Science and 50, or 14 percent, in the School of Engineering, Hopkins said.

According to the 2002 report, the number of women faculty in the Sloan School of Management has fluctuated, with 16 percent in 1993 and 15 percent in 1999. Currently the number is 18 percent, said Professor Lotte Bailyn, who chaired the Sloan School Gender Committee that contributed to the 2002 report.

MIT hopes to make further progress in both hiring more female faculty and in improving the quality of life for female faculty members.

New policies support women

In response to the studies and in order to attract more female faculty members, MIT has initiated many policy changes. According to a statement in the 2002 report by Provost Robert A. Brown, faculty members who are primary care-givers may take a paid release from teaching and service for one semester, and it is also possible for tenured faculty caring for a family member to obtain a temporary half-time appointments.

Other institute-wide changes include the option for a woman bearing a child to stop the tenure clock for one year and of paid leave for child-bearing graduate students paid by research stipends that do not allow for leave, Gibson said. According to the 2002 report, a Council on Faculty Diversity was also created in addition to the Committee on Women Faculty.

Faculty searches are now broader

The results of the reports have also led to changes in the way searches for new faculty members, or faculty searches, are conducted. Tenured women are now included in the search committees, said Hopkins.

In addition, faculty searches have been broadened, said Dean of the School of Engineering Thomas J. Magnanti. Since his appointment as dean in 1999, Magnanti has personally reviewed the resumÉ of every woman who applies for a position. “Future teams will continue to review the resumes as I have,” Magnanti said.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering, which previously had few female faculty, has made additional changes to its faculty search procedures, said Professor and Department Head Rohan Abeyaratne.

In the last departmental faculty search, the Department of Mechanical Engineering added a committee to oversee the hiring committees for each field to ensure that a qualified applicant who did not precisely fit into any field’s search would not be overlooked. The Mechanical Engineering Department hired nine faculty in the search, six of whom were female. Abeyaratne said that he feels that the department was “truly selecting the best” of the candidates who applied for the positions.

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science also greatly improved its record for hiring female faculty after the 1999 report. Between 1990 and 1998, the department hired 28 men in a row, even though 16 percent of PhD graduates from the department were female, said Professor Lorna J. Gibson, who chaired the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Engineering. According to the 2002 report, this was due in part to a rejection of offers from four female applicants. In contrast, the department has since roughly doubled the number of female faculty members, said Gibson.

Not all faculty searches have been so successful in recruiting female faculty, however. The Picower Center for Learning and Memory, slated for a 2005 opening, has only one woman faculty member out of eleven.

Professor Susumu Tonegawa, Director of the Picower Center, said that he does not know why this is the case. “We hire the best candidate whenever we open a search,” he said. “Despite our utmost efforts, we have not been able to find female faculty more than what we have.”

Tonegawa said the two current faculty searches are underway and could possibly result in the hiring of more women. “We would very much like to find qualified women faculty,” he said.

Increases in females noticeable

The increase in female faculty changes the environment, said Hopkins, adding that there is now a “critical mass” of women faculty.

In addition, more female faculty now hold administrative positions. At the time of the 1999 study, no women held high-level administrative positions in the School of Science. Currently, the Director of the Whitehead Center, the Associate Head of Department of Biology, and the Associate Director for the Center for Cancer Research are all high-ranking women faculty, said Hopkins.

Women faculty members also head the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Center for Space Research.

Magnanti also remarked that having more women in administrative roles makes a difference in environment.

Studies address inequities

In the summer of 1994, Hopkins and fifteen of the sixteen other tenured female faculty in the School of Science wrote a letter to Dean of the School of Science Robert J. Birgeneau, now President of the University of Toronto, to request that a committee be formed to study inequities between male and female faculty in the School of Science.

This led to the creation of the Committee on Women Faculty by Birgeneau in 1995.

As stated in the 1999 report released by this committee, the women had felt that “gender had probably caused their professional lives to differ significantly from those of their male colleagues.”

The 1999 report was requested for publication in a faculty newsletter by Bailyn, then Chair of the Faculty, and endorsed by President Charles M. Vest. It confirmed these concerns of the women with regard to inequalities between male and female faculty in the distribution of resources, salaries, and teaching assignments, as well as subtler forms of gender discrimination.

This report led to further work across the Institute with the release of a report by the Committee on Women Faculty in March 2002, which included separate reports from the four other schools as well as the 1999 report from the School of Science.

Women faculty marginalized

Many women faculty, particularly at the senior level, were found to feel marginalized and excluded in their departments, often left out of grants and other collaborations and excluded from committees, said Gibson.

Without experience on committees, Gibson added, women cannot legitimately be chosen for such positions as department head.

This question of subtle discrimination in choosing collaborators is one of the issues plaguing women faculty, according to Hopkins. “They don’t choose women,” she said referring to men who submit collaborative grant applications or form companies with other faculty members.

“We can’t legislate who your friends are,” Hopkins said, emphasizing that this problem is not easily solved.

Bailyn said that in the Sloan School of Management, junior faculty women sometimes face difficulties in being seen as legitimate in the classroom, and are challenged more than their male counterparts.

Another instance of marginalization was that many women faculty in the School of Engineering were found to teach more undergraduate and fewer upper-level graduate courses than their male counterparts, making recruiting graduating students harder, said Gibson.

In addition, she said, women were found to teach a greater number of classes, requiring a much larger time commitment to teaching that could distract from research.

“The same way money and interest compounds, the marginalization also compounds,” Gibson said. “You can sort of shrug it off if it happens once,” she said, but as incidents continue to occur the feeling of marginalization becomes more noticeable.

“You say, ‘I’ll work a little harder.’ Finally, after 20 years, you’re just tired,” said Hopkins.

Studies attract notice nationwide

The report released in 1999 vaulted MIT into the national spotlight.

“I think that the huge success was when President Vest acknowledged this problem. He put this problem on the map,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins remarked that she has received many comments from other women faculty. “Women all over the country read it and said, ‘Oh my God. That’s my life,’” Hopkins said.

“It was unusual for a university to admit that there had been problems,” said Bailyn, noting that at the time the report was released, the topic of gender discrimination in universities was not spoken of as it is today.

The key to the further improvement of the status of women faculty at MIT is sustainability, said Gibson, commenting that MIT needs to institutionalize the changes through policies rather than individuals.

Magnanti also acknowledged the need to “continue to work at it,” adding that the School of Engineering is creating a diversity website to report accomplishments and “share the fact that MIT is a welcoming community.”

Magnanti said that the School of Engineering would like to hire more female faculty than the current PhD graduate number of twelve to fourteen percent females.

The School of Engineering is also currently trying to attract more minority graduate students, Magnanti said.

Hopkins believes that the concerns are double for minorities and quadruple for minority women compared to those documented in the 1999 report.

“It’s not additive; it’s multiplicative,” she said of the difficulties faced by minorities. Hopkins recommends that MIT create a committee to study the status of minority faculty at MIT.