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Universities Address Gender Barriers

By Jenny Zhang

Nine presidents of leading research universities, including Susan Hockfield, issued a joint statement on Tuesday pledging to break down still existing gender barriers in higher education.

The presidents acknowledge “that barriers still exist to the full participation of women, not only in science and engineering, but also in academic fields throughout higher education,” echoing a statement from leaders of the nine universities four years ago when the group was formed.

To create an environment where all faculty can function at their highest level, “continuing to develop academic personnel policies, institutional resources, and a culture that supports family commitments is therefore essential for maximizing the productivity of our faculty,” the presidents write, though their statement does not list specific actions.

The other signatories are Lawrence H. Summers ’75 of Harvard, David Baltimore of California Institute of Technology, Shirley M. Tilghman of Princeton University, John Hennessy of Stanford University, Robert Birgeneau of University of California, Berkeley, Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan, Amy Gutmann of University of Pennsylvania, and Richard C. Levin of Yale University.

Summers came under fire early this year for remarks that innate differences might be a reason fewer women than men enter careers in science and engineering.

Birgeneau was dean of the School of Science at MIT when the Committee on Women Faculty released its 1999 report admitting inequalities between male and female faculty in the School of Science. The committee was created by Birgeneau in 1995 in response to a letter by 15 of 16 tenured female faculty in the school.

Similar reports indicating that female faculty were marginalized in MIT’s other schools were released by the Committee on Women Faculty in 2002, three years after the School of Science report.

The leaders, called the Nine Presidents, first met in 2001 in response to the 1999 MIT report that found gender inequity at all levels of faculty.

In their joint statement, the presidents, who met this summer to discuss best practices and specific actions to help faculty with family responsibilities, write that “While considerable progress has been made since 2001, we acknowledge that there are still significant steps to be taken toward making academic careers compatible with family caregiving responsibilities.”