Harvard to Court Diversity in Sciences

Harvard University will spend $50 million over the next decade to promote diversity on its faculty and make changes in the way women in science and engineering are treated. University President Lawrence Summers has been criticized for theorizing that differences between the sexes may explain why so few women work in the academic sciences.

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The president of Harvard University got in a lot of hot water earlier this year for remarks he made about the lack of women in science and mathematics. Lawrence Summers suggested that part of the reason might be innate differences between the sexes. He later apologized and vowed new efforts to diversify. Well, this week, Summers announced a plan to spend $50 million over the next 10 years to hire more women and minorities as full-time faculty at Harvard. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:

In the aftermath of his remarks, President Lawrence Summers appointed two committees to examine why women, blacks and Latinos were so poorly represented in the school's faculty ranks. Dr. Barbara Grosz, dean of science at the Radcliffe Institute, chaired one of those committees. The conclusion, says Grosz, is that Harvard has made limited progress in creating a genuinely diverse faculty.

Dr. BARBARA GROSZ (Dean of Science, Radcliffe Institute): If you think about a system that was developed by men for men, there's a lot of implicit mentoring that goes on. Once you have a very diverse group of people, you have to actually pay explicit attention to things like: How do you interact to be inclusive and not to exclude some people rather than others?

SANCHEZ: In other words, says Grosz, as long as the faculty is predominantly male and white, recruiting and promoting more women and minorities may not be considered urgent. For example, only four of the 32 professors in the faculty of arts and sciences who were offered tenure last year were women. So Harvard will now begin collecting more data on the status and treatment of women on campus. Department heads will be required to do some soul-searching and think about the ways they've hindered the promotion of women and minorities. Next, says Grosz, Harvard will work to improve the pipeline of women, blacks and Latinos, especially in science and engineering.

Dr. GROSZ: There actually has to be an active search process. You have to track the best people at every level of the pipeline; providing encouragement in order to increase the pool, but also making sure you aren't missing people who are out there. So it can't be a passive process; it really has to be an active process.

SANCHEZ: Both on and off the Harvard campus, the reaction to President Summers' tenure plan has been mixed.

Mr. ANSLEY ABRAHAM (Southern Regional Education Board): If President Summers can raise the awareness, it's been a good thing. Is it late? Yeah, absolutely it's late. I mean, it's not a new issue.

SANCHEZ: Ansley Abraham of the Southern Regional Education Board has led a 12-year effort in 10 states to improve the pipeline of minority and female professors. It's the longest-running project of its kind.

Mr. ABRAHAM: It's not just about hiring faculty or hiring minority faculty or women faculty; it is an issue of getting those people prepared to compete for those jobs. You know, it's hard to aspire to something if you've never seen anybody in those positions.

SANCHEZ: The question, says Abraham, is: Are Summers and Harvard in this for the long haul, or is this a short-term commitment in response to political pressure? President Summers, for his part, says $50 million should say something about how committed he is. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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