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Harvard President Pledges $50 Million for Women’s Programs

Harvard President Lawrence Summers pledged to spend $50 million over the next ten years to implement recommendations made by two task forces on women at Harvard. The Task Forces on Women Faculty and Women in Science and Engineering were set up following an outcry by women faculty, scientists, and feminist organizations over remarks by Summers suggesting that women may have less innate ability for math and science than men. Summers was also widely criticized because the percentage of tenured positions offered to women in the Arts and Sciences has dropped each of the three years Summers has been in office, with only four of 32 tenured positions going to women last year.

“In spite of more than three decades of concern, Harvard has made only limited progress in its efforts to create a genuinely diverse faculty,” according to the report by the Task Force on Women Faculty. “Women and minorities remain significantly underrepresented in relation not just to their proportions in the broader population, but in comparison to their presence in the student body of Harvard’s ten Schools and, in many cases, to their numbers in the pool of Ph.D.s in individual academic fields.”

“The Task Forces have produced recommendations that promise to transform not only opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities at Harvard, but the culture of the entire University community,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust, who was one of the leaders of the Task Force efforts. One of the major recommendations made was to create a new position, the Senior Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development, to oversee faculty hiring practices to ensure that women and minority representation is a priority. Other recommendations include collecting university-wide data on faculty hiring and retention; increasing funding and availability of child care; and providing partial salary support for new women and minority faculty members.

Mary C. Waters, chair of Harvard’s sociology department, told the New York Times that the recommendations are “a big menu of good things. The real question is going to be in the actions of the president, the provost, and the administration over time.”

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Sources:

Harvard University Gazette 5/16/05; Task Force reports May 2005; New York Times 5/17/05; Feminist Majority Foundation