Outcry Prompts Harvard President to Address Women’s Advancement in Science

Feminists can claim a victory at Harvard. In response to an outcry from women’s groups, scientists, faculty, and alumni, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers announced yesterday the creation of two task forces and a new senior administrative position aimed at increasing the number of women faculty in the sciences. In a public statement, Summers said, “It is time for Harvard to step up and affirm in strong and concrete terms its commitment to the advancement and support of women pursuing academic careers.”

The first task force will focus on women in science and engineering, and will be led by Barbara Grosz, dean of science at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the second will be a task force on women in the faculty, to be chaired by Evelynn Hammonds, a professor of history of science and African and African American studies.

Grosz told the Times that she agreed to chair the task force only after she was convinced the committee’s “recommendations were going to be taken seriously.” The committees are meant to complete their work by May 1, and the university has promised to implement changes by Harvard’s fall term, the Post reports.

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined 20 other women’s rights groups in sending a letter to Summers, calling on him to “publicly commit to making the elimination of barriers to, and the advancement of women in, math and the sciences a major priority of your tenure at the University.” The letter also stressed that there is “no evidentiary support for the proposition that physiological differences can explain the disparities between the genders that persist in math and science.”

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New York Times 2/4/05; Washington Post 2/4/05; WomenÕs Rights Groups Letter to Summers 1/27; Harvard statement 2/3/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 1/18/05, 1/24/05

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