Succumbing to pressure by women’s rights groups and prominent women scientists and academicians like Sally Ride and Donna Hopkins, Harvard President Lawrence Summers has announced the initiation of a new program at the university to recruit women a week after suggesting at an academic conference that women have less innate ability to perform in science and mathematics than men. Summers defended his comments over the past week, maintaining that he was merely suggesting that the role of discrimination and innate abilities of women and men in the sciences need further research. However, in an open letter to the Harvard community, he committed Harvard to “recognize and reduce barriers to the advancement of women in science,” including making it easier for faculty to balance work and family.
Task forces will be put together as soon this week in order to examine the hiring practices of Harvard, as well as how the university cultivates women faculty members, according to the Associated Press. The initiative will also study disparities between women and men, particularly in the sciences. Summers appointed Drew Gilpin Faust to lead the initiative. Faust currently serves as the dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, which studies women, gender, and society.
The Boston Globe reports that a group of Harvard alumnae known as the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard submitted a proposal last October requesting that the university perform an in-depth study to seek out patterns of gender bias, and to determine ways to overcome this bias. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology implemented such a study in 1999, and Princeton University, Yale University, and Duke University have followed suit, according to the Globe.
At the University of Michigan, a grant from the National Science Foundation is being used to study how cognitive bias can affect the perceptions of those with hiring power when it comes to women as candidates for jobs or promotions. The Globe reports that since the findings of the study have been relayed to the university’s deans, department chairs, and the heads of search committees, the percentage of women hired by the science and engineering departments has risen from 15 percent to 40 percent.
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