Diversity has been a defining characteristic of our University since its founding, a critical factor in its success and is a personal priority. If we are to continue to lead, we must continue to seek and nurture exceptional talent without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or other characteristics that too often divide us.
I am concerned, however, about our progress in a number of areas, including three related to the status of women at our University: the representation of women in specific areas of the student body, the representation of women on the faculty and the representation of women in senior leadership positions.
Three recent events have refocused my attention on the status of women at Cornell. Last week the President’s Council of Cornell Women, a group of accomplished alumnae, was on campus for its annual meeting and to renew its commitment to advance the involvement of women as leaders within the university and beyond. Yesterday we celebrated 23 women faculty, students, staff and community members for their work to advance the status of women as part of International Women’s Day. And last semester we completed work with the NCAA on our self-study and external review for recertification of Cornell’s intercollegiate athletic program.
Gender equity has long been a priority for Cornell. It was a central tenet of Ezra Cornell’s vision. Our University was the first major institution in the eastern U.S. to offer coeducation and the first university in the entire country to award the doctor of science degree to a woman (1895). We initiated one of the nation’s first Women’s Studies programs, now expanded in focus to Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies. We continue to strive toward the realization of Ezra Cornell’s vision out of a deeply held belief that as much as possible Cornell must represent the population we serve: the state, the country and the world.
But we cannot be complacent about the status of women on our campus. Much remains to be accomplished.
Let’s begin with students. In fall 2008, women made up 49 percent of the undergraduate student body, comparable to our peer institutions. Based on fall 2006 comparative data, women made up 46 percent of the student-athletes at Cornell, the second-best “proportionality” (the ratio of athletic participation to overall representation in the student body) in the Ivy League. I’m proud of the progress we have made to enroll undergraduate women students and to approach gender equity in athletics, although we must continue to push hard for true gender equity in athletics and other aspects of student life at Cornell.
In other areas the numbers raise concerns. Among our graduate and professional school students, for example, 42 percent are female, compared to 46 percent for the peer group. Female students of color make up only 16 percent of Cornell undergraduates, 10 percent of professional students, and six percent of graduate students.
Enrollment numbers also vary substantially across the colleges at Cornell; women comprise 30 percent of engineering undergraduates (substantially better than the national average of 17 percent) but 75 percent of human ecology undergraduates and 77 percent of students in the College of Veterinary Medicine. At Weill Cornell Medical College, 53 percent of medical and graduate students are women. At Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, nine of our first 15 graduates were women. In general, these data suggest that Cornell is doing a good and improving job in attracting female students, although the data also show us areas for further emphasis.
Turning to the faculty, women account for approximately 26 percent of Cornell faculty across all the ranks. The average in the Ivy Plus group is also about 26 percent, ranging from 19 percent women at MIT to 36 percent at Dartmouth. Among the Cornell faculty, five percent are minority women. It will be critical at Cornell, as elsewhere across the country, to support the progress of women professors throughout their careers even as we reduce somewhat the overall size of the faculty in response to economic pressures. In this context, retention becomes especially important.
Cornell’s ADVANCE Center (http://advance.cornell.edu/), established a few years ago with a major grant from the National Science Foundation, aims to establish a critical mass of women faculty by achieving 20 percent women faculty in each science and engineering department by the end of the five-year term of the grant. Its longer-term objective is that a third of our science and engineering faculty be women by 2015. Currently, in science, technology, engineering and math departments women account, on average, for 19 percent of the faculty. In the social and behavioral sciences departments, women account for 33 percent of the faculty. We will continue to support the work of the ADVANCE Center, with the expectation that its work will lead to improved diversity throughout the University.
In terms of staff, Cornell has slipped somewhat in the representation of women in our workforce compared to our peers. At Cornell, women hold a slightly lower percentage of executive, administrative, managerial and professional positions than at our peers, although they are substantially better represented in technical, paraprofessional and skilled trades positions. In virtually all these categories, the percent of minority women is also below the median among our peers. Most notably, in the Cornell leadership (at the level of dean, associate provost or higher) women occupy only 25 percent of positions. Obviously we need to do better in terms of gender equity at the highest levels of responsibility and authority at Cornell and among women of color.
With hiring at a slower pace, improving gender equity in staff and faculty ranks will take discipline and specific strategies. The University Diversity Council, which the provost and I co-chair, and the Diversity Council’s Working Group, co-chaired by Deputy Provost David Harris and Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion Elizabeth “Beta” Mannix, are well-positioned to develop these strategies while also focusing on diversity issues important to students and other groups within our campus community.
By maintaining our focus on diversity across all its dimensions we can draw on the talents of everyone on our campus and prepare the leaders needed for the 21st century’s diverse and successful organizations. As always, I look forward to your comments and advice.