February 16, 2001

Universities Support Female Scientists

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Addressing Equal Treatment for Female Science and Engineer Faculty

By Stephanie Hankin

Leaders of nine research universities recently signed a pledge to promote more equitable treatment of female faculty members specializing in science and engineering.

Administrators from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Yale University convened at the MIT campus and signed the pledge there earlier this month.

The leaders acknowledged that “barriers still exist” in the workplace for female science and engineering faculty and noted that, “Institutes of higher education have an obligation, for both themselves and for the nation, to fully develop and utilize all creative talent available.”

Although Cornell administrators were not invited to the conference, they have been working with female science and engineering faculty to address issues of equal treatment at the University, according to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.

A group of women in the physical sciences and engineering departments met with Martin in November to “present a number of possible initiatives designed to help attract and retain women scientists, to promote women students’ interest in the physical and engineering sciences and to develop new educational materials for that purpose,” Martin said.

Members of the group pointed out areas in need of improvement.

“Part of our task [as female engineers and scientists] was to document the representation, part to portray the consequences of our under-representation, and part to suggest steps or programs that we recommend that the administration take to try to improve the numbers, status, treatment and experience of women in [physical science and engineering], at all academic levels, at Cornell,” Prof. Terry Jordan, geological sciences, explained.

Martin acknowledged that the engineering and science faculty do not accurately reflect the engineering and sciences student population.

“In addition to increasing numbers of women [to attain more accurate representation], we are also committed to building a more ethnically and racially diverse faculty, and to improving the climate for all faculty, students or staff,” the provost said.

Currently, Cornell is conducting a salary equity study to address possible gender-based income discriminations, according to Martin.

However, Jordan acknowledged that not all female science and engineering faculty experienced inequity at Cornell.

“There are as many different opinions [about gender inequity] as there are different professors,” she noted.

“I do not feel that I was discriminated against as a woman in any point in my academic career,” said Prof. Eva Tardos, computer science.

Jordan remarked that finding solutions to problems of inequity are difficult.

“It is clear that a long-term solution requires increased participation by women all the way up the pipeline,” she said.

“We [also] need to improve the working conditions of those of us who are already on the faculty. But we don’t expect any quick solutions to the existing under-representation.”

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin