As the nation’s leading institutions compete for a growing number of female professors, professors and students agree that New Haven may be Yale’s worst nemesis.
Citing poor area public schools, a lack of adequate child care facilities and the Elm City’s reputation for being a “one-horse town,” many said Yale’s relatively low number of female professors with tenure — only 19 percent in 2002 — is a direct result of losing to competing universities that not only offer more attractive amenities, but also are housed in locations other than New Haven.
The process of receiving tenure at Yale is a difficult and extremely competitive task for any professor — let alone a female professor who has a family to care for.
‘At the mercy of history’
While certain departments at Yale such as English, Spanish and history have many female candidates, there are fewer candidates in others fields like economics and the physical sciences, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said.
Brodhead said Yale’s number of tenured faculty has increased in recent years, and is now about equal to that of competing institutions. But he said he was most heartened by the fact that Yale has made some strong appointments and stepped up its recruiting for all the different academic fields.
“The biggest obstacle is that women have gone into different academic fields at different rates,” Brodhead said. “To some extent we are at the mercy of history. My hope and expectation is that all the academic fields will become increasingly open. This situation needs to be attacked on multiple fronts because the causation is complex.”
When Meg Urry accepted the position of director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Natural Physics in 2001, she became the first-ever tenured female professor in the history of the Yale Physics Department.
“I came to Yale because I thought the possibilities to build a strong astrophysics program were great,” Urry said.
But strong academic programs and opportunities are sometimes not enough to attract the nation’s top female scholars to Yale.
Urry, who is married and has two young children, said she could not commit to come to Yale unless her husband was offered a job as well. He was offered a position on the research staff in the Physics Department.
“The biggest problem for women moving is the spouse, particularly in the sciences,” Urry said. “Most female scientists are married to male scientists, so women have a problem because they need two jobs: one for herself and one for her husband.”
And, unlike major metropolitan areas such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, which have numerous national universities, New Haven only has one major university — Yale. Thus, there is only one place for both the husband and the wife to get an academic post, Urry said.
Urry said Yale should concentrate on recruiting qualified female professors by impressing them with what the University has to offer and by suggesting creative solutions to problems that may arise should they choose to accept the post.
A family affair
It took Cynthia Russett, Larned Professor of History, over 20 years of teaching at Yale to earn consideration for tenure. Not because she was unqualified, but because she only taught part-time.
Russett was raising her children.
But she said even though she took on a “part-time” workload –and salary — she was working just as hard as any other professor.
“They were getting more than their money’s worth,” Russett said. “It was a very difficult issue to know how to process. [Working part-time] kept me employed, but it meant that I wasn’t going to be promoted.”
But in 1990, with the support of former History Department chairman John Blum, she was granted tenure on the assumption that she would shift to a full-time work load, Russett said.
“For a long time, we [female professors] did lag behind,” Russett said. “It was pretty dismal and they have made great strides. It’s a different world out there and a much better world for women. In my day, there was no support system.”
Shilpa Raval, professor in the Yale classics department and research director of the Women Faculty Forum, said it is difficult for women who are raising a family to work hard enough in academics to be considered for tenure at a competitive place like Yale.
“As a junior professor, one of the biggest obstacles is the child care because the tenure clock and the biological clock are within the same time frame,” she said.
Both Russett and Urry agreed that the University needs to do something about childcare.
“I think childcare is a big issue,” Urry said. “Any talented academic should be able to pursue his or her dream and it would be so much easier with attractive, affordable daycare. We need to send the signal that [Yale is] family-friendly.”
While Yale does offer some on-campus subsidized day care, space is limited and the quality is poor, said Josie Rodberg ’03, who has done considerable research on female faculty issues with the Women’s Center Political Action Committee.
“They don’t have space for nearly as many children as need care,” Rodberg said via e-mail.
Yale College Council President Andrew Allison ’04 asked the University to recognize the urgency of having a diverse faculty and to take more active steps to secure and retain top female scholars.
“We can fault Yale for not having sufficient incentives in place to lure top females to teach here,” Allison said. “Other universities have surpassed Yale by offering convenient and reliable day care services. I hope that they continue to take this issue seriously and accelerate their recruitment efforts, not merely to bring Yale in step with peer institutions, but to make us a leader in diversity.”
A tough sell
The Political Science Department has taken active steps to increase its number of tenured women by recruiting junior-level professors, hoping they will stay at Yale long-term, said Ian Shapiro, chairman of the Political Science Department.
“We have a number of tenured women, but we don’t have as many as we should have,” Shapiro said. “Political science as a discipline is changing rapidly in its gender composition. Look at graduate school admissions — far more talented women are going into political science than a generation ago. We are trying to eye the best and the brightest and we have invested heavily in a junior strategy.”
But according to Robert Wyman, former director of undergraduate studies in Yale’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, one of Yale’s biggest obstacles in attracting top female professors for the long term is its location.
“In the last few years in our searches, women have come up about half of the time as the best candidate,” Wyman said. “But it’s very hard to attract women [to come to Yale]. If they’re single, New Haven’s not the best place — and with married women, we have spouse problems.”
Wyman said the competition is very intense, especially for Yale, which has to compete with other top universities with appealing locations such as San Francisco and Boston. And although the University recognizes the importance of having a diverse faculty, professors and students said they agree that there is much more work to be done.
“There is some progress on the part of the administration, but its a long road ahead, [especially] if you want to raise a family,” Russett said.