At the last Yale College Council public forum, we in the audience were treated to an eloquent discussion by Dean Richard Brodhead about the need for more tenured women faculty. As various administrators have for many years, Brodhead promised that Yale would make concrete steps toward recruiting and retaining women.
On Dec. 6, we will see just how serious the administration is.
At the faculty meeting that Thursday, Provost Alison Richard will give the administration’s response to the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty. The committee, headed by physics professor Michael Zeller, devoted much of its report to proposals that would have helped increase the number of tenured women.
In 1990, the committee, then led by economist John Geanakoplos, called on the University to stop the tenure clock for women when they have children. By giving women a year off from the pressures of research and publishing, the committee argued, Yale would allow its women a fair chance to compete with men.
“Yale owes the tenure delay to its faculty mothers so that they may be judged fairly, and Yale owes the delay to itself so that it may choose correctly,” the Geanakoplos committee wrote.
In the intervening decade, Yale has acted on the Geanakoplos report halfway, stopping the tenure clock for six months, but not 12. Now, 11 years later, the Zeller committee has laudably repeated the call for a 12-month relief.
Stopping the tenure clock for a full year is important because it recognizes that women are at a disadvantage compared to men in fulfilling the informal requirements for tenure. Because women are more likely to stay home with their newborn children, they have less opportunity to conduct research.
One solution would be to lessen the requirements for women seeking tenure. But this would defeat the purpose of the tenure review process, and it would create a double standard that judge men by harsher standard than women.
Allowing women who have had children more time to complete their research and publishing is a simpler, more fair way to solve the problem. Yale should follow the recommendation of the committee and grant women faculty a year off for each of up to two births.
Teaching responsibilities can also be difficult for those who have just had children. Current policy holds that faculty may have the semester off only if “her incapacity would result in more than a three week interruption in her teaching,” assuming that women are incapacitated for six weeks after childbirth.
This means that women who give birth in late spring or late summer do not qualify for such maternity leave. Yale owes it to its women faculty to follow the recommendation of the committee and grant maternity leave to all those who have children while on the faculty.
“Our belief is that in the choice between the University being overly supportive of these colleagues [who give birth] or insufficiently so, the University should err on the side of the former,” the Zeller committee wrote.
The current accommodation of professors who have babies falls short of the policies of schools like Harvard, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So the issue becomes not just one of fairness to Yale’s women, but Yale’s ability to recruit female professors to its ranks.
In 1993, Shirley Tilghman, then a biology professor at Princeton and now that university’s first female president, wrote two op-ed pieces for The New York Times arguing that the tenure system is unfair to women. She claimed that because tenure reviews often come at a time when women are frequently having children, they discriminate against women.
As she has since affirmed, tenure is a valuable institution that should not be dismantled. But the process in which universities grant tenure should be reformed so as to ensure that women are treated fairly and equally. Until Yale enables women both to have children and be granted tenure, we will have a chronic shortage of female senior faculty.
Next Thursday, the administration will reveal whether it is willing to make that commitment.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College.