At an open forum hosted by the Yale College Council last Wednesday night (“Forum addresses tenure for women, minorities,” 2/14), Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, Economics Department chairman David Pearce and History Department chairman Jon Butler acknowledged the dearth of women and minority faculty members at Yale but also seemed unwilling to take necessary and aggressive steps toward improvement.
Instead, Brodhead, Pearce and Butler appeared willing to rest on their laurels, referencing small improvements as if to imply that the problem is headed toward a solution on its own.
Unfortunately, though, the racial and gender imbalances evident in Yale’s faculty, especially among the senior professorial ranks, will not be solved without several dramatic shifts in Yale policy and practice. These changes are necessary if Yale is to offer to all of its students, male and female, white and of color, the opportunity to find role models and self-representations in the classroom.
Brodhead was appropriately quick to point out that Yale has, in fact, made some remarkable improvements. Since 1990, the number of tenured women in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has risen by 65 percent, and the number of tenured minority faculty members has increased by 23 percent.
These improvements, though, have not accomplished parity. Only 15 percent of tenured professors are women, and less than one in 10 are minorities. Nor do these rates of improvement indicate that parity can be achieved through continuing Yale’s established practices.
Additionally, these broad figures can obscure important truths about women and minorities in various parts of the University. For instance, among tenured professors in the physical sciences division, for every 22 men on the faculty there is only one woman. Outside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, there is not a single tenured woman of color on the faculty of any of Yale’s professional schools except for the School of Medicine, in which there are two.
The makeup of Wednesday’s panel was itself emblematic of another major problem: the lack of women and minorities in leadership positions throughout the University. Dean Susan Hockfield was sick and unable to participate in the panel; in her absence the spokesmen for the University’s diversity efforts were, unmistakably, three white men.
Although several women hold high-ranking positions in the University, including the provost and the secretary, women are generally absent from leadership positions such as deanships, chairs and the like. Women head only 10 of the 63 departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the medical school, and serve as deans of three of Yale’s 11 schools.
The three panelists insisted repeatedly that although the University places a premium on finding women and minorities during faculty searches, ultimately, search committees reach decisions based solely on intellectual excellence.
Do they mean to imply, then, that only 15 percent of the most intellectually excellent candidates to join the senior faculty are women, and only 9 percent are minorities? Or, at the junior level, that only 34 percent of intellectually excellent candidates are women, and 17 percent are minorities?
In fact, professors’ experience seems to contradict the panelists’ insistence that search committees are inherently neutral. Many women professors, especially in disciplines where women are underrepresented, have recounted instances where all-male committees are “simply unable” to come up with names of qualified women candidates. When those women professors have introduced women’s names to the committee, the rest of the committee has dutifully acknowledged the equal qualifications of those candidates. I can only imagine that the problem is the same, or worse, for minority candidates.
For these reasons, it is imperative that members of the faculty who are women and minorities are included in search committees, and that members of committees make an outstanding effort to introduce women and minority candidates. Given the numbers above, these considerations are not, in fact, “special” — they merely afford women and minorities the attention that white men have long enjoyed.
Many of Yale’s policies are simply antithetical to the success of women in the faculty. A study released last Tuesday at the University of California at Berkeley reported that women who have children within five years after receiving their doctorates are 20 to 24 percent less likely than other women to achieve tenure. In fact, a majority of the women who receive tenure have never had children.
Despite these figures, Yale remains resistant to expanding its current child-care facilities, which many faculty members regard as woefully inadequate.
Indeed, Brodhead seemed to absolve the University of responsibility for child care at Wednesday’s forum, pointing out that child care is a problem nationwide. While true, there is no reason that Yale should allow itself to perpetuate societal problems simply because they are widespread.
In addition to these reforms, other University policies and programs need to be adjusted, including maternity leave policies, allowances for families in which both parents work in academia, and mentoring programs for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members.
This year Yale has lost three of its most celebrated senior women professors. Professor of history and American studies Nancy Cott — the only woman ever to have taught the DeVane Lecture since its inception in 1971 — and psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji are now at Harvard, and last semester Yale mourned the sudden death of French professor Naomi Schor.
Without these three remarkable women, Yale is challenged more than ever to foster a faculty inclusive of women and minorities. I only hope that the University can rise to the challenge.
Josie Rodberg is a junior in Davenport College.