It was undeniably good news last week when the University announced that it had tenured a record 12 new female professors. The freshly minted senior professors come from as far as Oxford and as close as Yale’s junior ranks — evidence that the University’s searches have been both broad and comprehensive. Yale students and faculty alike now stand to benefit from the diversity of expertise these women bring to their fields, which range from American studies to computer science. And what’s most encouraging of all is that the professors were identified and hired without any official affirmative action policy.
That’s good news not because affirmative action is a bad idea — that debate can wait for another time –but rather because hiring a large number of women in its absence reveals a growing pool of qualified female academics.
For years, many have argued that Yale should set a quota forcing the administration to hire a certain number of women each year. The University has been right to ignore those demands, instead implementing a policy of aggressive recruiting with the goal of hiring as many qualified female professors as possible.
The University’s recent hires show that the policy is working — and upholding Yale’s high standards of scholarship. History professor Joanne Freeman, formerly a junior professor here, is one of the leading authorities on early American politics and widely recognized as one of Yale College’s best teachers.
Another new hire, graphic design specialist Julie Dorsey, comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and will fill a major hole in the University’s Computer Science Department.
The list goes on. And while Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead pointed out that this is Yale’s largest group of newly tenured female professors ever, Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield made an even more encouraging point: “I think we’ll continue to do better.”
Hockfield will likely be right, though demographic change comes slowly. The number of tenured women at Yale grew slightly less than 2 percent from 1996 to 2001, which is an indication that the pool of qualified female academics is expanding but still fairly small. The reason is that relatively few women who entered the academy in the 1980s and early ’90s –the time period in which women would have had to earn their doctorates in order to build a sufficient volume of scholarship by now.
But that number ought to grow as the number of women academics in the “pipeline” — as newly tenured molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Susan Baserga ’80 called it — increases each year. The injection of diversity into the faculty will bring out new perspectives and opportunities for scholarship in all fields, which can only help increase the prestige of the University
Equally important, the addition of female professors now means that current students will be able to study with senior-level women at Yale, a step that can only help to break down the perception that top academia is still a male-dominated business.