More women needed at the head of the class

A group of elite-university presidents pledges to close the gender gap at the professorial level.

Published December 8, 2005 2:06PM (EST)

These days, women increasingly outnumber and outperform men on college campuses -- but only as students. According to a statement released yesterday by Yale University president Richard Levin and Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, though "nearly half of all PhD recipients are women, they only make up about 25% of professors."

To right that imbalance, Levin and Summers, along with a consortium of elite-university leaders calling themselves the "Nine Presidents," have pledged to support female-friendly faculty policies -- including flexible work hours, on-campus childcare centers and employment counseling centers for spouses who may need to relocate. The consortium -- which includes representatives from Cal Tech, MIT, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania -- was founded in 2001 after a study at MIT found widespread gender inequality in every department of the university. As Stanford president John Hennessy explains, "helping our faculty balance the demands of their careers with family responsibilities is critical if [we] are to attract the brightest young people to the professorial ranks.''

Let's not forget that earlier this year Summers raised hackles by suggesting that women did not have the natural abilities to pioneer the fields of science and technology -- though he has since called the incident a misunderstanding and repeatedly apologized for his remarks. But now -- perhaps in an effort to put his money where his mouth is -- Summers has pledged $25 million to promote gender equity at Harvard and increased the number of employment offers made to women for the first time since he took office in 2001.

Still, despite the group's efforts, only one Ivy League school -- Princeton -- has yet closed the staggering pay gap between male and female faculty. According to a study by the American Association of University Professors, this year male professors at Princeton earn an average of $152,400 a year, [which works out to] 5.5 percent more than women. Last year, that gap was 8.5%. Only 20 percent of Princetons tenured faculty are women.

Twenty percent? Really, since when is that a passing grade at an Ivy League school?

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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