Monday, November 28, 2005

These tectonic plates sure do shift slowly

Today's interesting article about women in the geology major points out that women are catching up in many of the sciences ... but apparently only when it comes to the number of undergraduate majors.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers stirred controversy earlier this year with his comments on the lack of women in the sciences. But if he had poked his head into a geology class at Yale, he might have noticed that women geology and geophysics majors at the University consistently outnumber men.

Let's not forget that Summers' comment was not only about the lack of women in the sciences; he implied that women may be less competent in the sciences. The whole point is
not that there aren't qualified women out there (hello, women have been graduating from Yale for over 30 years). It's that even if we are filling classrooms, we're still sent signals that we aren't as job-worthy as our male peers. Undergraduate numbers are great, but despite them women still make up only 6.8 percent of the tenured science faculty.

The article goes on to discuss the cultural factors that may prevent women from going on to graduate school. This is true not only of the sciences - the university has acknowledged that Yale's diversity needs work at all levels... especially the higher ones.

UPDATE (11/30): Charles Bailyn's letter uses the timeframe of this change to point to cultural (instead of genetic) factors in the number of women in science.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your argument here is misleading and stands on shaky factual grounds. Although the percentage of tenured female/minority faculty members at Yale is indeed very low, I am curious to see how Yale's hiring practices in the last 5 or so years have changed. A good question to ask in this case would be: Of the faculty who have received tenure in the past 3-5 years--or maybe, of the people who have been given any kind of professorship in the recent past--what percentage of them have been women/minorities? This number would obviously be a far better gauge of the university's current hiring practices than the ~7% you cite. After all, a lot of tenured faculty members (in all departments) at Yale today were hired many years ago, times in which I suspect the university's hiring practices were far different than they are now (Jonathan Spence, for example, started teaching here in 1965). The object of the game isn't to retroactively punish those who were beneficiaries of a sexist hiring policy, at least in my mind. Rather, it is to make sure that all new professorial candidates are given a fair shot.