President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly commended MIT's administration and women faculty members on April 7 for the Institute's actions and candor in addressing gender bias against women science faculty.
The President and First Lady led a White House panel on equal pay for women in commemoration of Equal Pay Day, which was April 8. Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT and one of the women who launched the discrimination investigation, was one of four panelists.
President Clinton said, "Just recently -- let me just mention the experience of one of our panelists -- we saw this courage among the administrators and women scientists at MIT, one of our country's most outstanding institutions of higher education.
"Together, they looked at the cold, hard facts about disparities in everything from lab space to annual salary. They sought to make things right, and they told the whole public the truth about it, which is a rare thing. And I appreciate what they did. I commend them. I hope their success and their example can be replicated throughout our country."
Mrs. Clinton said that wage gaps such as the one affecting the women science professors point to a larger social problem.
"I think it's fair to say that when you have some of the best scientists in the world taking a look at this issue in one institution and coming to these conclusions -- and then that, in turn, supports the broader findings that have been derived from looking at society at large -- we know that we do have a wage gap that we have to address. And it's not just a gap in wages, it's a gap in our nation's principles and promises," she said.
"So the kind of work that was done by the 15 women scientists, with the support of the MIT administration, made a very important contribution to this whole debate because they were able, with their scientific method, to get below the surface and really figure out what it is that was going on. And I really want to commend MIT for doing that. I hope it serves as a model not only for the rest of higher education, but for employers in all kinds of institutions around the country," Mrs. Clinton said.
Professor Hopkins said that the Clintons' "sophisticated knowledge of the issues surrounding the MIT report and their insightful questions were so engaging that I was immediately drawn into conversation with them and totally forgot the wall of cameras and lights before us."
Professor Hopkins joined panelists Sanya Tyler, who filed a Title IX discrimination lawsuit against Howard University in 1991 that resulted in a landmark decision protecting female athletic coaches; Carolyn Gantt, a retired mother of seven who continues to work part-time to make ends meet while her male colleagues are financially secure; and Patricia Higgins, a nurse from Cleveland who believes that nurses have traditionally been undervalued and underpaid.
"It was absolutely thrilling to hear President and Mrs. Clinton praise the tenured women faculty in the School of Science and the MIT administration's approach to analyzing gender issues at the Institute," Professor Hopkins said.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 26).