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Gender studies discussed at special faculty meeting

Faculty members heard summary reports on the status of women in the schools of architecture and planning; engineering; humanities, arts and social sciences; and the Sloan School of Management at a special faculty meeting convened March 18 at 4 p.m. in Room 10-250.

The reports complete an Institute-wide study on the status of women faculty that was launched in 1999 with the landmark study of the School of Science.

In his opening comments at the meeting, President Charles M. Vest referred to the 1999 study as a "clarion call as to the reality of gender bias, ringing true not only on our campus, but elsewhere."

The new reports document growing equity in areas such as compensation and administrative appointments. They also reveal that the next steps are "to increase and maintain our momentum. Progress in these critical matters will make MIT a better place for all of us," Vest said.

Provost Robert A. Brown moderated the panel of four women faculty members, each of whom represented one of the four schools in her summary report.

The panelists were Lotte Bailyn, the T. Wilson (1953) Professor in Management; Terry Knight, associate dean of the School of Architecture and Planning; Lorna Gibson, the Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; and Jean Jackson, professor of anthropology.


Nancy Hopkins, the Amgen Inc. Professor of Biology and chair of the 1999 Women in Science committee, presented an overview of the 1999 School of Science report and reflected on the lessons learned.

"The power of the School of Science report was to bring women together, to collect their stories and see if the data supported them," Hopkins said.

"The end result was to make what had been an almost invisible problem visible. It is impossible to overestimate the importance this had. In the School of Science it made it possible to begin to fix the problem both on a case by case basis and systemically. In science, many of the changes have been remarkable. In admitting publicly that this problem exists, MIT gave hope to women scientists outside MIT and around the world," Hopkins said.

Hopkins also noted with enthusiasm the support of the MIT administration for the studies.

Institute Professor Sheila Widnall later concurred. "Without leadership, nothing happens," she said.


The panelists briskly summarized the findings and recommendations in each school's report. Women faculty in all four schools experienced marginalization, quantified by inequities in resources, access to leadership roles and exclusion from high-level decision-making processes.

Bailyn's summary of the Sloan School findings focused on the "worrisome difference" between women and men who were interviewed about dimensions of experience such as one's sense of belonging, recognition, of being valued, empowered or heard.

In none of those interviews did women report more positive experiences than men. Men who work in quantitative fields and who are not involved in family responsibilities felt best at Sloan, Bailyn said.

The next step in making this a "truly hospitable environment for all faculty" will be to interview junior faculty, Bailyn said. She noted that the very explicitness and thoroughness of the reports, along with the new family leave policies for faculty, reflected a changing culture.

Bailyn also observed that dramatic disparities among salaries at the Sloan School reflected "market value" more than in other schools.

Knight's report focused on improving the numbers of women faculty, on re-examining the "how and where" of decision making, on communication, and on creation of new family/work policies.

Gibson noted that women and men in the School of Engineering had similar promotion and tenure rates as well as similar salaries. However, marginalization, described as the cumulative effect over time of exclusion from such activities as group research grants and from participation on Ph.D. committees, took its toll.

She cited statistics showing that many more men than women in engineering had children and focused on new family leave policies as guidelines for progress.

In the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (SHASS), the "major problems aren't numbers of women but salaries, committee work and weak mentoring," Jackson said. "Women in SHASS said they found the decision making 'far from transparent' and the 'rules of the game,' such as how to get special assistance, hard to discern."

She also noted that the wide variation in salaries was field-dependent, with the highest salaries going to faculty in more quantitative fields, such as economics, which are dominated by men.


Discussion after the panel generally pushed the contours of the envelope formed by the new reports.

Arthur C. Smith, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, said, "If you want the faculty to be 50 percent women, for example, you have to hire at 50 percent. You cannot set your goals by the size of the current pool. If you want the tenure rate to be 50 percent, you have to do that now."

Joshua Cohen, head of the Department of Political Science and also a professor of philosophy, urged that disparities in income be "addressed at the Institute level. This would send a strong statement of commitment."

Several faculty members, including Ruth Perry, professor of literature and founder of the Program in Women's Studies in 1984, and Susan Slyomovics, professor of anthropology, urged the Institute to move away from its "top-down" structure and to bring more faculty into decision making regarding faculty hiring and promotion.

The 100-page printed report was available to the faculty at the special meeting.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 20, 2002.

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