Harvard Pledges $50 Million to Boost Diversity

Reposted from Science magazine, 20 May 2005

Harvard University plans to spend at least $50 million over the next decade to create a more diverse academic community in all disciplines, including throughout the sciences. President Lawrence Summers announced the outlay this week after receiving two reports commissioned in February following his comments about the ability of women to do science, which triggered a national debate.

The initiative will tackle all aspects of gender and minority issues, from the safety of women working late at night at research labs to the need for a high-level advocate within the Harvard administration. Such a comprehensive strategy is essential, say the chairs of the two task forces that reported to Summers. "Women need to see careers in science as desirable and realistic life choices," says Barbara Grosz, a computer scientist who led one of the task forces that focused on science and engineering. A second task force, led by science historian Evelynn Hammonds, examined challenges facing all women faculty.

Outside researchers are impressed with the breadth of the recommendations. "This is very encouraging," says Donna Nelson, a chemist at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, who tracks the status of women and minority academic scientists. "If they can implement this, they can take a leadership role."

Raising awareness. Harvard Dean Drew Gilpin Faust (left) with task force chairs Evelyn Hammonds and Barbara Grosz.CREDIT: KRIS SNIBBE/HARVARD NEWS OFFICE

Harvard has long been criticized for its lack of diversity of science faculty in several disciplines, a situation made worse by Harvard's decentralized structure and its policy not to grant tenure to junior faculty, task force members said. Last year, for example, four women and 28 men in the school of arts and sciences received tenure offers. But the long-simmering issue did not come to a head until Summers's comments at a January workshop on women in science became public (Science, 28 January, p. 492). The resulting outcry triggered a faculty vote of no confidence in Summers, who apologized repeatedly.

Hammonds's committee called for a senior provost for diversity and faculty development to work with Harvard deans to promote gender and ethnic equity. Harvard Provost Steven Hyman hopes to name that person--who likely would come from within Harvard--by September. The panel also proposed two funds, one to provide partial salary support for hiring scholars who increase diversity, the second to fund their labs. It said Harvard should begin to gather systematic data on faculty hiring, retention, and other measures and make the academic culture more family-friendly, through enhanced maternity leave practices, child-care support, and adjustments to the tenure clock. Grosz's panel urged the university to set up summer research programs for undergraduates, expand mentoring for all students, and provide research money for faculty juggling family and career.

Funding will not be a problem, Summers assured reporters, referring to the likelihood of "more resources allotted down the road." The biggest challenge Harvard faces, he said, is to overcome "issues of culture" within a university created "by men for men." Harvard is accepting comments on the report through the end of June, and academics around the country will be watching closely to see how well Harvard succeeds in transforming that culture.

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