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Summers sets $50m women's initiative

Harvard panels recommend steps

Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers yesterday pledged to spend $50 million over the next decade to improve the climate for women on campus as two task forces unveiled recommendations designed to boost the training, recruitment, and advancement of women, from undergraduates to senior faculty.

The task forces, appointed after Summers's remarks about women's ''intrinsic aptitude" for science put Harvard's treatment of women in the spotlight, recommended the appointment of a senior vice provost for diversity and the expansion of funds to hire women and minorities. One report said the funds should support the hiring of about 40 people over the next five years.

The task forces, which relied heavily on experiences at other universities, also emphasized the importance of collecting more data about the status and treatment of women at Harvard -- something the university has been reluctant to do in the past. They also said department and search committee leaders should be trained to be aware of the hidden biases that can hinder women's advancement.

A variety of smaller changes were also suggested, from paid maternity leave for doctoral students to safe rides home for scientists working late in their labs.

The reports did not come with a price tag, but Summers said in a statement that the $50 million investment was ''in recognition of the importance and far reaching nature" of the recommendations, some of which he said would be implemented immediately while others would require further study. Summers said the task forces' suggestions were not just ''a Band-Aid," but a ''systemic approach" that would benefit everyone on campus.

''The objective is not just [to put forward] a set of recommendations, but to bring about a set of very important cultural changes," he said on a conference call with reporters. ''Universities like Harvard were designed a long time ago by men and for men. To fully succeed on these issues, we're going to have to address issues of culture."

Female professors at Harvard reacted positively to the task forces' suggestions yesterday, but some were skeptical that the recommendations would be enthusiastically embraced by the Summers administration, which they said has a troubled record on women's equality. Even before Summers's controversial Jan. 14 remarks that differences in the abilities of men and women may explain why fewer women excel in math and science, he was under fire on campus because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had offered a declining percentage of senior jobs to women for each year of his presidency.

''The real question is what the university is going to do," said Mary C. Waters, chairwoman of sociology and a prominent critic of Summers's leadership. ''There's great fanfare announcing that the task forces are recommending these things, but a very guarded statement from the president and provost saying 'we're going to study it.' "

Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology, praised the committees' work, but said following through on their suggestions would take far more than $50 million. ''The fruits of their efforts will depend on the prompt appointment of a senior vice provost and the commitment of substantial resources going forward, beyond the down payment already promised," she said.

The reports by one task force that studied issues facing female faculty members in general and another that looked at women in science and engineering were focused on practical recommendations, not on an analysis of Harvard's mistakes. Still, there was an acknowledgement that much needs to change before women achieve equality on campus.

The two reports shared a common introduction, the first sentence of which declared that ''In spite of more than three decades of concern, Harvard has made only limited progress in its efforts to create a genuinely diverse faculty."

The task force on women in science and engineering said some departments, which it did not name, have particularly poor environments for women. ''Unfortunately, in some departments, women graduate students and postdoctoral fellows report hearing disrespectful criticism of their abilities from male colleagues and a lack of a supportive environment," the report said. ''The problem is especially acute in certain departments, where women are rare, isolated, and sometimes poorly supported. Urgent action is needed to improve the climate in many departments."

To do that, the task force recommended that departments hold formal orientations for all graduate students and informal community-building efforts such as dinners and retreats. It said junior faculty should all be assigned mentors.

The task force also said department chairs and search committee chairs are ''the two high-leverage points within the system for changing Harvard's success in the identification, recruitment, and retention of women and underrepresented minority faculty." It said Harvard should create a training program for those chairs as well as for senior administrators.

Among some of the ideas suggested for recruiting women and underrepresented minorities: having several search committee members and people outside the committees review the top female and minority applications to ''ensure that strong candidates are not overlooked for reasons of implicit bias"; maintaining lists of ''young scientists to watch"; and ensuring that women and minorities are included in every speaker series.

Before Summers's $50 million pledge, Harvard had a $25 million Outreach Fund for diversity hires. The task force on female faculty suggested that the administration strengthen that fund and divide it into two accounts, one for salary expenses and one for nonsalary expenses such as lab setup costs. Those accounts would be used to pay half the salary of a new hire who is a woman or underrepresented minority in cases where regular funding does not exist. For example, the department may not have an open position, or it may already have faculty with similar expertise.

The hires would still have to meet Harvard's usual standards. ''The appointment process will not change, and the evaluation of scholarly work will not change," said Evelynn M. Hammonds, a history of science professor and chairwoman of the task force on women faculty.

The task force noted that Harvard had ''a comparative weakness in collecting and tracking data" and said that it should follow the lead of such universities as Princeton, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in conducting surveys on whether ''an individual feels personally safe, listened to, valued, and treated fairly and with respect."

It said the results should be made public, along with other statistical data on representation of women at all levels of the university. The new senior vice provost would oversee data collection as well as the implementation of many of the task forces' other ideas.

The two reports make a myriad of recommendations on policies that would help women, from doing more to help the spouses of new hires find a job in Boston to expanding Harvard day care.

The science committee had numerous ideas to support students as well as faculty. It said Harvard should enhance its summer research opportunities and create study centers where older students would help younger peers with difficult introductory courses that often discourage students from majoring in science.

Nancy Hopkins, who has led MIT's efforts to improve the treatment of women, said she was ''enormously impressed" with the Harvard reports.

''We've been concentrating on the faculty pipeline, but they've gone back to the undergraduates, saying, 'let's connect the pieces of the pipeline,'" she said.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

'The appointment process will not change, and the evaluation of scholarly work will not change.' -- Evelynn M. Hammonds, Harvard professor and chairwoman of the task force on women faculty, says of the task forces
"The appointment process will not change, and the evaluation of scholarly work will not change." -- Evelynn M. Hammonds, Harvard professor and chairwoman of the task force on women faculty, says of the task forces
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