Campus & Community

Harvard University announces Task Forces on Women Faculty and Women in Science and Engineering

4 min read

Recent public discussion about women and science has brought renewed attention to long-standing issues concerning the representation of women in the faculty ranks at Harvard and in other top research universities. In response, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers has announced the establishment of two University-wide task forces to develop concrete proposals to reduce barriers to the advancement of women faculty at Harvard and in academic careers more broadly.

“I have long been aware of the many challenges women face in pursuing academic careers, but in the past several weeks the nature and extent of these challenges have been made particularly vivid to me,” said President Summers. “It is time for Harvard to step up and affirm in strong and concrete terms its commitment to the advancement and support of women pursuing academic careers. With that in mind, I have asked Drew Faust, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and Lincoln Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, to join with me and Provost Steven Hyman in taking the lead on these efforts.”

Harvard is establishing two University-wide task forces to address different dimensions of the problem.

  • The Task Force on Women Faculty will be charged with making recommendations for a series of specific institutional measures – including the creation of a new, senior position at the center of the University – to strengthen the recruitment, support, and advancement of outstanding women faculty in the University.
  • The Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering will analyze and make recommendations concerning effective ways to build and sustain the “pipeline” of women pursuing academic careers in science, from undergraduate studies to graduate and postdoctoral work to advancement through faculty ranks.

The task forces will coordinate their work closely with respect to faculty issues, with the second task force paying particular attention to the distinctive challenges faced by women faculty in science and engineering fields. For both task forces, the examination of issues relating to women faculty will include attention to the particular challenges and barriers faced by minority women pursuing academic careers.

“This is a moment of great opportunity for Harvard,” said Radcliffe Dean Drew Faust. “These task forces will focus on action. They will propose specific measures that can make a significant difference for women at the University. Harvard seeks to lead in every academic and professional field. Our new initiatives are dedicated to making Harvard a leader in advancing the careers of women faculty by offering strong support for their talents and aspirations and eliminating barriers to women’s fullest achievement.”

The task forces will include junior and senior faculty members from across the University and will be asked to complete their work within this academic year. While careful analysis and thoughtful deliberation will be required to ensure that the University adopts approaches that are effective and durable, it is hoped that the task forces will complete their work by the end of the 2004-05 academic year, and that their recommendations may be considered for implementation in time for the beginning of the 2005-06 academic year, or sooner if practicable.

The Task Forces will begin meeting next week and will reach out in a variety of ways to students, faculty, and staff to make sure that their work is informed by the experience and expertise of the wider University community. They will also consider the many prior studies of issues relating to women in academic careers and fields conducted at Harvard and other universities. The task forces welcome communications at (Task Force on Women Faculty) and (Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering).

The task forces are expected to complete their work by May 1, 2005, so that recommended measures may be implemented by the beginning of the next academic year. In addition, recommendations will be considered, as appropriate, for immediate implementation as they emerge throughout the spring.