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Myra Strober: Other institutions better at recruiting

STANFORD -- Why is Stanford near the bottom of the pack of 21 top universities in recruitment and retention of women faculty?

Myra Strober, professor and associate dean of education, attributes the low figures not to cultural differences unique to Stanford but to greater recruiting efforts at other institutions.

For the last year, Strober chaired the Provost's Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of Women Faculty, which gathered mounds of statistical and interview data in the process of developing recommendations for ways Stanford could improve its record.

Despite the fact that Stanford had women students from the beginning, Strober and her committee found that in women faculty the university now lags behind several prominent institutions that were male-only until recent decades, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth.

Stanford ranked 16th among the 21 Ivy League, Pacific 10 and other peer institutions (Cal Tech, University of Chicago and MIT) in 1976-77 in the percentage of women on its faculty, then dropped to 19th place in 1982-83, where it has remained ever since.

The higher numbers at other schools cannot be attributed to lower recruiting standards, Strober said.

"No one would accuse Yale of not trying to hire the best in the world," she said. "We just are not doing as well as we could.

"Stanford paid less attention to affirmative action issues for faculty in the 1980s than it had in the 1970s" when Professor Arthur Bienenstock served as vice provost for faculty affairs.

"Partly that was due to Artie's personal success and his ability to persuade people, and partly to the political climate of the time," Strober said.

When Bienenstock returned to teaching, his faculty affirmative action position was eliminated. Provost Condoleezza Rice has announced her intention to appoint a vice provost with similar duties.

Rice's interest in focusing faculty hires at the junior level will go far in helping, Strober said. More women are available at the junior level because greater numbers are earning doctorates.

And, Strober said, "at the junior level, people are willing to take a chance."

"The next step," she said, "will be to make sure they are appropriately mentored and supported so that when it's time for the tenure decision, they will succeed."

Mentoring junior faculty

One view is that those who do not get tenure simply did not deserve it - that junior faculty either make or break their own careers, and the role of the department is to sit back and watch.

Many on the committee did not agree with this view, Strober said.

"Most people who are brought here as junior faculty are extremely promising, but they need mentoring by their departments," she said.

Biological sciences carefully mentors its junior faculty, she said, without harm to its reputation for quality.

"What we're talking about is the need for a variety of mentoring," such as recommending junior faculty to present papers at meetings or recommending that they be coauthors on review articles or simply following through on a request to review a paper, Strober said.

Strober praised President Gerhard Casper and Provost Rice for staging a recent orientation meeting for department chairs and academic associate deans. The basic message, Strober said, was "you may not like to think of yourself as a manager but you are one, and part of your job description is to bring along your junior faculty."

"By and large, faculties are not concerned with this unless they are taught to be concerned and university leaders tell them that part of the reward system is to be concerned about it," Strober said.

A wide net in recruiting

Department chairs have a key role to play providing leadership and educating their faculties about the need to "extend the net very wide" to find women and minorities who might qualify for faculty appointments.

However, schools and departments also have to take account of what is possible, Strober said. Fields vary enormously in the diversity of their doctoral candidates, and this raises the issue of how to recruit more women and minority graduate students.

In recent years, Stanford's civil engineering and electrical engineering departments hired women faculty at more than three times their ratio in the national pool, while several departments with large numbers of female undergraduates and large pools of women earning doctorates fell far short of an even ratio.

Part of the difficulty in recruiting women, Strober said, is that a higher proportion of women than men are working on feminist-related studies, which established faculties in humanities and social sciences may see as political and trendy.

"In many disciplines, feminist studies are now cutting edge - some of the most interesting work that is going on," Strober said. "So we miss out on very talented women who are doing exciting work."

The issue also comes up with scholars studying race and class issues, she said.

During its interviews, the committee heard several accounts of sexual harassment. Strober said that the harassment "made it extremely difficult for these women to function at the level they needed to in order to get tenure." The harassment ranged from quid pro quo to what the Supreme Court recently labeled "hostile environment."

The committee heard from women that many department chairs knew nothing about Stanford's maternity leave policy. Also, many pregnant women faculty had to find their own replacement, which Strober called an "untenable situation."

The committee recommended a review of Stanford's maternity leave policy, and Strober already has sent that section of her report to history Professor Judith Brown, who heads the Committee on Faculty-Staff Benefits.

Turning around the situation

The committee's most important recommendation, in Strober's view, relates to salary equity. Scatterplots for full professors show that many women's salaries are lower than those of equally experienced men.

"If you want to keep your best women, you've got to pay them like you pay men," she said. "If you want to attract women, they have to know Stanford is a place were women get fair and square salaries."

Stanford also must be more creative helping place spouses in jobs either at Stanford or in the community, Strober said.

Some faculty have left Stanford because they could not find jobs in the area to accommodate their spouses, she said. Some of Stanford's best success stories in recruiting women occurred because departments worked hard to help the partner find employment, she said.

Looking to the future, how will Strober measure her committee's success?

The percentage of women on the faculty will be a clear indication. Another is the salary equity issue. "I would like those scatterplots next year to look a lot different than they did last year."

Another measure will be to interview a group of junior faculty three or four years from now and "hear them say they find this a most supportive place in which to do their work."

The 73-page final report omits numerous quotes collected from women and men who participated in focus groups and in telephone interviews and had been promised anonymity. Though the quotations were anonymous, several deans and other officials expressed concern that individuals were identifiable.

Several copies of an earlier version of the report containing the quotations slipped into circulation and some quotes have been published in the Stanford Daily and other newspapers.

Some of those quoted said they had been identified by others from those quotes, contrary to assurances they had been given of anonymity. Strober said she understood the desire to protect individual identities.



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