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Keohane offers data on gender

An update from the Women's Initiative Steering Committee revealed that the percentage of female assistant professors in Arts and Sciences has remained stagnant over the last 10 years, causing concern among faculty members at Thursday's meeting of the Academic Council.

The number of female assistant professors has hovered between 30 and 40 percent since 1991, and currently stands at 30.2 percent, according to data from the Office of the Provost.

Susan Roth, special assistant to the provost and a member of the steering committee, said the stagnation is not part of a national trend.

"It was a big surprise, I think, to everybody," she said.

It is unclear why no progress has been made on the assistant professor gender gap, but data suggests that the problem does not stem directly from inequities in doctoral or fellowship programs.

"There is a clear problem here if women are represented all the way up through the Ph.D., and then the cliff drops off," said President Nan Keohane, steering committee chair.

Provost Peter Lange also doubted that the stagnation is due to a general decrease in the female applicant pool, which he said would show up in national trends.

Despite failure to improve female representation among assistant professors, the typical entry-level position into the academy, the report included more positive data regarding other professor ranks.

"There has been improvement, thankfully, across the schools [except Nursing] over time in the percent of women at both the associate and full levels," Roth said.

Additionally, there is no evidence of salary inequity on the basis of gender, nor bias in rates of successful promotion to full professor or in an academic unit's negative votes for tenure.

However, women tend to wait longer than men to be promoted from associate to full professor - 6.3 years for women, five years for men - and are denied tenure 19 percent of the time, compared to 12 percent for men.

The Women's Initiative began last winter when Keohane began a series of informal conversations with faculty members and others about women's issues at the University. She eventually organized the steering committee to provide a comprehensive look at the state of women at Duke.

By chairing the committee herself and enlisting the services of a variety of high-powered campus leaders, Keohane said she intended to ensure that policy changes endure well beyond the committee's expiration this June.

"We do not want this to be the 'Year of the Woman,' then next year we'll go on to something else," she said.

The committee will address policy on child care, parental leave and employment issues in the spring. In addition, Keohane said the committee may attempt to address conformity among female undergraduates by working with sorority leaders and expanding positive programming for women.

"There are good things to celebrate. We're trying to figure out what those are and make those more common," she said, citing Project B.U.I.L.D. and geology field trips as examples of positive experiences that female students have enjoyed.

Some faculty members questioned the committee's decision to conduct focus group studies with almost exclusively women, arguing that male voices are necessary for a full study of women's issues. Roth acknowledged this point but said time constraints prevented more male involvement.

IN OTHER BUSINESS: Completing a major restructuring of the faculty's role in University governance and decision-making, the Academic Council voted to establish the University Priorities Committee and the Academic Programs Committee. The proposal passed unanimously and without debate.

Professor Emeritus of Zoology Donald Fluke was elected secretary of the Academic Council, and Professor Emeritus of Physics Lawrence Evans was re-elected editor of the Faculty Forum.

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