DeRuy: What are some of the things you talked about?
Napolitano: Personal relationships, movies, books, shopping, the press, things like that. It was just a chance to let our hair down, so to speak. I don’t have much hair to let down, but you get the picture.
DeRuy: I get the picture.
DeRuy: One of the criticisms of higher education is that women so often occupy adjunct positions that pay little and don’t lead to tenure and, importantly, aren’t a pipeline to leadership positions like yours at universities. Is that something you’re focused on at all or think needs to change?
Napolitano: I think in higher education today, there’s a growing use of what we would call “non-ladder-rank faculty,” so ladder rank are tenure-track and non-ladder rank are adjuncts, or they come with different labels. All can be very valuable to the student experience. We haven’t focused on that [trend] intensely in that way. What we have focused on is how do we diversify the faculty both with respect to women, particularly in some disciplines, and with respect to underrepresented minorities. And that’s a really tough issue. You look at colleges of engineering and there aren’t a lot of women on faculties. That’s one of the clearer examples. And so how do we make sure, when we’re searching for ladder-rank faculty, that we are being as inclusive as we can and that the search process is not infected with implicit bias and we end up with the most diverse faculty we can.
DeRuy: What are some of the challenges there?
Napolitano: Some is just numbers. There aren’t a huge number of women with Ph.D.s in engineering or some of the [science, technology, engineering, and math] disciplines, and there’s a lot of hiring going on in those areas. So we also have to be encouraging young women to go into those kinds of fields. And more of that will occur over time, but we need to be doing everything we can to push that trajectory along.
DeRuy: I wonder if some of it, too, may be that women are looking at work-life balance and saying, “Maybe I want to get married and have kids,” and they don't necessarily think it’s feasible to do both, and maybe they’ll take the adjunct route.
Napolitano: That could be happening with some. And academia is not unlike other professions where women’s childbearing years are also the same years that, say, if she’s an associate in a law firm, she’d be putting in the time necessary and billing the hours to become a partner. And so we need to be looking at arrangements where there’s a more appropriate way of letting women, or men for that matter, take time to raise their families and then get back on track. How you do that is an evolution that we’re all dealing with because you lose a lot of talent otherwise.
When I went to law school [at the University of Virginia], there was one tenured woman on the entire law-school faculty. And that’s very different now where I went and in most law schools, so it can happen and it doesn’t happen overnight, and I don’t think we can just sit back and say, well, demographics will take charge of that. You’ve got to find ways of eliminating implicit bias and make sure searches are inclusive and reach out to talent around the country to get the best and most diverse faculty you can.