In 1999, MIT pioneered a breakthrough study on gender inequality that spurred colleges nationwide to fight discrimination in academia. Now, the latest MIT follow up report to that original study has arrived (PDF), and though it reports significant progress, The New York Times observes that a new problem has arisen: "Those who once bemoaned M.I.T.’s lag in recruiting women now worry about what one called 'too much effort to recruit women.'"
According to MIT's report, since the 1999 study the "number of women faculty in the School of Science has almost doubled, with women faculty in multiple senior administrative positions," and "more equitable" salary and resource distribution among faculty. These sweeping advances are noted with the caveats that the institution would like to rethink committee composition and enhance training for faculty mentors. (The reason for more equally distributing service on committees, the Times writes, is that since there are still fewer female faculty members, women are losing valuable research time by serving on these committees.)
Now, though, MIT has to confront some other negative perceptions: namely, the idea that women have an unfair advantage in applying for positions. "One concern centers on faculty search procedures, which necessarily attempt to identify and eliminate biases in the search process," the report says (via USA Today). "This procedure can lead to the perception that women faculty are unfairly hired, and later, to the incorrect perception that standards of hiring and promotion are lower for women faculty. These misperceptions can erode the confidence of women faculty."
The Times quotes several faculty who attempt to debunk the notion that women are being favored. "No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained," Professor Marc A. Kastner, dean of the School of Science said to the newspaper. In assessing the report, Jezebel's Anna North succinctly summarized the new problems facing females in academia:
MIT may have doubled its number of female professors, but it seems it still has faculty and students whose image of a 'real' scientist is male...Kastner's right that the university also needs help from the country as a whole, which still tends to cling to the beliefs that women can't do science, and — more broadly and damagingly — that the old systems that favored white men over any other group were actually fair.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.