Harvard Held Up

Women have never had an easy time getting the men who run Harvard to take them seriously. The gender war once centered on such antiquities as male-only dining halls and library stacks. Today the battleground is Harvard's pathetic number of tenured women--one of the nation's worst records. For eight years, the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard--an independent group of Radcliffe alumnae--blanketed the school with polite reports and even more polite complaints. Now the members have decided. to take off their white gloves and fight with hard cash.

The target of the '90s: president Neil Rudenstine's signature $2 billion capital campaign. A few weeks ago committee leaders asked about 40,000 alumni of Harvard-Radcliffe (the two merged in 1977) to boycott the fund, donating dollars instead to an escrow account. The committee promises to hold the gifts hostage until Harvard gets its act together and hires more women.

No one, not even Harvard administrators, doubt the Harvard-Radcliffe alumni have a point. Nationwide, tenured faculties are on average 23 percent female, but only 11 percent of Harvard's are women. Of the Ivies, only Yale has a lower figure, at about 10 percent. In addition, at Harvard most women are in junior faculty positions-which means they will never be considered for tenure. Says committee chair Peggy Schmertzler (Radcliffe '53): "They are trying but what they are doing is inadequate."

But it's not all Harvard's fault, says assistant dean Joseph McCarthy. Female candidates tend to turn down jobs that require moving their families, he argues. And last year six out of 18 tenure spots went to women--a school record. Even so, the committee calculates that Harvard has averaged only one woman for every 250 positions over the last 24 years. At that rate it will take up to 80 years before the faculty looks truly co-ed.

Loyal donors: Nationwide, women are formidable donors. All-female schools topped last year's list of the most generous alumni. A few years ago Wellesley College broke fund-raising records for a liberal-arts institution, collecting $167 million over five years. In 1990 alone, its alumni gave twice as much per student as Princeton's and Stanford's (males and females). Last year, $8 percent of Harvard's women gave to Radcliffe's alumnae fund, even though all have the option of giving just to Harvard.

Despite their financial clout, it may be too late for the protesters to poke holes into Harvard's biggest-ever fund drive. With four years left, the university has already raised close to half its goal. If the cash leverage doesn't work, the women say they're just going to have to escalate. "The point is," says Schmertzler, '"we're not going away."

Harvard Held Up | News