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June 29, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Guest Opinion: Gender matters a lot at Stanford Guest Opinion: Gender matters a lot at Stanford (June 29, 2005)

by Deborah L. Rhode

As a Stanford faculty member who has spent the last quarter century in teaching and research on gender bias, I hope that I would know if these problems were alive and well on my own campus.

In case that was the message that anyone took from reading the Weekly's recent column on sex-discrimination complaints against the university, I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight.

For the past four years, I have chaired Stanford's Gender Equity Panel and the committee on women faculty that preceded it. No one with my background would have been appointed to those positions -- or would have accepted the appointments -- if the university administration did not have a deep commitment to gender equity.

Yet the column made no reference to this commitment, or to the tangible actions that have resulted from it. Four years of hard work by many dedicated Stanford faculty and administrators deserve better.

Part of that work has involved a comprehensive review of compensation and resource data, recruitment and retention practices, and results from a quality of life survey of the entire university faculty. Among the relevant findings:

* Close to 70 percent of women, and the same percentage of men, are satisfied with their professional life.

* Over the past 25 years, women and men at Stanford have earned tenure at the same rate.

* No significant gender difference emerged in the vast majority of forms of compensation and research support when controlled for relevant factors such as position and seniority.

* By almost all measures, Stanford is doing as well as -- or better than -- its peer universities in the representation and leadership of women faculty. The representation of women faculty members has risen over the last decade from 17 percent to 23 percent. Women are well represented in leadership positions, including three of the deanships of Stanford's seven schools, 29 percent of associate deanships and 24 percent of its department chairs.

* The university has been abundantly clear about its support for a diverse faculty and its intolerance for discrimination of any type. The president and provost are implementing all of the committee's recommendations to improve the status of women, and the dean of the Medical School has created a new position of senior associate dean for diversity and leadership.

None of this is meant to deny that some equity and climate issues remain. Stanford shares the challenges of higher education -- and our society generally -- in addressing the legacy of centuries of gender bias.

In some parts of the university, as in virtually all elite professions, women remain under-represented at the top and over-represented at lower levels in terms of income and status. Women constitute only 17 percent of tenured faculty and women of color only 5 percent of all faculty.

Compared with their male colleagues, female faculty report greater difficulty reconciling family and professional responsibilities, more experiences of bias and marginalization, and more concerns regarding childcare.

These problems are not unique to Stanford. What is distinctive, however, is the university's commitment to meaningful responses. That commitment should not be taken for granted, as the recent firestorm at Harvard reminds us.

There, President Larry Summers triggered a torrent of protest with his ill-considered speculations about women's "intrinsic" inferiority in math and science. These comments followed a dismal record on issues regarding women faculty that Harvard is now belatedly attempting to reverse.

When that controversy erupted, I sent Stanford President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy a note saying, "I'm glad we have you guys."

The women I know at Stanford feel the same.

Deborah L. Rhode is professor of law and director of the Center on Ethics and chair of Stanford's panel on Gender Equity and Quality of Life. She can be e-mailed c/o

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