Cambridge, Mass. The heads of nine leading research universities have issued a statement acknowledging that female professors in science and engineering still face significant barriers because of gender.
The university leaders, who gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a workshop on gender equity, promised to work to build faculties that better reflect the diversity of their students.
"Institutions of higher education have an obligation, both for themselves and for the nation, to fully develop and utilize all the creative talent available," they said in a statement issued after Monday's workshop. "We recognize that barriers still exist to the full participation of women in science and engineering."
The university leaders also agreed to analyze the salaries and resources provided to their female faculty members, and said they would gather again in about a year to discuss their progress.
Approving the statement were the presidents of MIT, California Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Princeton University, Stanford University and Yale University; the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley; and provosts representing Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.
"We recognize that this challenge will require significant review of, and potentially significant change in, the procedures within each university, and the scientific and engineering establishment as a whole," the statement said.
MIT President Charles Vest shook the university community in 1999 when he publicly acknowledged that gender discrimination existed within his university's faculty.
He was prompted by a five-year study led by MIT molecular biologist Nancy Hopkins. That study found, among other things, women in the School of Science had lower salaries and less office space than their male counterparts.
MIT has since raised women's salaries and increased research money and lab space for female faculty. The school received a $500,000 grant last year from the Ford Foundation to promote similar efforts.
"There have been hundreds of reports just like MIT's, collecting dust," Hopkins said after the new statement was issued. "I thought it (the statement) was a milestone that never could happen in my lifetime."
Howard Georgi, a Harvard physics professor, said the problems at Harvard may be different than MIT's but no less severe.
"If we reach agreement on this problem here, it will have an enormous impact everywhere in the country," Georgi said.