WASHINGTON – Kim Gandy,president of the National Organization for Women,graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in mathematics more than 30 years ago without ever having a female professor or teaching assistant in her major.
Three decades later,Laura Lopez,senior physics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,said she has never had a female teacher in the 26 math and physics classes she has taken.
“There are six females in the physics department out of about 80 total,” Lopez said. “They exist,but I haven't seen them.”
Researchers and educators Thursday called for universities and colleges to hire more women and minorities as professors and said qualified women are available.
A new report,“A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities” by Donna Nelson and Diana Rogers,says the lack of female faculty at colleges denies young women the chance to meet role models.
Nelson is an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma,and Rogers is one of her students. They surveyed the top 50 universities in each of 14 science and engineering disciplines.
“If you could land a man on the moon in 1969,why can't we develop and take advantage of all the science and engineering talent of way over 50 percent of our population – that is women and minorities?” asked Mae Jemison,a professor-at-large at Cornell University and the first woman of color to go into space as an astronaut.
Jemison said the answer to that question is that the nation has not made it a priority.
“Our Department of Education,Department of Labor,our Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,the Justice Department – where are they?” asked Marcia Greenberger,founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center. “Given how shocking these numbers still are … it is clear not only that they should do more,they must do more.”
The report says that the “top 50” computer science departments at research universities have no black,Hispanic or American Indian tenured or tenure track women faculty members.
Across all science disciplines,women hold from 3 percent to 15 percent of full professorships. Women are available,the report argues – the percent of women in most disciplines earning doctorates is higher than their representation among new faculty members.
Women earned nearly 45 percent of doctorates in the biological sciences between 1993 and 2002 but held 30 percent of entry-level assistant professor's jobs in 2002 and made up about 20 percent of the faculty overall.
The report says women tend to be concentrated at the lower academic ranks,something that has not changed in 30 years.
Congress also needs to act,Greenberger said,vowing to hold the government accountable.
“When women are not being encouraged by their universities and not being advanced through the ranks,it's understandable that they will go elsewhere to seek opportunities,” Gandy said.
Women need to be held to the same standards as men,said Jacqueline Woods,executive director of the American Association of University Women,even though they are often discriminated against in the science and engineering workforce.
“There is a need to create a ‘gender-intelligence environment' that looks at both men and women as capable of being strong in science and engineering,” Woods said.
Jemison said it is important to start science education early and that students should be leaving high school “science literate.”
“It doesn't require us to be able to solve linear differential equations,recount the structure of DNA … but rather the baseline level of knowledge and skills that allow high school students to read a daily newspaper with information about health care,the environment and computers and to understand what it means to them and their family,” Jemison said. “That's not an unreasonable expectation in 2004,but it's one that really remains unfilled.”
Lopez,a Barrington,Ill.,native,said she has known what she wanted to study since she was 10 years old.
“In fifth grade my teacher took us on a retreat to Wisconsin,” Lopez said. “We went stargazing,and now I'm studying astrophysics.”
After graduating from MIT,Lopez hopes to earn a doctorate in astronomy.
Jemison said change is needed in the way science is taught. And she said businesses,corporations,government agencies and school boards need to take advantage of their partnerships to keep offering programs that interest and advance women and minorities in science and engineering.
“I think we need to wage a war on science literacy the same way we have a war on drugs and a war on terrorism,” Jemison said. “If we make advances in science literacy,we will of course make advances in all those other areas.”