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Education: Some local universities falling behind in hiring of women

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For decades, women have grabbed a bigger and bigger share of the degrees given out by institutions of higher education. But getting a job at those same universities has been a different story.

"Women face more obstacles as faculty in higher education than they do as managers and directors in corporate America," states a 2006 report on gender equity that was co-authored by Martha West, a professor emeritus of law at the University of California Davis School of Law.

West's report found that community colleges were the only institutions of higher education where on the whole there exists "equity between men and women in terms of total faculty composition" despite "decades of high enrollments of women in most Ph.D. fields."

Pittsburgh's schools are a mixed bag of gender representation. The University of Pittsburgh -- with women making up 37.8 percent of full-time faculty -- was ahead of the national average for public doctoral universities by almost 3.5 points.

Carnegie Mellon University was behind the average for private doctoral universities (31.9 percent), with a faculty that was 25 percent women in full-time positions.

But West says it's more important to look at what percentage of "tenure-track" faculty members are women, which she says is the best indicator of recent hires. Both schools had percentages that were below the percentage of students receiving doctoral degrees who were women, according to West -- although Pitt was 8 percentage points higher than CMU.

Duquesne University, while showing a higher percentage of women in full-time positions than Pitt or CMU, trailed the national average for master's-degree religious universities by 3 percentage points, with a full-time faculty that was 40.3 percent female. Carlow University -- a women-centered, religious university -- smashed that average with more than 70 percent of its full-time faculty being women.

Robert Morris, Chatham and Point Park universities were not included in the survey. The Community College of Allegheny County's full-time faculty was listed at 46.4 percent female; the national average for private associate's-degree colleges was 51 percent.

These figures can be tricky, though, because a number of variables can affect this data, such as differing levels of female participation in various fields.

Everett Tademy, CMU's assistant vice president for diversity and equal-opportunity services, points out that the school focuses on a number of fields where there are generally fewer female applicants. "I'm not saying that we can't do better," he says. "I'm saying that there are restraints."

Tademy admits the increase in diversity has "been glacial.

"I'm not going to lie about that," he adds. "But it's been steady; it's been intentional; it's been something that university focuses on."

As a sign of that growth, Tademy says that the percentage of research-track faculty who are women is "up to 30 percent," whereas in 1997, it was closer to 10 percent.

In terms of across-the-board faculty, CMU has higher percentages of women than do such similar schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the full-time faculty was 21.1 percent female, according to West's data.

Lenore Blum, a distinguished career professor of computer science at CMU, also says that Carnegie Mellon has the largest percentage of women in computer science of "any of the major" comp-sci schools in the country.

In a field that is statistically heavy on Y chromosomes, Blum says CMU's comp-sci program has reached a ratio where about 1 in 4 students is female. "It's not 50 percent," she concedes. She adds, "but it's not 5 percent."

Blum says that in the '90s, 5 to 7 percent of computer-science majors were women. "If you were a woman," she says, "you were one of five or six in your class. ... Your roommate probably wasn't a computer-science major."

Partially inspired by this, Blum says, the dean at the time made a decision to look for students with "broader interests" than simply programming -- which resulted in more female applicants, as well as a wider range of male applicants. The weight given to prior programming experience was lessened.

"We didn't change our curriculum," Blum says. And, "there's no way that we lowered standards ... but we looked at different things as important."

On the other side of Oakland, Patricia Beeson, Pitt's vice provost for undergraduate and graduate studies, says that Pitt, too, has made strides toward greater representation of women, even if disparities still exist.

In terms of salary, West's report shows that female faculty members at Pitt make about 75 cents to every male dollar. But Beeson explains that "women [at Pitt] tend to be more recent hires. And they tend to be more concentrated in the disciplines where nationally the salary isn't as high," such as nursing.

Beeson says the administration looks at that data by comparing faculty members in similar departments and similar ranks, and comes up with a picture that is more balanced.

Recently, the University of Pittsburgh extended from two weeks to four its paid-time-off period for faculty with newborns or new adoptions. (Leave is available for both men and women.)

As the chair of Pitt's Provost Advisory Committee on Women's Concerns, Beeson says that the university is focused on addressing issues like parental leave, campus safety and faculty mentoring mostly because it will improve the caliber of the applicant pool for university positions.

"We haven't set targets or anything like that," she says. "The things that we're doing, it's just good practice to hire the best person, whether it's a man or a woman."

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