MIT Admits Gender Bias

If the female educators in the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have it rough, as a recent report concludes, what difficulties do the even more underrepresented women in the School of Engineering face?

The report, released by MIT earlier this spring, confirms what many women there have long suspected: that female professors in science fields are often the victims of subtle discrimination in many areas of their jobs. And while the study did not include faculty members in the School of Engineering, the numbers suggest that the problem there may be even worse. Women currently make up just 9.5 percent of the total faculty in engineering, compared to 11.7 percent in science.

For the moment, there are no hard answers to just how much worse-or better-female engineering educators have it. Dava Newman, an MIT associate professor in the School of Engineering and an ASEE member, says that the report "resonates" with her. "I have never been discriminated against [at MIT]," Newman says, but she notes that the report showed that junior faculty members tended to feel better-treated than women in senior positions, who felt increasingly marginalized.

The culmination of a five-year study, the report documents discrepancies in salary, access to space and resources, and inclusion in positions of power and responsibility, and concluded that "discrimination consists of a pattern of powerful but unrecognized assumptions and attitudes that work systematically against women faculty even in the light of obvious good will." The report does stress that MIT is no worse than other elite schools.

Newman considers the report "a real positive step forward. It takes a lot of character to admit the problems publicly."

MIT President Charles Vest intends to do more than just acknowledge the issues, and has vowed to work for a more diverse faculty. "Through our institutional commitment and policies we must redouble our efforts to make this a reality," Vest declares.

The full report is available at http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/Fnlwomen.htm .

-Ray Bert

National Medal Laureates Honored

medals President Clinton awarded National medals to the nation's top engineers, scientists, and technologists at the White House on April 27 as part of a two-day event honoring the 1998 laureates of the National Medals of Science and of Technology. National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell and Undersecretary for Technology Gary Bachula recognized the 16 individuals and two companies during a gala at the National Building Museum on April 26.

William Daley, U.S. secretary of Commerce; Neal Lane, assistant to the president for science and technology; George Rathmann, president of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation; and several members of Congress attended the museum gala, which included recognition of past  National Medal laureates.

This year's National Medal of Science laureates are:

  • Bruce N. Ames, University of California, Berkeley
  • Don L. Anderson, California Institute of Technology
  • John N. Bahcall, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
  • John W. Cahn, National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Cathleen Synge Morawetz, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
  • Janet D. Rowley, University of Chicago
  • Eli Ruckenstein, State University of New York at Buffalo
  • George M. Whitesides, Harvard University
  • William Julius Wilson, John F. Kennedy School of Government

This year's National Medal of Technology laureates are:

  • Denton A. Cooley, founder, president, and surgeon-in-chief, Texas Heart Institute
  • Kenneth L. Thompson, Bell Laboratories and Dennis M. Ritchie, Lucent Technologies
  • Robert T. Fraley, Robert B. Horsch, Ernest G. Jaworski, and Stephen G. Rogers, Monsanto Corporation
  • Biogen, Inc.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb

The National Medal of Science program is administered by the National Science Foundation and since 1962 has recognized 362 individuals for outstanding contributions to the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, and social and behavioral sciences. The Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy administers the National Medal of Technology program, and since 1985 has recognized 111 individuals and 10 companies who have made lasting contributions to enhancing U.S. competitiveness and the standard of living.

-Andrea Gabrick

Assessment Update

In an effort to bring Engineering Criteria 2000 to the grassroots level, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology recently launched a series of workshops to prepare faculty members for the new procedures.

The two-day Regional Faculty Workshops are designed to help faculty members acquire the confidence and skill to develop objectives, an assessment plan, and a feedback mechanism to meet EC2000 requirements.

Maryanne Weiss, ABET's director of education and information services, explains that the workshops will be hands-on and activity-based, and will produce case studies and examples highlighting different university and college missions and program objectives.

"The key to a successful paradigm shift is the support of the faculty," Weiss explains.

"They must be comfortable with the process.

"Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, four workshops will be held each year for three years at several locations around the country, and hosted by major industry partners.

ABET will invite engineering deans to send two faculty members to the workshop in their area. For more information, contact ABET's  Education & Information Services office, (410) 347-7730; e-mail: eandis@abet.org ; or see www.abet.org.

-Vicky Hendley


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