“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” However, whoever is guiding that education is as important as the education itself. Female teachers have a significant positive impacts on their female students, so much so that it can change the course of their academic futures. The dearth of female faculty at Princeton is preventing this guidance from occurring, reinforcing the pattern of male academic dominance.
The first female faculty member was hired to teach at Princeton in the late 1920s, but the pace of change towards increased gender parity among faculty since then has been glacial. Of the 1,252 faculty members, 405 are women — 32 percent. Only a quarter of the full professors are women. Of the 952 tenured faculty members, 162 are women — 19 percent. The trends at Princeton are not anomalous — in 2013, 28 percent of full professors at four-year colleges were female, and Princeton ranked sixth out of 12 of the highest ranked universities for gender parity in hiring.
The situation is even worse for women of color. Although there are not concrete statistics available regarding women, Black and Hispanic faculty combined make up 5 percent of the full professors. Given the already small population of women, it seems apparent that Black and Hispanic female professors constitute an incredibly small minority among Princeton’s faculty.
Not only is this absence a problem for women’s equality, but the lack of women among Princeton’s faculty perpetuates inequality in perpetuity by ignoring or underserving potential future female professors among the undergraduate population. In a study performed out of University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Nilanjana Dasgupta found that female undergraduates in engineering who were assigned a female mentor felt “more motivated, more self-assured, and less anxious than those who had either no mentor or a male one.” Not only were these students less likely to drop out of their courses, but they were also more likely to pursue engineering jobs post-graduation. Dasgupta saw that “having a female mentor [hadn’t] increased belonging or confidence — it just preserved it.” Having male mentors had varying effects on the female students; some saw similar results to the students with female mentors, some saw no effects, and some saw increased anxiety and insecurity.
The study essentially confirmed the adage that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” And the dearth of female faculty at Princeton blinds a lot of students. Women comprise 49 percent of Princeton’s undergraduate population, and the research suggests that those students would benefit from female mentors among the people teaching them. However, there are simply not enough female professors, and connecting with them is often difficult. Female students note that having semesters without a single female professor or preceptor is common, and the situation is worse in STEM courses.
While Princeton women will obviously be able to find female mentors or persevere and succeed without them, there are countless women who may have fallen through the cracks because they couldn’t access the resources they needed. Because female mentors increase a female student’s likelihood of pursuing a career in a given field, it can persuasively be argued that the small number of female professors leads to an absence of female professors in the future; without mentors, Princeton students are less likely to continue studying or working in fields like engineering after college, meaning they won’t be on track to become professors themselves. By not hiring more female faculty, Princeton is essentially ensuring that gender disparity on campus will continue for the next generation.
Some meetings and conferences have been held regarding this issue, but Princeton needs to make a concerted effort to hire more female faculty. Efforts can be made to advertise and recruit in publications and at conferences geared towards female academics. In 2013, the Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity released a Report on Diversity that outlined suggestions for improving diversity at Princeton. The report emphasized departmental responsibility, or trusting academic departments to “know best how to diversify … in their own area.” While some departments, such as molecular biology, have initiated pointed efforts to encourage diversity in doctoral programs through specific resource allocation and outreach programming. However, the level of effort has been inconsistent among departments, and the other recommendations of the committee have not yet seen widespread implementation. High quality affinity-based support networks need to be more visible and available for undergrads and graduate students (Princeton Women in Economics and Policy is one example, as its events are attended by both groups).
The school needs to foster an environment that is open and safe for female students and faculty; the failure to fire electrical engineering professor Verdú after his sexual misconduct does not suggest a campus culture that is conducive to female success. The Trustee Report emphasizes the importance of “strong mechanisms to address bias, harassment, and discrimination,” but Princeton and some individual departments have yet to implement new standards.
Ways to keep track of upcoming scholars from diverse backgrounds are also needed. Encouraging students as they come down the pipeline would ensure a higher retention rate. This could be achieved through the creation of watch lists or tracking systems for interesting scholars throughout their careers. Academic hiring often relies on personal networks; while the Office of the Dean of the Faculty has exerted more influence over short lists for job openings, this oversight must continue to increase. Female associate professors and potential hires considering relocation cite fears about Princeton’s acceptance of family concerns. More support is needed for female faculty if family responsibilities increase, and a culture of understanding is necessary.
The Target of Opportunity Committee exists to provide “incentives to departments to identify potential faculty who will diversify the campus.” The Committee is well-funded, but knowledge about the resources they offer is low and the Committee is underutilized across campus. Wider visibility for these resources would also help to increase diversity, as the departments must take initiative to improve their hiring practices. All of these changes would benefit women of color, who suffer even more from a sense of isolation and lack of support.
In order to provide for a more equitable future, it is imperative that Princeton defy trends and increase the number of female professors teaching on campus through wider implementation of diversity initiatives and efforts to improve a culture that is not necessarily receptive to female faculty. If not, the quality of academic thought will continue to wither due to the brain drain from the other half of the population.
Madeleine Marr is a first-year from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.