March 30, 2007

Report from the Commission on the Status of Women:

Some Projects undertaken by Jean Howard, Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives


Over the last two and a half years Jean Howard’s office has worked to build a more diverse faculty and to create an institutional climate in which it is easier to retain the extraordinary faculty we hire. They have worked in three areas: (1) hiring and recruitment; (2) work life (how can we make it easier in a challenging city for faculty to do their academic work with the least strain on their personal lives?), and (3) faculty development (how can we help the careers of untenured faculty, in particular, to flourish?).

I. In regard to hiring and recruitment, they have instituted dinner meetings with chairs and search chairs to think together about the best practices for doing inclusive searches. At the same time they have used the hiring fund that the President and Provost made available for Arts and Sciences to hire some extraordinary faculty who, in a variety of ways, sustain and advance the diversity mission of the university. Last year they made ten appointments and assisted with four more. This year they have ten more appointments in various stages of development. These have involved departments such as Political Science, Psychology, DEES, Astronomy, Biology, Sociology, Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Spanish and Portuguese, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, and MEALAC. Going forward they are also tracking the race and gender breakdown of all offers made in Arts and Sciences departments and of acceptances that result from those offers so that they can see if Columbia continues to make progress over time. A number of studies have shown that diversity efforts only succeed when institutions remain committed to the difficult task of inclusive hiring in all parts of the university and over a sustained period of time. Columbia has made an excellent beginning in Arts and Sciences, but our demographics do not justify complacency.

II. Work-Life Efforts. In discussions with faculty about why searches fail, two issues have been brought up repeatedly. One concerns the lack of effective partner placement policies and programs; the other concerns the paucity and expense of child care. 

Consequently, this office, with the help of the faculty Diversity Committee and the Commission on the Status of Women, initiated a comprehensive assessment of our present child care resources and the unmet needs we have in that area. We employed Bright Horizons Consultancy to help with this study, and then a faculty-staff committee worked to winnow down the resulting recommendations. We are pleased to announce that the President and Provost have accepted four of the report’s main recommendations and that several other recommendations have been tabled for further consideration next year. 

First, we have successfully completed a search for the University’s first Associate Provost and Director of Work Life. She is Carol Hoffman, who comes to us from the University of California at Berkeley where she had a strong track record in developing child care opportunities for the university, along with faculty assistance programs and other initiatives. She was director there of a Sloan Foundation grant for work-life initiatives. She started work on February 22nd, and her office will be located on the fourth floor of Low Library. She will give direction to all our future work-life efforts, including oversight of child care initiatives.

The President and Provost also agreed to speedy implementation of the following three recommendations. Two of our existing affiliated child care centers, Tompkins Hall and Red Balloon, will be expanded to accommodate infants and toddlers. At the moment, our most pressing need is for spaces for our very youngest children. Over the course of the next two years, Tompkins Hall will get new spaces for approximately ten infants and seven or eight toddlers. Red Balloon will add a room that will accommodate from ten to twelve one to two-year olds. 

At the same time, Columbia will move to affiliate up to four new centers into our existing childcare network. These centers have been selected because of their proximity to campus, the high quality of the care they provide, and the fact that they have places for infants. Arrangements with these centers will also allow us to sequester a certain number of places for faculty who are hired late in the academic year after the regular admissions season is over. 

Finally, Columbia is about to finalize a program that will provide emergency back-up care for children and family members (including elderly parents) when regular care arrangements break down—when, for example, a nanny is sick, a snow day closes schools, or a child is mildly ill and must stay home from school. This program will be available to all non-union faculty and staff, to all Ph.D. students, and to all postdocs. It will provide from 80 to 100 hours of back-up care for each eligible member to use at highly subsidized rates: $4 for in-home care and $2 for center-based child care. It will be in place by fall of 2007. 

In an attempt to address the dual-career problem, Columbia has in the last year and a half taken the lead in constructing a comprehensive job bank for the greater New York and southern Connecticut region. The HERC (higher education recruitment consortium) is anchored by Columbia, Yale, and NYU but includes forty-two other institutions, all of whom will post all faculty and staff jobs on a common website making it possible for the partners of those whom Columbia wishes to hire easily to seek academic employment in the area. The HERC officially launched its website on February 22, 2007 and can be accessed at

III. Faculty Development. This year Jean Howard’s office has also begun to focus extensively on the supports Columbia gives to untenured faculty across the university. Focus groups with a number of these faculty suggest that not all of them are being given appropriate support before tenure. There is not always clarity about tenure expectations and processes, nor is there help with getting grants, building research networks, or using leaves in a canny fashion, etc. On March 23 Howard’s office ran a workshop for untenured faculty in Arts and Sciences that focused on different aspects of the pre-tenure years. At the same time, they used this event to gather more information about the experiences of untenured faculty and to find out from them the kinds of support that would be most useful during the pre-tenure years.

We are also gathering information from other peer universities about the kinds of support they give to untenured faculty in terms of faculty development and mentoring programs, and we will prepare a brief report by the end of the year making suggestions about what might work best at Columbia.

IV. Finally, Howard’s office regularly collects data on the diversity demographics of various parts of the university. An area of continuing concern is senior academic leadership. At the moment, for example, there are 11 university professors, only one of whom is a woman and two of whom are non-white. Of the thirteen school deans, only three are women and one is non-white. Of the twenty-eight department chairs in Arts and Sciences, only five are female and two are non-white. These numbers suggest a continuing need to diversity the leadership across the university. 

In regard to named chairs in the Arts and Sciences, we have found that across the board in all three divisions (humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences) a smaller proportion of women hold named chairs than do men, and a smaller proportion of faculty of color hold named chairs than do white faculty except in the humanities. As we move into a capital campaign in which many more named chairs are to be made available, we need to think carefully about distributing them in an inclusive fashion.