Conference focuses on ‘Women and Men in the Globalizing University’

The role that gender plays at institutions of higher education throughout the world was the focus of a conference held on campus last month.

The role that gender plays at institutions of higher education throughout the world was the focus of a conference held on campus last month.

The event began the day before — and was held in conjunction with — the third annual meeting of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), which brought together 10 university presidents from around the world at Yale to discuss common challenges.

The conference, titled “Women and Men in the Globalizing University,” had been authorized by the IARU presidents and continued a conversation on this topic that began at the first such workshop at Cambridge University in 2006.

About 80 Yale faculty members and administrators joined representatives from each of the 10 IARU member universities and experts from other institutions and foundations devoted to education at the conference, held on April 21 in the General Motors Room of Horchow Hall.

Launched in January 2006, IARU is a cooperative endeavor among research-intensive institutions that have agreed to participate in conferences, student and faculty exchanges, joint and/or dual degree programs and summer internships. In addition to Yale, its members include the Australia National University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University of Copenhagen, ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), the National University of Singapore, Peking University and the University of Tokyo.

“Women and Men in the Globalizing University” explored four major themes: how universities can improve the numbers of, and positions held by, women in their ranks; what tools for data collection and analysis can be used by universities to assess their progress; the relationship between the twin aspirations for equality and excellence in the academy; and how globalization affects these issues.

In the first session, titled “Engendering Self-Knowledge: Mapping Gender in University Data,” the group assessed quantitative and qualitative methods for collecting data about the numbers of and positions held by women and men in universities. Having learned at their 2006 meeting that collection and provision of information varied greatly across the IARU schools, they discussed the challenges of creating internationally comparable datasets and the possibility of an alliance-wide data collection initiative. Participants agreed that collection of this kind of data is essential in order to design targeted interventions to integrate women more fully into the academy.

The second session focused on university and governmental policy interventions that aim to improve the representation and advancement of women in universities, particularly in the sciences. The program — titled “Intervening: What Works, What Doesn’t and How Do We Know?” — addressed ways to measure the effectiveness of such interventions, identified programs that had been successful and considered the transportability of such initiatives within and across nations and to women and men in other fields.

In the third session, “Equality and Excellence in the Globalizing University,” the group turned to the overarching question of what a robust commitment to equality looks like in a global research university, and asked how barriers, representation and attention to gender in scholarship change as universities, students and faculty cross national and disciplinary borders. They also explored how other trends in higher education (such as standardization and competition) impact aspirations for women and men to be full participants in universities.

The group concluded the afternoon with reflections on what roles IARU could play in enabling its member universities to explore how gender affects them and with setting an agenda for the future.

By the end of the day, several proposals had been drafted to present to the IARU presidents, who were meeting the next morning to begin their own two-day program. The assembled leaders of all 10 universities were enthusiastic about the group’s work and agreed to support several proposals for future IARU collaboration.

The first key proposal commits each school to gather and share detailed statistical data. At the conference, Marc Goulden, director of Data Initiatives for Academic Affairs at the University of California at Berkeley and co-author of the “Do Babies Matter?” research project, shared prototypes of the data that each institution could collect, tracking the gender, race and nationality of students and faculty at all ranks. Each IARU president agreed to appoint someone to gather this data at his or her university, and each institution pledged that whatever data they gathered would be shared among the members.

“We will use the University of California at Berkeley’s data as a benchmark so that we can make comparisons across the six countries of IARU,” said Kate Pretty, principal of Homerton College at the University of Cambridge. She is also one of Cambridge’s five pro-vice-chancellors, with special responsibilities for outreach, life-long learning and international strategy as well as overseeing the university’s museums and libraries.

“We will look at patterns of gender on every level, from undergraduate student to provost,” Pretty said. “We will also consider nationality. We don’t know enough about the components that go into this. At Cambridge, for example, 30% of the faculty is non-British.”

The IARU presidents also agreed to pool each institution’s experience regarding the initiatives they have undertaken to attract and retain women on the faculty. Once all the information has been gathered, a data bank of effective interventions will be made available to all the affiliated universities.

In addition, the presidents agreed that the group should increase the joint academic ventures across the IARU schools, including seminars on gender-related research. Just such a collquium was held the very next day, and was attended by representatives from several of the IARU schools.

Titled “Mapping the Terrain of Work, Care and Gender,” the mini-conference focused on contemporary theories, practice and research on the interactions among paid work, gender and households from transnational perspectives. This event was co-sponsored by the Yale Women Faculty Forum, the MacMillan Center and the Yale Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.

That same day, the presidents also met and endorsed the continuation of the work of this research group, including the approval of funds for another conference on gender in universities. That session will be held at Cambridge or Oxford in the fall of 2009.

Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale and a founding member of the Women’s Faculty Forum, summed up the conference in this way: “It was moving to see the shared commitments, the interests and the common concerns; across oceans, disciplines, university cultures and nations, we joined together to explore how we might understand the effects of gender on our scholarship, our classes and our workplaces and how with that understanding we can enrich university life and contribute to the development of new bodies of knowledge.”

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