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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 1999

Fighting Against Gender Bias

The war against the gender inequality in universities across North America is being waged with a sense of renewed hope thanks to the successful efforts of women in the school of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Earlier this year, a committee commissioned by the school's dean, Robert Birgeneau, found that women academics were the subject of unequal treatment by the university. Specific areas of unequal treatment were salaries, benefits, research grants, the allocation of laboratory space, and academic decision-making processes in departments. Following the release of the report, a number of improvements have been implemented, including increases in salaries and laboratory space for women researchers at MIT.

Professor Nancy Hopkins, whose initial complaints and subsequent efforts led to the report, is currently a speaker in high demand at universities across the United States. She explains how discrimination can be both an invidious and systemic barrier to the achievement of women academics' career goals. A number of other universities have now commissioned studies of the gender inequities in their own institutions. Among these are Harvard Medical School and UCLA.

Canadian women are also organizing on a number of campuses to achieve systemic changes that eliminate disparities between male and female academics in their own institutions. Although institutional recognition of discrimination has been slow in coming, activists are hopeful the climate for change may be warming up with a number of large prestigious American schools leading the way.

Birgeneau, the ex-MIT dean who took the complaints of discrimination seriously and acted to investigate them, was appointed the new president of the University of Toronto earlier this month. He will take office on July 1, 2000.