Although most experts agree that women continue to obtain doctorate degrees in increasing numbers, the University of California reports show that women are underrepresented in tenured faculty positions at UCLA.
Currently, about one-fourth of all UCLA faculty are female, according to the UC President’s Task Force on Faculty Diversity.
Of the 61 UCLA faculty appointed in the 2005-2006 academic year, 66 percent were men and 34 percent were women, Rosina Becerra, a professor of policy studies and social welfare, and the vice chancellor of Faculty Diversity said.
“About 40 percent of all doctorates of all fields are women, we are not making use of the workforce we have out there,” Becerra said.
Educators said more female professors would benefit students because they would encourage women to aspire to obtaining similar faculty positions.
Jian Zhang, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said, “Basically you would have a role model for the (female) students who would promote them to go into graduate school and eventually into Ph.D. study.”
Min Zhou, a professor of sociology and Asian American studies, said the low numbers of female professors discourage female students from pursuing similar careers in academia.
“If you are in an environment where you don’t have a lot of role models, you are either pushed out or scared out,” Zhou said.
Several higher education leaders testified before Congress last Wednesday on the underrepresentation of women in tenured faculty positions for science and engineering, in the first of a number of hearings designed to increase the number of female professors in those departments.
Higher education experts presented their proposals for encouraging academic departments to observe federal laws prohibiting gender discrimination before Congress.
One contributing factor to the issue may stem from the responsibilities that women have as mothers.
Terri Hogue, a civil and environmental engineering professor, cited the traditional role of women in the family as one reason behind the underrepresentation of women in tenured faculty positions at UCLA.
Ruth Milkman, a professor of sociology, said she feels the university needs to focus on retention and making the environment at UCLA more supportive for female professors.
Becerra said the UC President’s Task Force on Faculty Diversity has helped academic departments at UCLA to find ways to make the environment more accommodating for women, including assistance with child care issues and academic partner hires.
“We talk with the departments about how they can make their departments more inclusive,” Becerra said.
Milkman said she hopes to see the new chancellor demonstrate a commitment to increasing the number of women holding tenured faculty positions at UCLA, an issue she feels has been neglected.
“We’re hopeful that the new administration will initiate serious efforts in this area,” Milkman said.
Zhang said not enough women pursue degrees in science and engineering at UCLA, an issue she thinks is connected with the low numbers of female professors in those departments.
Similar to Zhang’s concern, Harold Monbouquette, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the department chair, said women currently compose fewer than half of engineering students, and even fewer women continue to pursue engineering in graduate school.
“I would imagine there is some lingering perception that academia is not friendly to (women),” Monbouquette said.
But some professors are optimistic that a growing number of women will enter the sciences and engineering fields.
Peter Bradley, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, said he believes an increasing number of women will enter the biological sciences in the future as men retire and open up opportunities for female professors.
“We have more women than men (in the graduate program), which are going to be the future faculty,” Bradley said.
Higher education officials expressed fears that the underrepresentation of women and minorities could lead to cuts in funding for state colleges and universities.
Monbouquette said taxpayers may feel less inclined to fund the institution if the faculty continues to fail to mirror the state’s population.
Professors said they would like to see a student body and faculty that is reflective of the population.
“Otherwise we’re not achieving our mission of educating the population,” Monbouquette said.