Female endowed professorships come into spotlight

Law professor Theresa Gabaldon beat the odds in 2007 when she became one of the few female faculty to secure an endowed position, an indicator that she is one of the University’s top scholars.

But GW’s top scholars are almost overwhelmingly male, a trend reflected nationwide. The University’s fundraising chief said last week that GW is trying to double down on adding endowed professor positions overall – a step toward closing the gender gap – but added that faculty and administrators say it will be difficult to narrow quickly.

Female faculty hold only about 14 percent of the University’s nearly 80 endowed positions – a sharp rise from nine years ago, when women held fewer than 8 percent of endowed slots.

The proportion of women in endowed seats – funded by earmarked donations to the University’s endowment – remains far below that in overall faculty. Almost 40 percent of the University’s full-time faculty are female.

Gabaldon said female faculty members often put themselves at a disadvantage by spending more time on faculty committees instead of poring over research.

“I honestly do believe that women spend more time – by and large – on things that don’t count when they’re handing out endowed professorships,” she said.

Professors earn these well-funded positions either by drawing the eye of donors who want to lure them to a different university, or just by securing internal promotions based of research credentials. The funds are used to provide financial support for more research and teaching activities.

The University counts its number of endowed chairs, which cost donors about $2.5 million, as a measure of its commitment to academic success.

Provost Steven Lerman said the University is making “steady progress” toward creating more endowed positions for females.

“It’s a multi-year process, because it’s not like you hire the whole faculty each year,” Lerman said. “And as that progress continues, more and more of those faculty will continue to get promoted up through the ranks.”

That phenomenon has kept faculty from earning top positions nationwide, according to a 2011 study by the American Association of University Professors, which showed that women with tenure spend a greater amount of time performing tasks like advising compared to their male counterparts, who “are more protective of their research time.”

The University has already taken aim to narrow the gender gap among its faculty, redoubling efforts to bring in women – and minority faculty overall – especially in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, where only one-eighth of faculty are female.

University professor of political science and international affairs Martha Finnemore said that while she could not pin down the root of the gender imblance, one possibility she has encountered is the heavy load of service work that women often carry.

“The outcome is very real. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into this,” Finnemore said.

Gabaldon also said the burden of service unduly falls to women, taking their away time from research.

“I have a box of tissues on my desk for a reason,” Gabaldon said, illustrating her unofficial role as a counselor to students. She added though that it is “part of my job I wouldn’t want to trade.”

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy, credited the existing gender disparity to “time – not gender.” She suggested that the culprit behind women’s oversized burden of service work might be their personal decisions.

“I think there’s nothing holding women back from being the intellectual leaders at the University,” Rosenbaum said. “That’s not anybody’s choice but your choice as a faculty member here,” Rosenbaum said, noting also that scholars of both genders strive to maintain an equilibrium between their workloads and home lives.

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