Shalala leads gender bias study

Engineering: seven. Chemistry: one. Physics and Computer Science: none. No, that is not the score of a science competition; it is the number of female faculty in some science and engineering departments at the University of Miami.

And those numbers only confirm what a recent study reports-women scientists and engineers are underrepresented at research universities. The report, entitled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, was released Sept. 18 by the National Academies and written by a committee chaired by President Donna E. Shalala.

The Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering found that women are likely to face discrimination in every field of science and engineering. Although women are earning more degrees than men in the fields, they simply are not being hired.

“It’s not that there aren’t women anymore, because the pools look quite healthy in most areas,” Shalala said. “There’s no excuse-in fact, the report could have been called ‘No Excuses.'”

Shalala said that UM is committing itself to hiring women and minorities, wherever positions need to be filled. Talent must be hired while making sure that there is no difference between opportunities for young women and men.

Ana Mari Cauce, senior vice provost of the University of Washington, study committee member and UM graduate believes that change should occur nationally.

“I really believe this will make a difference, but I know that this is not an easy problem and I know that it takes a lot of energy and effort,” Cauce (B.A. ’77) said.

For Dean M. Lewis Temares of the College of Engineering, the right word is awareness.

“If we call attention to the fact that these are well-respected professions, that may thwart some of the biases against them,” Temares said.

With those biases being both gender and ethnic-related, the report suggests that University leaders counteract bias in hiring and promotion by publicizing the gender makeup of faculty each year.

Michael R. Halleran, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, lists diversifying faculty as one of the school’s priorities.

“You have to get the most talented faculty to offer the best education to the students,” Halleran said.

The numbers of females majoring in science and engineering has increased, with 62 percent of undergraduates in Arts and Sciences and just fewer than 30 percent female in Engineering.

Vanessa Garcia, a sophomore and biomedical engineering student, recognizes that the presence of women in engineering is increasing but is still not enough.

“I would like to see more women teaching and see the differences between the experiences,” Garcia said. “If we get to see more women actually teaching it would give us that drive to keep achieving.”

The report relates to a federal study conducted last June, which shows progress for female college students and stagnation for males. Nationally, women earn 27 percent of the degrees in mathematics and statistics and one-fourth of physics and astronomy degrees.

Megan Ondrizek may be contacted at

October 6, 2006


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.