Philly Colleges Ahead of the Gender Curve

While some big-name universities struggle to close the gender gap, women lead two of Philly’s three major higher-ed powerhouses

While some media outlets are busy adding our fair city to as many “worst” lists as possible (I’m looking at you, GQ), it’s nice to realize that Philly appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to an important issue—gender equality among university leaders.

Take, for instance, the three major universities in the city: Temple, UPenn and Drexel. Two of these universities are led by women: Temple’s Ann Weaver Hart and Penn’s Amy Gutmann. A look at Drexel’s College of Information Science and Technology faculty list (a lack of women in sciences across the board is an oft-lamented issue) reveals that of 51 faculty members listed, 26 are women and 25 are men. Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences dean is also a woman. A 1999 study at M.I.T. revealed that through most of the ’80s and ’90s, the percentage of female faculty members there hovered around 8 percent. Single digits. Even after more than a decade of working to remedy this incongruity, according to a recent New York Times article, M.I.T. still has “relatively few” women on staff.

As a result of the school’s mission to recruit and hire more women, the Times reports, female professors there are facing new challenges, including the attitude that they only land positions or honors because of their gender, and a barrage of offers to speak about stereotypical women’s issues, like “work-life balance.” Those same professors have even found themselves advising female students on how to answer male classmates who tell them women only get into the elite school because of affirmative action (despite the fact that across the board, more women than men are attending college these days).

Though official gender breakdowns for most colleges’ professorial staffs aren’t easy to come by, the fact that two of Philly’s three major universities are female-led, while schools like M.I.T. and Harvard—former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers suggested that women have less of an aptitude for math and science than men—struggle to reconcile their gender gaps is encouraging. Philly’s universities seem to be ahead of the curve, at least in terms of this kind of diversity among faculty and administrators. Sure, a degree from Drexel may not have the same “wow” factor as one from Harvard or M.I.T., but they can keep their fancy degrees. Gender inequality may be a mere blip on the sterling academic reputations of these elites now, but as more and more women attend college, the Lawrence Summerses of the world may find themselves eating their words.