Engineering profs cite gender discrimination
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
During her time at the university, Dan received the NSF CAREER Award in 1999 for her project called “the Design of Synthetic Gene Transfer Agents,” another research grant that same year and published her work several times in highly rated journals. Yet, the new department head said she did not perform at the expected standards, and thus was not a good fit for the department, a reason she cites for leaving the college three years after being hired.
“My research productivity was high and competitive with my colleagues,” Dan said. “However, I cannot say whether the perceived deficiencies with my performance were gender-based or not.”
Dan now teaches in the engineering department at Drexel University where she says the scientific community is more open to collaborations than they are at the university.
“I found that I was collaborating with colleagues from UPenn in Philadelphia, and moving to Drexel helped strengthen these ties,” she said. “In contrast, colleagues at UD—even those whose work overlapped with mine—were not open to collaborations.”
Former professor Mary Galvin, however, said she did not have the same experience because she was hired as a full professor in materials science with tenure in 1998 after conducting research at AT&T Bell Labs. She left in 2002 when she was offered the opportunity to be a senior official at Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. and work on new product development. She said her experience working in the engineering industry beforehand provided her the negotiating skills women often lack when it comes to asking for a higher salary in the academic world.
“I was coming from Bell Labs where I had been fairly well paid because industry paid well, so I transferred in at a higher salary because they had to meet that and I learned to negotiate,” Galvin said. “I think what you find in academic institutions, most of them, is a lot of salary increases [are] gained by going out and getting offers from another university.”
Like Galvin, Kiick, the deputy dean, did not experience difficulties with promotion. Kiick was first hired as an assistant professor in materials science last year. She was appointed deputy dean by Ogunnaike around the same time she was promoted to full professor in 2011, which she said is early compared to the average promotion rate of full professorships.
Traditionally, when someone is hired as an assistant professor, the faculty member is at that level for approximately six years, Kiick said, until the professor submits their dossier, which outlines all their research and teaching experience to their department and the scientific community. If the promotion goes favorably, the faculty member is granted tenure, she said, and becomes an associate professor for another five to six years before reaching full professorship. But both Carberry and Shine said they were continuously denied or discouraged from promotion to full professor during their time at the university.
“She’s always struck me as someone who’s very engaged, very intelligent, very curious and interested in the workings of science and the university,” Kiick said of Shine. “With regards to some of the other questions around her experience at UD, I wasn’t directly involved with that. That’s not been my experience here at all.”
Still, Kiick said it has historically been a challenge for the college to retain female faculty, particularly at the higher ranks of the professoriate. According to Kiick, there are only three women in the college—Annette Karlsson, Anne Robinson and herself—who began as assistant professors and were promoted to full professors.
“We’re working hard to fix those things that may have been problems,” she said. “It’s true of all underrepresented minorities—female, African-Americans, all people of color—that an environment needs to feel welcoming in ways that embrace diversity.”
Kiick said she cannot judge another person’s experience.
“Annette’s experience is Annette’s experience. I can’t say that it’s common,” she said. “I can’t say that other people don’t feel that way. I think there are two sides to every story.”
Shine admits she is outspoken about her negative experiences as an engineering professor. She also said she does not know if her male colleagues are misogynists.
Unlike her former colleague Carberry, Shine is satisfied with recent recruitment of women faculty. She sees the departures of female faculty members over the course of her career as a clear indicator that women are not treated as well as men.
Although some women in the college, like Cook and Kiick, currently hold senior positions, Shine contends that retention efforts of senior female faculty are weak.
“The college has done a remarkable job of hiding its overall treatment of women by highlighting occasional successes, and obscuring cases where treatment of women has been much worse than that of their male colleagues,” Shine said. “My entire time here, I’ve been outspoken and I feel I’ve suffered for being outspoken.”