Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The cost of diversity

Lawrence Summers said something silly about women and science like a hundred years ago. So this is the result: "Harvard Will Spend $50 Million to Make Faculty More Diverse." $50 million to diversify a faculty. How could such a project cost so much? Do the women and minorities need to pass through a state-of-the-art particle accelerator before being hired? Must a million subscriptions to the new $50 access to Maureen Dowd and David Brooks be somehow factored in?

"Dr. Summers said the money would be spent on a range of initiatives, including the creation of a new senior vice provost post to focus on diversity issues, improved recruitment, subsidies for salaries, mentoring of junior faculty members and extending the clock on tenure for professors who go on maternity or parental leave....He called the $50 million an 'initial commitment' and said he expected that the university would ultimately devote more resources to attract and retain a more diverse faculty."

Well, maybe that would cost $50 million, what do I know? If jeans cost $200 and haircuts $800, then presumably diversity, too, can't be gotten cheap. Or can it? "Faculty members interviewed yesterday were enthusiastic about the initiatives. But some remained skeptical of Dr. Summers's commitment to diversity. Several professors also said $50 million was not a particularly large sum for an institution as wealthy as Harvard. In recent years, its operating budget has been about $2.5 billion."

I'm thinking some will always be skeptical of Summers's commitment to diversity. Given that there are plenty of good, PC things a university like Harvard probably does with its budget--scholarships, mentors for minority and gay students, grants for students to do community service, recruiting students from underrepresented areas--I find it hard to believe that this $50 million is stingy. Comments welcome from those with greater knowledge on how much these sorts of things are supposed to cost, or from those who are outraged at the $50 million, finding it far too high-low-whatever.


Anonymous said...

If you're talking about the Harvard physics, maths, etc. departments there's not exactly a great reserve of women students who are just waiting to be discovered. Tenure picks etc. are much more objective in the hard science subjects then in arts subjects.

Jacob T. Levy said...

$50 million over a decade =
$5 million per year =
c. 10 new senior women/ minority scientists including their salaries, benefits, fellowships for their graduate students, and lab/ equipment expenses. Maybe fewer than 10.

The sciences are expensive. World-class (i.e. plausible full professors at Harvard) senior faculty are expensive.

Now maybe the approach will be very different-- lots and lots of $10,000 seed grants to junior women/ minority faculty in the hope of developing them into senior faculty someday, or lots and lots of $5,000 stipend top-ups for graduate students. But given the emphasis in the public controversy on the lack of senior women in the sciences, I suspect not. Given how large the faculty is, how slow senior faculty retirement is, etc, any commitment to change the makeup of the senior faculty in the sciences quickly is *very* expensive.

Anonymous said...

Jeans cost $600, not $200. Where have you been?


And on this general topic, whatever happened to your threatened defense of political correctness?

Anonymous said...

It's probably the sanitary napkin dispensers. Do you have any idea how much those things cost??