Women and academia

 

Sir, – The recent coverage of the under-representation of women among the senior ranks of the State’s colleges and universities is a sobering reminder of how much ground still needs to be covered in levelling the playing field for women academics (Carl O’Brien, “Too few women at top levels in colleges, report shows”, News, July 20th).

While the statistics are alarming (women account for less than 20 per cent of the professoriate nationally), this figure is perhaps not so incredible when considered in its historical context.

The universities have been, from their very establishment, bastions of male and middle-class privilege.

Throughout the 19th century, the power base of the university worked hard to resist women’s inclusion, and even with the passing of the Irish Universities Act of 1908 and the co-educational framework this introduced, women continued to experience marginalisation, both as students and academics.

The “old boy” network that protected the dominant hegemony has, however, recently been challenged by an increasing awareness within the higher educational landscape of the importance of more inclusive policies, and of policies on gender equality, in particular.

The language of equality has permeated the machinery of the university and, while language alone is not sufficient, this is slowly being translated into meaningful policy changes.

While significant work still needs to be done, progress is being made. The recent policy shift in relation to funding being tied to diversity targets is a welcome one, and this needs to be accompanied by the inclusion of more women on key decision-making bodies within institutions.

The complexity of the issue is such that progress is slow, but the good news is that gender equality is now on the active agenda, at least in some universities. – Yours, etc,

Prof JUDITH HARFORD,

School of Education,

University College Dublin,

Belfield, Dublin 4.

A chara, – Given that universities are publicly funded, with the cost borne by general taxation, Ireland should strive to ensure the make-up of universities is as representative as possible of broader Irish society.

This of course entails promoting women, where qualified candidates exist, but also ensuring that universities make proper efforts to train and support domestic students from diverse backgrounds, so that faculty members are reflective of local society and its values.

A sensible policy of pegging greater representation to funding is guaranteed to get the attention of university elites. – Is mise,

EOIN Ó COLGAIN,

Seoul,

South Korea.