The lamentable lack of female professors: USA, Germany and Spain

As you might recall, some time ago this Blog published a comment of Edith Stein’s biography coming to the conclusion that the outstanding German philosofer did not get an university chair in Germany because she was a woman and a Jew. Commenting it with an American professor of German origin, she mentioned that the example was not relevant in the States because, there, many professors are women and Jews.

However, a recent article published in The Economist claims that there is a lamentable lack of female professors in the US: “a report published in 2008 by America’s National Science Foundation, for example, found that in most fields of science and engineering male full professors outnumbered females by nearly four to one. In fact, the disparity applies to the whole grove. Another report from 2006, by the American Association of University Professors, found the same ratio in the faculties of arts, humanities and social science, too”.

The article discusses possible explanations and come to a surprising conclusion quoting a paper by Barbara Walter (University of California, San Diego): “female academics are not pushy enough. Specifically, she says that unlike their male colleagues they do not routinely cite their own previous work when they publish a paper. Since the frequency a paper is cited is an indicator of its importance—and one which, since it can be measured, tends to weigh with appointment committees—a systematic unwillingness by women to self-cite may help tip the balance against them”. According to Dr. Walter “the obvious remedial action appointment committees might take, of discounting self-citation from their calculations, would not completely correct the problem” because “men cite other men more often than chance would suggest they should”.

If we have a look to Germany, we could probably say that male full professors outnumber females too, although in the German academic legal world “frequency of quotation” plays no role.

And what about Spain? In my field there are many female associated professors but numbers fall dramatically when we pay attention to full professors. Something should be done. In my view, assessing the value of scientific research taking into account quotations and catalogues of indexed reviews is a big mistake. At least if we are dealing with legal research. However, the lamentable lack of female professors is a deeper problem and I must confess I do not see the answers. Further reflection is needed in order to react in a consistent and effective way.

Many thanks to Prof. Elisa Pérez Vera and to Dr. Isabel Espejo for their valuable hints on this post.

Pedro M. Herrera

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