Stop telling tales

June 4, 1999

Your article on women professors ("9.2 per cent of professors are women", THES, May 28) seems somewhat simplistic and misleading.

In the past decade, I have been on many appointing committees, ranging from established chairs to graduate teaching assistants. Applications from women have generally been only about one in ten, yet in all cases but one a woman has been on the shortlist, and in slightly more than 50 per cent of the cases a woman has been appointed. At no point has there been any suggestion that anyone but the best candidate should be appointed.

In one case of a chair appointment, some members of the department favoured a female candidate, but a male was successful. It was suggested to me that this was because of bias on the committee. This was not the case. On the contrary, the appointment was made because the two outside assessors (one a woman) agreed as to their first choice of candidate.

I was recently shortlisted for a chair elsewhere and the four candidates were all men. But this particular department has a well-established feminist component and the head of department herself has impeccable feminist credentials.

Your article was dominated by anecdotal material. We all - male or female - can come up with anecdotes about bias within the system (how about the Oxbridge or "golden-triangle" bias?) and feel that we have been discriminated against at one time or another. (I had to be a lone parent to two teenagers for a fundamental decade in my career - women are not the only ones affected by family responsibilities.) These are complex issues and need a deeper and rather more sophisticated analysis.

Lester Grabbe Professor of theology University of Hull

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