A diverse panel of female professors gathered Thursday to speak about the role of women in academia and the minority of female professors at UH.
The event was hosted by UH’s University Commission on Women inside the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library.
“It has to change … if we want to grow,” said panel participant Dr. Hanadi Rifai, an engineering professor and director of the environmental engineering graduate program. Her rhetoric focused on increasing the number of female professors at UH.
“We want our student body to be as impressive as we think of them now, and looking towards the future … we have to change,” Rafai said. “We have to make that step forward.”
Currently, only 16 percent of full professors at UH are women. This is less than the national average of 26.5 percent, according to the US Department of Education.
For assistant and associate professors, UH follows the national statistics, as women are the minority in these positions.
“I’m so incredibly impressed with the young ladies coming from Asia,” said Rafai, who is originally from Lebanon, to an audience of largely female faculty members. “They have no barriers…they are here to be the best that they can be.
“I’d like to see our females have that attitude going though college, and that they really are as focused on making education the most important thing for them.”
Rifai said the main responsibility for female students is to actively seek tenure and advancement in order to help make the necessary changes.
The panel focused mainly on bridging the gap between the number of female and male tenured professors at UH.
“For us women, the key is finding that right balance between work and family life,” said Dr. Saleha Khumawala, a professor in the C.T. Bauer College of Business. “Men do not have that privilege of motherhood.”
Many of the other panelists were in agreement with Khumawala, bringing up the point that children play a large role in explaining why women professors don’t progress as much in universities as men.
“The average age of award for a Ph.D. nationally is 34, but if you’re delaying for family, you’ll get tenure around 40,” Director of Women’s Studies Dr. Elizabeth Gregory said of women that have to choose between motherhood and their academic careers.
“Having children can be distracting, but academics offers a lot more flexibility than most people in the world have.”
In the end, Rifai said, what women really need are champions to lead the way.
“You really need someone to be your advocate,” Rifai said.
The panel also featured JéAnna Abbott, professor in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, professor Mamie Moy of the Department of Chemistry and Dr. Susan Scarrow of the Department of Political Science.