CLARE BOOTHE LUCE, noted journalist, playwright, and diplomat, before her death on Oct. 9 helped inspire a visiting professorship program that promises to break new ground for women. Among the professions, the sponsoring Henry Luce Foundation discovered, higher education has been laggard in encouraging the advancement of women into topmost positions at four-year public and private universities.
Women hold a majority of all faculty positions, but only 12 percent of tenured positions at four-year universities, and only 5 percent at the most highly rated research universities, according to the Center for Education Statistics in Washington, D.C.
The Clare Boothe Luce Visiting Professorship program will emphasize the importance of increasing female representation on faculties, and tackle the barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest rungs of the academic ladder.
Robert Armstrong, executive director of the Luce Foundation, states that in the matter of making top appointments, the existing old-boy network is probably the paramount barrier or problem.
``It is still true - though perhaps unconsciously - that when senior appointments are to be made, the chairman of the search committee is very likely to be in touch with his colleagues at other universities, and the names put forward are likely to be self-replicating and male,'' says Mr. Armstrong. ``Unless there is a woman who has achieved particular eminence, her name is not likely to occur. Being overlooked by the old-boy network appears to work against women of all ages. In the entry- to mid-level academic ranks, there have been significant changes for the better; it is in the upper ranks that the real problem still exists.''
A second barrier, according to Armstrong, is the demand on women academics to serve on so many time- and energy-consuming committees that they are often prevented or distracted from pursuing the additional research and writing important to their upward mobility. Although universities want broad representation on committees, he says, women, being fewer than men on faculties, end up sitting on a disproportionate number.
Initial participants are Brown, Columbia, Yale, and New York Universities. Four other schools will be chosen next year, and the program will gradually be expanded to include 15 or 20 major research universities.
``We asked the four institutions to take part in this program and they submitted nominations to us of women who met our criteria,'' explained Henry Luce III, chairman of the foundation, ``and we approved all four. Each will do her visiting professorship for two years, teach one course per term, and otherwise be free to pursue her own research and writing.''
The awards provide a significant stipend, with benefits that may also include a generous travel allowance. If a nomination is rejected, the institution may make another nomination the following year.
Candidates must be American citizens and established scholars who have distinguished themselves in research and teaching and have the capacity for outstanding future accomplishment in their fields and in higher education generally.
The four first recipients of the Clare Boothe Luce Visiting Professorships are:
Jacqueline Jones, chairman of the History Department at Wellesley College, who will be visiting professor at Brown University. Dr. Jones is one of the leading young historians of the black American experience and hopes to use the time to complete a book on Southern sharecroppers and seasonal and migratory laborers from 1865 to the present.
Dorothy Nelkin, a pioneer in the interdisciplinary study of science, technology, and society, will take leave of absence from Cornell University to join New York University as visiting professor. Between 1970 and 1987, Professor Nelkin published 17 books on topics as diverse as technological decisionmaking, the creationism controversy, nuclear power, military research, and occupational health. She has been involved with many policymaking groups.
Martha M. Hyde, associate professor of music theory at Yale University, will join the music department of Columbia University. While there Dr. Hyde, an expert on 20th-century music, plans to complete a book on the 12-tone work of Arnold Schoenberg.
Grace Wahba, professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin, has been chosen by Yale University as its first Luce visiting professor. She will be the only woman scholar in an otherwise all-male department. Over the years, she says, she has seen the previously male-dominated field of statistics gradually open up to women. She herself has demonstrated a consuming passion for math and science since childhood. The author of more than 70 articles in her field, she has lectured on statistics to universities and professional groups in 10 countries.
Each of these professors has had to balance marriage and parenting with her developing career in academia.
The Henry Luce Foundation hopes, through this long-range program, to help identify a number of outstanding women academics and bring them to the attention of those who will be making senior academic appointments in the years ahead, especially the 1990s, when many retirements are expected.
``We expect that the women who fill the visiting professorships,'' Mr. Luce said, ``will also make their way, over time, into college presidencies and onto corporate boards, presidential commissions, and other positions of authority and influence. If that proves to be the case, the program will be all that Clare Boothe Luce desired for it.''
Marian Chamberlaine, president of the National Council for Research on Women in Education and head of a task force study on women in higher education that will be published next spring, commented: ``The Luce professorships are certainly directed to a key issue or problem of women in higher education, which is that women have not reached the full professorship levels in the numbers that their doctorate degrees earned would indicate. The Luce program is very important, particularly as it increases the visibility of women in science.''
The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor in chief of Time Inc. With assets of more than one-quarter of a billion dollars, the foundation is actively involved in higher education, Asian-American affairs, theology, the arts, and public affairs.