The Dating Game

Last week I wrote about the resignation of Harvard University’s controversial president. The search is now on for his replacement, and members of the academic community are happily compiling a laundry list of qualifications.

For starters, she should be a she. It would be nice, they sigh wistfully, if maybe she were black. Some sort of minority, at least. A scientist would be ideal — the sciences need a strong proponent to lead Harvard into the future. Someone politically savvy, who knows how to listen. Someone firm, yet flexible. Someone with sparkling eyes and full, pouty lips. Okay, I threw in the last one myself. It’s funny, though. Go read the linked article above and tell me how amusing it is to hear people compiling their own fantasy university president.

Bachelorette #1

One name that has been thrown around a lot is Shirley Jackson. No, not her, the other one. She appears to have everything the peanut gallery is asking for — smart, black, female, scientist, with plenty of experience as an admin. Wait, did I say “smart?” I meant “brilliant.”

Bachelorette #2

Nannerl O. Keohane has also been suggested. Pros: Feminist, (political) scientist, lots of admin experience. Cons: Feminist, political scientist, white. That last bit there was tongue in cheek, if you weren’t following.

From the Boston Globe article:

Donna E. Shalala, health and human services secretary in the Clinton administration, would be perfect, suggests Paul S. Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, because she’s ”tough” and ”politically savvy.”

I misread this earlier and thought that it was Donna Shalala who was recommending Paul Grogan. I did some Googling and was shocked to see that Paul wasn’t a “she” at all. Then I reread the paragraph. Needless to say, I won’t be waiting by my phone for Harvard to call me with a job offer.

Bachelorette #3

I’m not sure where the accent goes on Shalala’s name, but in my head it sounds like the refrain from a song in the Little Mermaid. This is a definite pro.

I’ve always been wary of job searches that begin by specifying a desired gender or skin tone. In this case, though, I support the concept. There are definitely very competant candidates, so I don’t think it would come down to the University having to overlook a superior male candidate in favor of a female. Also, a female scientist may have a unique perspective on how to attract and keep other women in science and research, not to mention the good that could be done by simply having a strong woman hold such a powerful and visible position, showing others that it can be done.

An old white guy could probably get the job done, too. My money is on Paul Grogan.

Oh, by the way — there’s a new option where you can register for this blog. I recommend you all do it at once, despite the fact that I have no clue what it’s for.

Tomorrow: cake!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Full pouty lips ought to be a requirement for US President, and there should also be a height requirement — no one over 5’4,” because we’ve had too many tall presidents . Of course there’s nothing wrong with selecting a qualified woman, a qualified woman from a minority ethnic background, or a person fitting any other demographic qualification. What’s wrong is automatically excluding anyone who doesn’t fit the PC requirements for “qualified.” In this case, it seems some of the pundits have already done so by hinting that it should be a woman. Period, as in no men need apply. It’s amazing how persons employing such a standard (not you — the people in the article) can be so bright, but also so smug in their self-righteousness and indignation over an imaginary slight that they fail to grasp how wrong PC policies and affirmative action and set asides are. Many proponents of those types of discriminatory programs seem to get that they necessarily entail double standards, but they also seem to justify them with a dishonest concept — that past perceived wrongs can be righted by perpetuating the same kind of wrongs, only against the alleged transgressors. Sorry, but two wrongs will never make a right, righteous indignation notwithstanding. Hypocrisy reigns in PC World (did the computer magazine ever change its name?).

  2. As much as it would be an interesting and much needed change for Harvard, I do have to morally agree with Bubba’s points. On a public relations point of view (when I mean public, I mean the five annoying academics that actually give a crap who is pimping money for Harvard), they would be wise to pick one of the highly qualified female candidate that you have mentioned. Any of those candidates have enough intellectual appeal to further the illusion that paying over $30K a year makes you smart.

  3. Oh… and just a note: the link for “the other one” doesn’t go anywhere… but I know who you are talking about and she is a fine candidate.

  4. I agree that a woman would be great to see at the helm of Harvard even from the perspective of an Australian woman (that would be me) who arguably has nothing whatsoever to do with Harvard. However discrimination is just plain wrong even when it is “positive”.

    Another point worth considering is that if someone is selected as president who happens to be a woman and / or a minority after all this discussion she will be fighting against the attitude that she only got the job because everyone was pushing for a woman. This is a real weakness of positive discrimination as it allows those who want to think that way to assume it is all just political correctness.

    Great blog by the way – I log in everyday all the way from my desk in Sydney.

  5. It would be refreshing if they just stuck to qualifications. They should find the best person ignoring the physical attributes. There isn't any reason why they can't have someone scrub the resumes etc. to remove the irrelevant information. (name, gender, etc.) Then they could pick based on that basis. There are ways around actually seeing the person. It isn't like they are going to pick someone who hasn't had any experience.

    Should a women get the job? If she is qualified. Are there qualified women? i would be surprised if there weren't. I am for the most qualified canidate that meets the requirements.

    I was in a group that did hiring for a technical position and we were very careful to identify our requirements for the job ahead of time. None of the requirements had anything to do with how hot they were or if they were male or female.(or age, race etc.) We did have some communication requirements (eg must be able to speak and write English, but the job entailed a lot of speaking and writing English. You didn't have to be creative writing, but you had to be able to communicate clearly.)

  6. Isn't the real issue here, as alluded to in some of the prevous posts, the fundamental difference between objective qualifications for a job (e.g. intelligence, business and/or political acumen, perseverance, whatever…) and descriptions of an applicant's physical condition (e.g. gender, race)? While the former would, in a rational world, have a direct bearing on the expected performance of the applicant in his/her job, the latter should (again, in a rational universe) have no impact whatsoever regarding on-the-job performance.

    I certainly would have no qualms at all with a woman being apponted to such a position as president of a major U.S. university (or President of the United States, for that matter). What I would hope, however, is that she would have been selected on the basis of objective qualifications unrelated to her gender and/or race.

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