Fall 2011

An Exclusive Interview with Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, President of the Open University

Maximizing Potential at the Open University:
Something for Everyone

...continued from previous page.

Irrationality in a Field of Rationality

From her broad international perspective, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron has incisive insights into what is also happening in Israel in general and at the Open University in particular.

"Israeli universities reflect other universities throughout the world. Less than 30% of the faculty are comprised of women, in spite of the fact that women make up 50% of the Ph.D. graduates."

Why is this a problem?

"First, there is an injustice here. What happens to the women? They studied, they got their doctorates, but they are not represented in the university faculty. At the beginning of the higher education process women make up 60% of the student body. But, by the time we get to full professors, women are compressed down to 12% -- and less in the sciences and technology."

"There is also a kind of irrationality that is profoundly disturbing. It is simply irrational that more women are not in the sciences and technology."

How does Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron explain the evolution of this 'injustice' and irrationality?

She has two interesting theories regarding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) women and university faculty.

"Women are more attracted to professions that are directly connected to people. Women make up 54% of doctoral students in health and welfare, 64% in education, and 52% in humanities and arts. In engineering women make up but 25%."

However, she anticipates that this will change. "In today's world, modern engineering is more people-focused, so eventually, more women will be attracted to this field."

Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron is also convinced that there are gender-based filters working at various levels of academia.

But, only one university is gender-balanced according to Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron. "Again, I don't know why it is so, but it is." And, that is the Open University.

"From the time that I came to the Open University, I saw that management, board members and heads of departments were just about evenly split between men and women."

I challenge...

"The Open University is different from other universities in many ways. Where other universities are on-campus, we are off, where others put up entry barriers, we tear them down, and where others are 'closed' we are 'open.'"

But, also, where others have gender filters, the Open University does not. Here, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron throws down the gauntlet. "I challenge the research community to discover why there are no gender filters at the Open University, and figure out how they can mimic this in other academic institutions throughout the country."

That can only be beneficial for the students, the universities, and Israel.

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