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Guideline for gender distribution does not influence course content

The teacher representatives on the board of the Department of Political Science in response to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein's guest editorial in SvD concerning gender distribution among authors on course reading lists.

In a guest editorial in the daily SvD on 7 November, Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein expresses indignation about the Department of Political Science’s alleged lack of respect and confidence in its teaching staff. As representatives of teaching staff on the board, who made the individual decision on which this claim is based, we find it necessary to explain our practices and the basic principles of our actions, while correcting some serious misunderstandings.

At the department, we have a guideline for a 40/60 per cent gender distribution among the authors included in our course reading lists. As already clarified by our dean and director of studies in response to Ivar Arpi, the claim that this principle was motivated by some gender theoretical or other theoretical perspective is completely inaccurate. The problem we wish to counteract with this guideline has nothing to do with the theoretical, methodological or empirical content of our courses – the formulation of these aspects is entirely in the hands of our course directors. Instead, what the principle wants to counteract is the scientifically proven problem referred to as the “gender citation gap”. Systematic studies have shown that women tend to be cited less often than men – even after consideration has been given to the fact that women have published less, historically speaking. In other words, a research article written by a woman published in a major international journal will, all else equal, be cited less often than an equivalent article written by a man.

Women are thus underrepresented in the reference lists in scientific journals, and therefore acknowledged less for their research compared to men. Consequently, they risk being given less prominent positions than they deserve in our course reading lists. We want to counteract this trend, which is why we formulated the 40/60 per cent principle. This principle is applied pragmatically and deviations from it are generally accepted as long as they are justified. The goal is to make each lecturer stop and think before they finalise their list. Are there any relevant and competent female authors who may have been overlooked? If not, point this out. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this practice works perfectly fine and without any restrictions to the freedom of academic staff other than calling attention to the percentage of female authors and making lecturers justify their proposals for required reading to their colleagues on the departmental board.

This is the second gross misunderstanding made public by Silberstein: that the decision on whether or not to approve a reading list comes down to departmental bureaucracy, and not its researching lecturers. Our departmental board consists of the head of department, teaching staff representatives (elected by other teaching staff), a doctoral student representative, a student representative, and a representative of other staff. Therefore, the claim that the implementation of our gender equality principle was delegated to some bureaucrats who lack insight into the disciplinary field of our courses is completely inaccurate. Rather, the opposite is true: here in Lund, we support the principle of collegiality, which, according to other alarming research, is threatened at many higher education institutions around the country. Essentially, what we are trying to get our teaching staff to do is to reflect on the gender balance in their course reading lists. We think that this is a limited and reasonable restriction to their, and our own, academic freedom.

Furthermore, at the department, we have a very high percentage of internationally recruited researchers and, contrary to what Silberstein seems to believe, they do not show signs of wanting to leave the department due to this practice.

When it comes to the current individual case, one can discuss whether we applied the 40/60 principle in a pragmatic and collegial manner. What should be noted in this case is that, even after our proposed revision, the proportion of female authors was 16.6 per cent, which illustrates the fact that we do not impose a strict reading list requirement of 40 per cent female authors. It should also be noted that the text (18 pages) by Judith Butler was previously included in the course, added by the lecturer in question. We are not entirely in agreement as to whether it was right to make that decision, and as a natural step, discussions are currently held within our board and between colleagues about how we can continue to safeguard the integrity of individual lecturers while striving for increased gender equality. The fact that an individual exception is made the subject of far-reaching interpretations based on misunderstandings benefits neither this discussion nor the academic freedom at our universities.

 

Hanna Bäck, professor of political science

Maria Hedlund, senior lecturer in political science

Annika Bergman Rosamond, associate professor of political science

Roxanna Sjöstedt, senior lecturer in political science

Lisa Strömbom, associate professor of political science

Mikael Sundström, senior lecturer in political science

Ted Svensson, associate professor of political science

Jan Teorell, professor of political science