This year is the first in Bowdoin's history that the faculty is composed of an equal number of men and women.
According to Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, the balance has been hovering close to parity for the past few years, but only this year has the faculty reached a precise 50-50 split.
The timing of this seems fitting given this year's events commemorating the 40th anniversary of women at Bowdoin. The year-long series of events celebrates how far the College has come since the first class of female students enrolled in 1971.
Much has changed for women at the College beyond coeducation. Bowdoin now leads its peers in providing the resources for faculty with children, and has implemented forward-thinking policies to equalize the tenure track, according to Judd.
But the College has not always been so accommodating for faculty planning to start a family.
Professor of Economics Rachel Connelly said that when she began teaching at Bowdoin in 1985, the College had no official parental leave policy. Connelly has four children.
Connelly said that at the time, "there were a few faculty mothers, but only one had her child while she was a Bowdoin employee. The other women had children before they started working at Bowdoin."
In 1985, women accounted for "maybe 20 out of 120" members of the faculty, according to Connelly. Today, the "gender balance of the faculty really is 50-50," according to Judd.
As more women joined the faculty, "all of a sudden Bowdoin had to deal with figuring out what to do if somebody had a baby in the middle of the semester," Connelly said. "At first, we tried not to. I had my baby in the summer, other people had their babies in the summer. That is a ridiculous solution."
Instead of a written parental leave plan, Connelly said that women on the faculty who were planning to have a child during the school year would "make a deal with the dean."
This would often involve a colleague taking over their classes for a set amount of time. Female faculty in tenure-track positions faced the added challenge of having no extension of the time on their tenure clock.
The College's first attempt at a paid parental leave policy came in the early 1990s, when faculty members were granted four weeks of parental leave. This solution was problematic, however, because it disrupted courses.
"The problem is we don't work in weeks, we work in semesters," said Connelly.
Judd, who arrived at the College in 2006, made improving resources and support for faculty with children a priority. Before she arrived at Bowdoin, Judd was the first tenured woman in the music department at the University of Pennsylvania.
"When my first child was born, they didn't have a maternity policy. I taught a graduate seminar when she was two weeks old," she said. "I have a memory I'll never forget of photocopying materials with a two-week-old baby on my shoulder."
At Bowdoin, Judd said she has has focused on refining policies "that have historically affected women in the academy," namely parental leave and the partner accommodation policy, which offers support to dual-career academic couples.
In 2007, Judd introduced a gender-neutral parental leave policy that operates on a semester basis. The policy allows for faculty parents to reduce their course load, and to stop the tenure clock while on leave. Connelly said that the latter provision was "by far the most important change."
To support working parents, the College offers resources such as the Bowdoin Children's Center to all Bowdoin employees in addition to a detailed parental leave plan.
"Bowdoin's policies are very fair and very supportive in terms of providing leave for the birth of a child and for adding time to the tenure clock," said Connie Chiang, assistant professor of history and environmental studies and mother of two.
Judd said that there have also been efforts to lessen the gender imbalance in departments composed primarily of male faculty, noting that the sciences in particular are "known as the leaky pipeline."
"It is most challenging in certain fields in the sciences—not in the life sciences but in the STEM fields," she said, referring to fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
"Those sciences are the ones where the percentage of women getting Ph.D.s is much lower than the percentage of women on the faculty."
Bowdoin has a number of grants and programs to support women in the sciences in effort to balance the disparity.
In 2009, Bowdoin was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility by the Sloan Foundation.
The award consisted of a $200,000 grant to help enable the College to continue to fund programs and policies that "ease the work-family conflicts experienced by faculty," according to the Sloan website.
"I think Bowdoin specifically, because of the work of a lot of people, has been able to create an environment that is very supportive of women in the academy, and of understanding the challenges of parenting in the academy," said Judd.