The Woman Who Made Beer-Sheva Bloom
August 22, 2018
The Jerusalem Report – Ben-Gurion University’s President Prof. Rivka Carmi is all about firsts. As dean of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2000, Prof. Carmi was the first woman to head an Israeli university’s medical department. When she became BGU’s president in 2006, she became the country’s first female university leader. She was also the first woman to chair the Committee of University Presidents.
In December 2018, Prof. Carmi will serve her last month as head of BGU. “This is the 12th and last year of my tenure as BGU president and the most significant and meaningful time of my life,” says Prof. Carmi.
“Twelve years of enormous challenges – including three wars in five years in the South – and outstanding accomplishments. Under my watch, the University has managed to become a leading institution of higher education that also hugely benefits the region and its students.
“Before I came on board, we had a university with a city around it. Now, there is a city with a university in it.”
Prof. Carmi did not do her job sitting down. She stood first and foremost for the pursuit of gender equality in Israel’s universities.
When she was a pediatric resident, she became “acutely aware of gender discrimination and the real obstacles women have in science – at BGU and around the world.”
Prof. Carmi says the battle is, on the one hand, about advancing scientific and personal careers – breaking the glass ceiling – and, on the other hand, about shattering the “steel ceiling” formed of the misperception that women are less capable than men in science, technology, engineering, and math.
“It’s the way a girl versus a boy is raised – blue versus pink, cars versus dolls, humanities versus science,” she explains. “A glass ceiling you can break by establishing a daycare on campus. But you must work very hard on perceptual barriers.”
At BGU, Prof. Carmi established a fund that provides female applicants with nearly anything they might need – from overseas training, to funds to publish a book, to assistance in their research. BGU was the first Israeli campus to open a nursing room and is one of only a few offering daycare. BGU was also the first university to stop the tenure clock – even before it was mandated by the Council for Higher Education [thanks to Prof. Carmi] – allowing women faculty and Ph.D. candidates to have an extra year for each pregnancy and birth.
Prof. Carmi also established BGU support workshops for women faculty members, specifically in the fields of medicine and science, where she said the “playground was created by men, so we must educate women about the rules of the playground and how to cope with them, while simultaneously aspiring to change the rules.”
Today, she says, half of science, technology, engineering and math undergraduates are women, while only 20 percent of full professors in those fields are female. From Prof. Carmi’s perception, it’s not just about social justice, but success.
She says research shows that companies whose top management team is comprised of at least 30 percent women are more profitable, and the same will hold true in academia.
“If you are a woman who has made it to the top, you have to be totally committed to the cause of women’s equality, and you must – on top of all the obligations and worries that come with the job – constantly work to pave the way, by any means possible, for your fellow women,” says Prof. Carmi.
This is an excerpt from “The Woman Who Made Beer-Sheva Bloom.”