The University Record, March 25, 2002

White states need to develop all members of community

By Theresa Maddix

White (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)
“Staff are too often treated as second-class citizens,” Interim President B. Joseph White told the group assembled March 18 for his meeting with University women. Because most of U-M’s staff members are women, “we are treating women in our community in disproportionate numbers as second-class citizens.”

White focused his address on “the need to value talented people as our most important resource.” He also touched on issues of child care, women in leadership roles, a women’s initiative and campus safety.

“Many staff are lower paid,” White said. “Many are tied to their workplace and their hours in a way that faculty are not and in a way that students are not. Many have a long-term commitment to the University.”

White called for a great work environment, one defined by a high level of challenge, quality of supervision, physical facilities, tools and technology, flexibility and family-friendly policies.

This atmosphere is not just for staff members or women. “We need to develop all the people who are members of our community to be and to do their best,” White said.

“We have to strive to enable each person to learn and grow, to be fully and fairly considered for increased responsibility and opportunity, and to be evaluated and rewarded fairly.”

Companies regularly rated in the top 100 are marked by the way they empower the people in their environment, White said.

When asked about the possibility of replacing staff with “younger, cheaper labor,” White said, “We will not drive out more experienced, higher paid people as a means of solving budget problems.”

White also noted climate issues, saying, “The University climate ranges from warm, supportive and fully inclusive to very chilly, marginalized and fearful. We need to move the climate of the entire University in the direction of warm, supportive and fully inclusive.”

For the University as a whole, White shared his aspirations to preserve and develop excellence. He said, “If we develop a great Life Sciences Initiative and ten years later look back and say ‘the way we focused and allocated resources produced a lot of strength in the life sciences, but in the process we lost our edge in the social sciences or the professional schools or in the Medical Center,’ that will not have been good stewardship.” The University needs to continue to “strive to be a model that most other public universities work to follow.”

White briefly discussed child care and the recent GEO settlement, saying, “Paul Courant and I didn’t need much convincing about the importance of taking the child care dimension of the negotiations seriously. I really feel good about the settlement.” The annual scholarship was increased from $1,000 to $1,700 for the first child and the administration committed to an ongoing mutual effort to work together to improve child care.

Taking a look at leadership, White twice said, “We need to have substantial critical mass representation of women at every leadership level, as well as in senior ranks of the faculty. The trends are in the right direction but the numbers are still quite small.” In 1990–99, women chairs and deans went from 13 percent to 26 percent. In 1990–2000, women in tenured and tenure-track positions went from 18 percent to 26 percent and the number of full professors went from 112 to 205.

“The first issue is that critical mass and we’re a long way from where we want to be and need to be,” White said.

White also called for a “renewed, formal Universitywide initiative focused on women.” The last one was created by former President James Duderstadt. Titled The Michigan Agenda for Women: Leadership for a New Century, its activity waned and all but ceased during the years of Lee Bollinger’s presidency.

On campus safety violations in the residence halls, White said, “I’m very angry about this. It’s really sickening to me that we have people preying on our residents in this way. We think that the improved security we’re providing will reduce and eliminate these incidents.”

White concluded his presentation with many questions from attendees yet unanswered. Noting the need to actually act out family-friendly policies, White said, “I always think in a leadership role, the most important issue is not ‘Do you get every detail right?’ but ‘Do you get it at all.’ ” He closed the formal piece of the event and arranged for a Web forum to answer remaining questions.

Questions and White’s answers are available on the President’s Advisory Commission on Women’s Issues, part of the Center for the Education of Women Web site, www.umich.edu/~cew/PACWI.html.

After the event, Valerie Castle said, “I thought he did an outstanding job. He was insightful, thoughtful, articulate. [White] touched on the sentiments of women faculty. Just an outstanding job.” Castle is associate chair and professor of pediatrics in hematology/oncology.

Carol Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women, said, “I was especially pleased not only to see a full house, but one including all segments of the community—faculty, staff and students.”

Aline Soules, librarian in the School of Business Administration, said, “I’ve known Joe White for a long time. His ideas are sound. His heart is in the right place. Now, the question is implementation. He’s off to a good start.”