The University Record, April 10, 1995
By Julie Peterson
News and Information Services
Women have all the power and money they need to bring about change, Donna Shavlik, director of the Office of Women in Higher Education, American Council on Education, told an audience of women faculty, staff and students March 31. She was the final keynote speaker at the 30th Anniversary Conference of the Center for the Education of Women, "Women: Transforming Higher Education."
Despite that fact, she said, "we have not managed to accomplish a new status for women in the academy, nor in society, nor in our homes, nor anywhere."
It is hard for women to act because, as individuals, they are fearful and feel like victims, Shavlik said. And as a society, she noted, we are suffering from a "collective anxiety" about our identity as a nation and our place in the world--an anxiety that is "making us do unfortunate things."
What is needed, she urged, is for women to speak up collectively to address societal issues. "We have the knowledge, the numbers to move into enlightenment, but do we have the solidarity, the self-will?" she questioned.
Shavlik noted that women are now not only a majority of the population as a whole, but also of students enrolled in American colleges and universities. Yet in those institutions, women comprise only 15 percent of full professors, and less than 2 percent of full professors are women of color.
She envisioned what a university of the future--one in which women played a more central role--would look like.
"We need to think of and place in front of ourselves a new set of values," she said. "For example, rather than sustaining the university as it has been in the past, what if we focused on a society which focused on the bringing up of children? What would such a university look like?"
In Shavlik's university of the future, "knowledge transmission and discovery would be free from boundaries, not only disciplinary but also imagined boundaries." Also, "we would have no limitations on our expectations of each other" and would "think of outrageous questions to ask ourselves."
Her university would respect the whole person. "We need to have a better quality of life," she added. "Technology shouldn't make us work harder."
Finally, she said, "we need to keep our passion at the forefront--for it is the passion for living and the connection to the spirit that women have to offer."
By Jared Blank
The dearth of women in leadership positions was the focus of an address March 31 by Madeleine Kunin, deputy secretary for the U. S. Department of Education.
Kunin, speaking at the "Women: Transforming Higher Education Conference" presented by the Center for the Education of Women, has been an ardent supporter of education and women's issues throughout her political career. She was the first woman governor of Vermont and helped bring teacher salaries in the state from a rank of 49th in the nation to 26th. Fortune magazine named her as one of the 10 best education governors in the nation.
She explored the link between women's education and their movement into leadership positions in politics and business. "Women are extraordinarily well educated," she argued, "yet we find ourselves with a deficit of leaders in this country."
The reason for this deficit may lie in the way women are taught throughout their schooling. Historically, teachers have favored boys over girls, consciously or unconsciously, at all levels of education, Kunin asserted. "We have not educated women to speak ... to argue." She said that teachers must encourage women to take academic risks because "to be in the decision-making process, you have to learn how to take these kinds of risks. Silence is safe."
Also holding back women leaders, Kunin said, is a "conflict every generation has felt between family and work. Many women make the choice to take the less demanding job, less demanding place in society ... to take care of the family."
Kunin joked of her own struggle balancing her family and career. She said she once showed up late for an important political event in Vermont because, after leaving her house for the event, she realized that she had forgotten to give her young son his favorite blanket so he could fall asleep. After much debate, she returned home to give her son the blanket.
Questioning the real need for women in leadership positions, Kunin said she believes that women are not greatly different from men, that there is a definite advantage to bringing additional women into the national spotlight.
"It is the person who brings the greatest commitment to an issue ... who makes the greatest changes," she said citing child care, welfare and women's health care as issues in which women have a personal stake. Women's leadership, she said, can influence national policies and "have an impact on the community in which we live."
Among Kunin's suggestions for improving the leadership potential of women was having young women attend single-sex schools. According to Kunin these schools "produce strong female leadership." She said that women do not need to compete with men for the attention of professors and generally feel less intimidated in a single-sex setting.
However, it is ultimately up to women, individually, to strive for their personal goals and assert their individuality. "We cannot let someone hold the door for us endlessly," Kunin said, "we must open the doors ourselves. Trust your emotions and beliefs ... a new stage of women's leadership can emerge."
By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services
While women have made great strides in higher education since the 1960s, the women's movement has largely ignored a basic tenet of female empowerment and equality--achieving wide-scale literacy for all women.
"One of the many failures of the contemporary, mainstream women's movement has been its insensitivity to a number of educational issues for women, particularly the enormously important one of literacy," said Beverly Guy-Sheftall at the recent 30th anniversary conference of the Center for the Education of Women.
Guy-Sheftall, founding director of the Women's Research and Resource Center and professor of English and women's studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, said that more attention has been focused on the number of female faculty who attain tenure or become high-level college administrators than on teaching young women, especially those of color, to read, write and think analytically.
"What would the academy look like if feminist educators had women's literacy as a major agenda item of mainstream feminism?" Guy-Sheftall asked. "Imagine how different the women's movement might have looked if major efforts had been made, major strategies had been devised, to transform the lives not only of women in college, but of women in less privileged sectors of society.
"Many of these women, even if they can read and write, have not been socialized to see themselves as critical thinkers, smart, able to participate in the transformation of the world or even in the reordering of their own lives," she said.
Reflecting on her experience teaching remedial English to mostly poor, Black students at Alabama State University in the late 1960s, Guy-Sheftall said that there is little connection between the ability to read, write and speak standard English and the capacity to think analytically.
"There is, however, a serious connection between students' self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, confidence levels and the ability to see themselves as smart because of the persistent assaults on their dignity as a result of their less-than-adequate speaking and writing skills," she said.
Guy-Sheftall, an African American, credits a middle-class upbringing and supportive family members and teachers for creating her own "sense of self," which helped her endure discriminatory treatment from a white English instructor as a Spelman student in the early 1960s.
"Though she knew that I had mastered the mechanics and grammar of the language, she convinced me for a while that my inadequate composition instruction from the past had disadvantaged me severely," she said. "But by the end of my stay at Spelman, I realized that what I had experienced in my English classes had very little to do with my inadequate writing skills or what I had not mastered before coming to college."
Years later, Guy-Sheftall received a letter from the instructor, who expressed remorse for her unfair grading methods.
"The letter helps to illustrate the tremendous obstacles women of color frequently have to overcome in order to see ourselves and assert our identity as authentic scholars and intellectuals," she said.
"Despite racist and sexist treatment in a variety of institutional contexts, African American women have continued to struggle for equal access, fair treatment and, quite literally, images of ourselves within the academy, in the texts we read and in the classrooms we enter.
"It has been enormously invigorating and intellectually challenging, though, for all of us who have been engaged over the last 30 years in this very complex process of transforming Eurocentric, patriarchal studies and spaces into multicultural, non-racist, non-sexist, non-heterosexist structures where, hopefully, all women can find their voices and imagine new ways of knowing, thinking, writing, teaching and living."