The University Record, April 17, 1995

MICHIGAN AGENDA FOR WOMEN

MICHIGAN AGENDA FOR WOMEN

'University should not abandon important values'

By John Woodford
News and Information Services

President James J. Duderstadt told a group of faculty women at a forum on the Michigan Agenda for Women that he didn't "sense negative feeling toward the Agenda among male faculty--it's ignorance that is the main barrier. They need to be convinced that there is a problem."

"I'm here to learn what women faculty think [about progress on the year-old Agenda], their professional experiences, equity and other matters," Duderstadt said at the March 30 forum in the Michigan Union's Pendleton Room. The Agenda is a broadscale program for women's equity at the University.

After citing examples of progress on hiring and in correcting an inequity in work loads that had hindered the promotion and tenure of some female faculty, Duderstadt responded to questions and comments from the audience of two dozen or so.

A member of the Department of Physics said that a female colleague wanted a semester maternity leave, but feared the request might make the department chair think less of her.

Susan W. Kaufmann, associate director of the Center for the Education of Women, assured her that a maternity leave from teaching "is an entitlement; technically, you cannot be refused, and there should be no fear in asking for one."

Another member of the department noted that having only three women in a faculty of 65 placed the U-M 50 percent above the national average. If the Uni-versity were to add one or two more women, the percentage gain would seem monumental, but, she asked, would that sort of statistical achievement meet the president's expectations for the Women's Agenda?

Duderstadt said he was acutely aware of how low numbers of women faculty in many scientific and engineering departments throughout the country and world reflected the "uncomfortable atmosphere" in those units.

"One of my daughters was chased out of the physics department at Harvard as an undergraduate," he continued. "It was an unsupportive department. Now she's here [in graduate school] and back on course. So you ask me if just beating a low average is satisfactory? No, it isn't."

He noted that 25 percent of U-M's undergraduate engineering students are female and said he hoped to see the University increase that percentage by stimulating and nurturing an interest in science and engineering among elementary school girls and in young women in secondary schools and colleges.

"The culture of academic and professional fields differs widely," he continued. "Three major medical schools, including Harvard's, now have enrollments that are more than 50 percent female, but in a recent study every female engineering student who was surveyed reported some form of harassment from her peers. This fosters a very deep sense of frustration, disappointment and discouragement. One of the biggest challenges to the Agenda is consciousness-raising."

Another challenge, he said is to change management practices so that managers and department heads "would be judged on how they demonstrate leadership in this area."

One participant suggested that the faculty evaluation forms that students fill out should ask whether the faculty member "has shown sensitivity in class to issues of race and gender." This would lead to department chairs' systematic inclusion of such information when they evaluate faculty for raises and promotion, she said.

Duderstadt said that the suggestion was valuable, and Associate Provost Susan S. Lipschutz said that it would be passed on to the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, which is currently revising the questionnaire.

A Medical Campus faculty member stated that a task force on her campus "had found a 12 percent difference in salary between females and males at the Medical School, but nothing happened. "I'm here to voice my frustration," she continued. "Yes, the verbal abuse has pretty much gone, but women's restrooms continue to be converted to men's rooms whenever a big conference is held there--as if it's to be assumed that few women will be at a medical conference. Women on our campus still need to use those facilities, yet when we protest against the conversions of the restrooms, we are ridiculed."

Duderstadt said that he would "be talking with heads of medical departments and programs" about Agenda-related matters in the upcoming months. The University is thinking about reconstruction compensation so that the focus is not just on research grants brought in to determine raises," he said. "We want to be more flexible, so that chairs can be judged on their success in developing junior faculty."

One woman said campus parking problems affect women disproportionately, because women whose children begin day care in mid morning can't find parking spaces. "And if I want to use my lunch hour to go home and see my kid for 20 minutes," she said, "I have to hunt for an hour-and-a-half to park again when I return. It seems trivial, but it is not. Why can't there be key lots for parents in this situation?"

Duderstadt replied that he would ask University Parking Services to explore that possibility.

One woman said that "people say women need to learn to empower themselves, but why not focus on men and how they need to change?"

"The Agenda is focusing more on the other half of the University," Duderstadt said. "Perhaps more forums with mixed groups would be helpful.

"The more diverse we are, the stronger institution we are for many reasons," he continued. "The University should not abandon important values even if we are targets of backlash. We will develop a thick skin against such attacks."

At the end of the meeting, Duderstadt said that he would like to meet at least once each term with this and similar groups, "to give you an opportunity to give input, whether suggestions or complaints, on these matters. And you can always communicate personally to me on e-mail on any subject. I am deeply committed to this, as evidenced by the amount of time I devote to it. But I need your advice, counsel, wisdom and support."

'Action flows from the people who have concerns'

By Rebecca A. Doyle

"Things have happened over the last few months, some of which are a direct result of talking to you and other groups of women at this institution," said President James J. Duderstadt last Wednesday when he addressed a group of women staff members. His update and question-and-answer session was sponsored by the Commission for Women and the Women of Color Task Force and was part of a full day of activities centering on women' health issues.

Duderstadt cited as progress a sexual harassment policy implemented last fall, new staff in Human Resources/Affirmative Action (HR/AA) who will deal specifically with harassment issues, the task force on issues surrounding violence against women and a parallel group charged with examining violence in the workplace.

He also noted that resources had been made available for hiring 10 senior women faculty members, the first appointed in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology two weeks ago. There are six more offers out, he said.

Duderstadt noted that he had learned a great deal in a meeting with non-tenure-track faculty in the Residential College. Residential College instructors and lecturers had made clear issues that pertain not only to women, he said, but to all non-tenure-track instructional personnel.

One area brought to his attention through meeting with the Women of Color Task Force, he said, was the need for a different grievance procedure, and turned the microphone over to Jackie McClain, HR/AA executive director.

McClain told the audience about new conciliation resolution services, headed by Sally Johnson and Don Perigo, that will train 50 people to serve as facilitators in dispute resolution that is "farther away from the industrial model of confrontation."

Women of color, Duderstadt said, have made him aware of several other issues that need to be addressed, including that of opportunity for advancement.

He acknowledged that graduate women students present issues that must be resolved, and noted that the Rackham Executive Board will work with students to find solutions to those issues.

Speaking to issues of child care and parking that combine to create special problems for women who work on Central Campus, the president said there are proposals "on board that will include the possibility of a subsidy for a Central Campus child care facility."

"Momentum for the Agenda is building this first year," Duderstadt said, referring to the initiative as a "grass roots" program. "Actions flow from the people who have the concerns.

"But one of the largest concerns," he continued, "is that it is clear that while each group I have spoken to understands the challenge and knows we have to change, there is a very large segment of the University that does not believe we have a problem. We need to propagate this agenda so that everybody understands the importance of this to the institution. We need the involvement of the whole University."

Duderstadt fielded questions and comments on issues of the state of affirmative action legislation, maternity/child care leave and flexibility in scheduling and benefits.

He said that the University is too rigid in the expectations of faculty, staff and students who are affected by family care responsibilities, that some women faculty members are clearly overburdened by service and teaching loads that could negatively affect their tenure eligibility, that leave for maternity is a right to which faculty and staff are entitled, and that the University will look at ways to sustain its commitment to affirmative action while maintaining legal protection.

At the end of the hour, Duderstadt told his audience that "we are moving fairly fast on the Women's Agenda. Many of these issues will get solved, and solved fairly rapidly."