The University Record, May 8, 1995
By Jane R. Elgass
President James J. Duderstadt is as eager to get suggestions and recommendations as he is to answer questions about the Michigan Agenda for Women and wants input now on how to make activities in the second year of the effort more inclusive.
"This effort draws its strengths from the grassroots," he told those attending an Academic Women's Caucus-sponsored forum last Wednesday. "A year ago we set out broad goals and some specific steps, really a rough framing. After a year of dialogue, it's clear we have to expand the effort, make it more inclusive."
By more inclusive he means including men in the ongoing dialogue.
"I get questions, mostly from men. What's the problem? Why the effort? Why take such visible action? We must broaden the dialogue and raise the consciousness of the University at large," the president said. "Once more people are educated about the importance of this effort, they will understand that the changes will benefit us all. How to structure this next step is the question we face now and I'm interested in your input."
Duderstadt cited several instances in which men have successfully been brought into the dialogue.
The dean and most of the department chairs--all men--in the College of Engineering attended a forum the president held with women students. The women cited many instances of sexual harassment stemming from increased competition for grant funds and employment opportunities. "This testimony in front of the dean and chairs really had an impact," the president said.
Following a forum with graduate students who identified some challenges unique to their position, the students met with the executive board of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, primarily males. Once the problems were identified, Duderstadt said, "there was a rapid sense of awareness that things had to change. The board has shifted its stance to address these issues."
The president also had a positive experience in a meeting with male and female residence hall assistants. "As the women talked, it captured the attention of the men," he said, "and an animated dialogue took off. It can be done."
Responding to audience questions, Duderstadt commented on the affirmative action backlash, saying, "It's most unfortunate, but we can't return to an earlier time. Universities have to stand up and be counted on this issue as a force in society. I am less concerned about legislation than I am about litigation. There will be more and more court tests. We are doing everything we can to ensure protection of our programs," including the retention of a Washington, D.C., expert in this area.
"The University has come too far to slide back," Duderstadt said. "We're big, we're visible, we're a national leader. We'll be a target."
Commenting on the issue of career paths for those holding lecturer and clinical appointments, the president said an umbrella commission, supported by his office and the Office of the Provost, will be appointed next fall, with subgroups in each unit. They will guide discussion on the definition of "faculty" in general, along with considerations unique to certain schools.
He noted that mentoring also is a serious concern, particularly in the sciences.
"We have to focus our strategies to meet the special needs of the units," he said, "and create a combination of strategies that include consciousness-raising and carrot-stick approaches to incentives for action."
The president noted that there have been instances in which faculty hiring requests have been held up until the units could demonstrate that they drew from a large enough pool.
He said the University also is reinstituting the process of a mid-search check on the diversity of the candidate pool before a committee is allowed to go to the short list. "This will ensure consideration of women and minorities who are viable candidates."
Duderstadt told the audience that meetings such as this are not the only opportunity for discussion. "You can talk to others-- Jayne Thorson, Carol Hollenshead, Susan Lipschutz." He also encouraged e-mail correspondence in "perfect privacy. I'm the only person who reads it and lots of ideas have come to me that way. The only way this works is to empower the entire community. I'm a device to use to make the move ahead."
On his commitment to educate the University community, the president noted that "universities are learning communities. Plus we have to make it clear that these are permanent changes. 'This too shall pass' doesn't apply. We have to change ourselves or be changed by the world outside."