The University Record, October 31, 1994

Town meeting with president draws 500 to Rackham

By Mary Jo Frank

“You are a powerful force for change. You can change this place. I’m convinced we have to change,” President James J. Duderstadt told a crowd of more than 500 women who attended a town hall meeting to discuss Duderstadt’s “Michigan Agenda for Women: Leadership for a New Century.”

Flexible scheduling, child care, tuition reimbursement, the glass ceiling, race and gender prejudice experienced by women of color and the need for more enlightened managers were a few of the topics the women raised at the meeting sponsored last Wednesday by the Commission for Women.

Duderstadt opened the discussion with a brief description of the Michigan Agenda for Women, which he described as an “organic, action plan.” He envisions that by the year 2000, the U-M will be a leader among American universities in promoting the success of women of diverse backgrounds.

Actions already taken include reallocation of resources last spring to help units hire and retain 10 female senior faculty members and the establishment in September of the Women Faculty Career Development Fund.

In the pipeline, Duderstadt said, are a number of proposals, including establishment of a major new research institute to study feminism and gender issues, appointment of a task force on violence toward women, and changes in the grievance process to include a conciliation service.

His determination to push the Michigan Agenda for Women forward stems from an increased awareness of women’s issues, thanks to the educational efforts of a number of female colleagues, Duderstadt said.

“If you can educate the president, you can educate anyone,” he assured his audience.

Responding to audience members’ concerns, Duderstadt agreed that many managers have old ideas about the need for all employees to work 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Flexibility is the key to creating a high performance workplace, he added.

“The University has lots of layers. Sometimes it is hard to get the information to the levels where it is needed,” Duderstadt said.

“It is hard to work in a unit where you are completely ignored,” one woman told Duderstadt. She said she hopes the Michigan Agenda for Women is more than a “paper” agenda.

The credibility of the effort depends on progress, said Duderstadt, who cited the success of the Michigan Mandate, which was launched six years ago.

“This is my agenda for the 1990s. I stand behind it.” Duderstadt noted that in an organization as complex as the University, some units are ahead and other units lag, but he affirmed his commitment to moving the Michigan Agenda for Women forward.

Speakers expressed frustration with the pyramid structure of the University’s work force, with many women at the bottom of the pyramid and few in high-level positions. Women staff who return to school are told when they graduate that they don’t have the right experience. Women with years of experience but no degree are told they need to go back to school, women told the president.

“We’ve got to broaden the pyramid and break through the glass ceiling,” Duderstadt said. He noted that the University has created a chimney-style promotion system where there often is only one position to move up to. Instead, the U-M needs to develop a variety of career paths to provide more opportunities for promotion, he said.

Audience members clapped when Duderstadt said, “We have a lot of amateurs managing major parts of the University” and again when he said, “leadership can change.” Managers need more formal training in human resources, he added.

Providing professional development opportunities for their employees should be part of the performance evaluations of managers, said Duderstadt, who agreed that the tuition reimbursement program and funding of Human Resource Development training need to be examined.

Adequate child care is another concern of women, Leslie de Pietro, coordinator of Family Care Resources, told Duderstadt. Tuition at a good child care center costs about $150 per week—more than U-M in-state tuition, she noted.

One woman told the president that all of her fellowship money goes for child care.

At the end of the town meeting, Duderstadt invited the women to continue the dialogue, suggesting they communicate with him through e-mail.

Duderstadt said he looks forward to participating in a similar town meeting next term. He participated in a town meeting on Sept. 30 and plans to meet with women faculty on Dec. 8.