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Efforts progress to place more women faculty

At least half the students and half the employees at Washington State University are women. The exception to that demographic can be found among faculty, especially senior faculty. It’s an imbalance that is shared by most universities nationwide, and it’s one that WSU is well aware of and is working to remedy.

As of Fall 2003, women comprised 37.8 percent of WSU faculty. However, that decreases as the seniority level increases: about 44 percent of assistant professors, 35 percent of associate professors and 13 percent of full professors are women. In addition, eight women chair academic departments, comprising 14 percent of these chairs at WSU.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 1999 (the most recent year figures are available from the U.S. Department of Education) women comprised 37.9 percent of all faculty nationwide, virtually identical to WSU’s 37.8 percent. However, women made up 20.8 percent of full professors at all U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Chronicle.

“Recruitment and retention of female and minority faculty is a challenge nationwide,” said Tracy L. Skaer, president of the Association for Faculty Women at WSU. “President Lane Rawlins and Provost Bob Bates are committed to working with the Association for Faculty Women and other groups on campus to address this issue and to develop a strategic plan, with benchmarks, for WSU,” she said.

The need for such benchmarks was reiterated by Rawlins last fall in his quarterly update to faculty and staff. Among other progress that needs to be measured, he identified “the diversity of our academic community, including gender…”

“We need to see some very specific goals here with input from the university community,” he said.

To that end, the president has just named a Council for the Advancement of Women (see related article in this issue) to improve opportunities for women in senior faculty positions and science, math and engineering fields.

“Clearly, WSU has identified a commitment to diversity, which would encompass recruitment and retention of both women faculty and faculty of color,” said Ann Dougherty, director of WSU’s Center for Human Rights. However, she said, federal affirmative action and equal employment opportunity goals, as well as Washington State Initiative 200 — which among other things prohibits basing hiring solely on gender — make hiring procedures a delicate balancing act.

“While some of our male counterparts might experience unfair treatment in the academic work place, their gender is usually not the reason for the difficulties they encounter,” said Alice Coil, director of the Women’s Resource Center at WSU. “Recognizing gender bias is a critical step towards ending discrimination in academe.”

The university has more women faculty than at least some of its 22 peer universities, which WSU defines as land-grant schools with veterinary medicine programs. Among those, for example, the University of Florida’s faculty includes 25 percent women, Virginia Tech’s and Ohio State’s include 27 percent, and the University of Tennessee has 35 percent.

Although it has more women faculty than these peers, WSU is continuing to work to increase the number. Some of these efforts include:

• The Provost’s Task Force on Tenure and Promotion, which is drafting a report after reviewing tenure and promotion procedures.

“Although we did not address specific gender-based concerns, we have focused on recommending consistent guidelines, mentors and expectations,” said task force chair Warwick Bayly, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Female faculty constituted approximately half the task force. They were extremely active and objective in discussions and contributed greatly to the group’s efforts.”

• The Commission on the Status of Women, appointed by the president, which gathers data and makes recommendations on issues relevant to WSU women. The commission prepares 5-year reports — the next one due in 2005 — which serve as a framework for institutional change. The commission’s website can be found at http://www.wsu.edu/~wrc/Commission

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• A Women and Leadership mailing list to inform subscribers about leadership opportunities and to exchange ideas that are supportive of women who seek professional enhancement and advancement through positions with leadership responsibilities. The website can be found at http://provost.wsu.edu/women_leadership/index.html

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“Women colleagues invariably bring depth and insights to not only the discipline itself but also to interactions with students and to important decisions made at the department level,” said Ron Brosemer, WSU professor of biochemistry and chair of the Faculty Senate. “We must make sure that efforts to recruit and maintain our high-quality women faculty and staff are an important component of our decisions.”

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