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Women’s Council Members Target Promotion Barriers

A Council for the Advancement of Women at WSU has been established by President V. Lane Rawlins.

“The group will begin by analyzing barriers to the advancement of women to department chair, full professor, senior administrative and professional posts, and to positions in the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering,” Rawlins said.

According to statistics nationwide, those are areas where, despite the gains they’ve made in academe, women are significantly outnumbered by men.

“I don’t know whether women who aim to be promoted in the faculty ranks or to win an administrative post feel that there is a ‘glass ceiling’ here at WSU,” said council chair Barbara Couture, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “My own experience, and the fact that we have many prominent women in the upper ranks of administration, would suggest that there is not.

“Nonetheless, there may be barriers present for women in university life that make these goals seem for many out of reach. I would expect that it is these barriers that our committee will try to define and eradicate.”

Women’s accession to top faculty jobs may be partly a matter of time, age and longevity. WSU statistics show that full professors generally are older than associate professors, who are older than assistant professors. As of Fall 2003, women represent about 44 percent of assistant professors at WSU, 35 percent of associate professors and 13 percent of full professors.

As more women ascend to associate and full professor positions, the numbers of men and women can be expected to achieve a balance closer to the 44 percent women now in assistant professorships.

“It, of course, makes sense that as more women enter the faculty ranks, more women will have the opportunity to be promoted and be successfully appointed as academic administrators,” Couture said. “Nonetheless, these successes may still be gained at the expense of unreasonable cost, when women are asked to balance obligations of work and family.

“We need to find ways to make those costs fewer and more bearable, not only for women, but for all who are working and have primary responsibility to meet such obligations while pursuing an academic career.”

Different from committees or task forces, councils typically are comprised of members whose jobs place them in positions to actually make changes. That holds true for the Council on the Advancement of Women, whose members include deans, chairs, directors and others in top positions at WSU.

Task force members are: Barbara Couture, Jim Petersen, Mary Doyle, Frances McSweeney, Ralph Yount, Mary Sanchez-Lanier, Warwick Bayly, Kathleen Postle, Bruce Romanish, Eleanor Finger, Joan King, Candis Claiborn, Gail Chermak, Larry James, Steven Tomsovic and Tom Brigham.

“I expect the council and the Commission on the Status of Women will work together in a cooperative and collaborative manner,” said Marsha Yim, chair of the long-established commission. “It’s great that the need for women leadership in the various categories of employees is recognized. This says something very positive about WSU.”

“Institutions like WSU can adapt and overcome daily micro-inequities, differential career-building opportunities, value differences and dual-career issues,” said Jim Petersen, vice provost for research and council vice chair. “To do so, however, innovative and equitable policies and procedures for recruitment, retention and advancement of women must be developed.

“My hope is that this council can help the institution understand the issues, and visualize and implement the solutions to these problems.”

The council is expected to consider other pertinent concerns as they arise, the president said.

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