UW News

April 21, 2005

Senate women’s committee seeks change

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles by the chairs of Faculty Senate committees and councils. Dina Mandoli is the chair of the Special Committee for Faculty Women.

The Special Committee for Faculty Women (SCFW) is charged with addressing issues pertaining to women in academia. We can propose amendments to the UW Faculty Code, i.e. we can propose Class A legislation. To connect the SCFW to other bodies in the UW self-governance infrastructure, the Chair of the SCFW sits on the Senate Executive Committee (SEC), the President’s Advisory Committee on Women (PACW), the Faculty Council for Faculty Affairs and the Senate.

Optimistic about quick fixes? At inception, the SCFW and the Special Committee for Minority Faculty Affairs (SCMFA) were granted temporary status as Committees rather than as Councils. The SCFW and the SCFMA are somewhat invisible and disenfranchised because they are not mentioned in the UW Handbook and have no vote on the SEC. Now, some 35 years after the founding of the SCFW, there is no question that women have made strides, however significant problems remain.

Where are we now? The leaks in the career pipeline for women and minorities remain painfully evident in science and in the humanities. The Report on the State of the Faculty, at http://depts.washington.edu/uwaaup/state%202004.pdf, clearly articulates how this hurts the entire spirit and climate of academia at UW. The paltry number of women who are full professors and academic administrators indicates that our UW system is failing them regarding mentoring for leadership. (“There is a total of 487 female full professors including the titles professor (314), professor-without-tenure (132), and research professor (41).”). Likewise, women students and staff are not being mentored for leadership roles as vice presidents and senior leaders in non-academic roles (“There is a total of 71 female academic administrators including the titles dean (8), associate dean (21), assistant dean (7), acting dean (1), chair (12), director (13), and director/chair (9)”). The statement of Harvard University’s President, Larry Summers, however well intentioned, questioning the fundamental competence of women to contribute to science has added gasoline to a smoldering fire.

Improving the climate at UW for women will entail many changes from many quarters, but at the core is respect. The lack of status of the SCFW signals that the interests of women faculty are not important despite the existence of PACW. Healthy institutions actuate mechanisms that enable individuals to grow to their potential and to be empowered both alone and in synergy with others. Changing the SCFW from a Committee to a Council would be a no-cost change in the right direction.

What are we doing now to effect change? In concert with the SCFMA (Brian Fabian, chair), SCFW has submitted a request to become a Council concurrently changing its name to Faculty Council for Women in Academia (FCWA). We have suggested that the Code 42 in the UW Handbook be amended to read “The Faculty Council for Women in Academia shall be responsible (as described in Section 42-33) for all matters of policy relating to the interests of women.” This passed through the Senate Executive Committee on April 4 and will be presented to the Senate for the first time on April 21 (http://www.washington.edu/faculty/facsenate/senate/Agenda/04-21-05.pdf).

To successfully address the concerns of women faculty, we need to think of the pipeline as a continuum embedded in a managerial structure: the early portions of the pipeline (rising women faculty-to-be i.e., undergraduates and post-baccalaureates seeking advanced degrees) and the environs in which the pipeline functions (a predominantly male group) all contribute to the health of those in the pipeline. Based on the principle that “a rising tide floats all boats,” we believe that Council status will benefit the entire campus community, the women as well as the men they work with, at all stages in their careers.

We envision a Council in which male and female members work together to improve the climate for women at UW. To address the male perspective, we urge male faculty to join our Council (we have no male members now).

Finally, the SCFW believes that some concepts and avenues for climate change at UW, such as flexibility in the design of tenure track careers, will be best received by faculty and faculty-to-be if it comes from the faculty themselves. Such initiatives should naturally arise through a faculty council dedicated to women. The current vehicle for all faculty issues is the FCFA, a group that is overworked as it is. The proposed FCWA would lighten the load of the FCFA and bring a more realistic, integrated approach to plugging the leaks in the academic pipeline at UW.

Please contact me at mandoli@u.washington.edu if you have ideas for us or want to become a member of our committee, er, council (we hope!).