SPEAKING FREELY


Posted by Members of Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders (KEWL)


The members of KEWL (Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders) would like to inform the W&L community of the June 27, 2008 report compiled by the President’s Committee on Women regarding the conditions of women faculty and staff at Washington and Lee.

The committee, which consisted of both men and women faculty and staff, met from February 2007 through May 2008, and solicited the expertise of an outside task force to evaluate and make recommendations for the climate at Washington and Lee as it pertains to women faculty and staff. Initially due in March, the Committee requested an extension from President Ruscio and delivered their findings over the summer, largely unbeknownst to the W&L community. Through surveys and interviews with faculty and staff, the committee concluded in its report that “[m]any women on this campus do not feel valued, respected, fairly compensated, empowered, or even safe.”

 

To quote the Committee’s report:

Disturbing anecdotal evidence of gender inequities abound, including but not limited to the following:

1) holding women workers to a higher standard than their male counterparts,

2) promoting a man when a woman has more experience,

3) regularly holding managers’ meetings without the woman manager being present,

4) paying the man who replaces a woman more than the woman was paid.

 

The report goes on to state that “[t]here are still academic departments where faculty and staff are not even close to the national percentage of women. Women report that they have felt silenced when they have tried to point out a number of issues dealing with climate.”

 

Lesley Wheeler, Chair of the English Department, writes “I am very pleased that various staff inequities will be remedied, especially salaries for administrative assistants. However, the excellent report by the President's Committee on Women rightly uses the words ‘discrimination’ and ‘harassment,’ but President Ruscio's October 8th ‘Letter to the W&L University Community’ pointedly does not. I am disappointed that the President has not fully acknowledged the extent of the problem. Even in faculty meetings woman administrators and faculty members are often cut off, belittled, or inappropriately touched; such bad behavior is condoned here and known offenders are allowed to continue in positions of authority.”

While KEWL commends the University’s initiative to create a supportive environment for its faculty and staff, the relatively secretive distribution of the report and its findings is disappointing. We write this letter not out of spite, but out of support for the report’s recommendation that change ought to occur in an “open” and “transparent” manner. We do, however, take issue with both the questionable exclusion of Women’s and Gender Studies faculty from the President’s Committee on Women, and the decision to ignore the climate women students face at W&L.

The Committee itself notes that “[w]hile several committee members felt that the charge should be extended to include students, the report was limited to the scope of the faculty and staff… Recent events associated with derogatory comments towards women students in a campus newspaper are but the latest example of how the climate among the students affects the everyday life of the University. We as an entire community are all concerned about actions taken against our women students, and it is counterproductive to think we can work on the climate for only one group of women and make a lasting change in our community. Thus, we concluded that many of the climate issues related to gender must be looked at and addressed in an holistic manner.”

KEWL hopes to see that any further steps taken by the Committee on Women or any like group includes the broader campus community, notably the student body. According to ITS Director and Committee member Julie Knudson, “I believe that any committee charged with improving the campus climate cannot go forward without students and also logically must include the Program Head of Women's Studies.” Following last year’s divisive bracket, it is contrary to all reason that the student body would be exempt from a comprehensive study. Since W&L’s integration of women on campus in 1985, the university has achieved equal numbers of men and women students, yet as the report explicitly states, equality and harmony of the sexes is still something to be desired.

The report cites many of the issues facing our institution as “community” and “climate” issues, rather than exclusively women’s issues. The Committee recommends that “[i]n any effort at changing the climate, the University must realize that the problems that exist are often not restricted to women staff and faculty or even just to women.” The visiting team echoed the committee’s feelings, reporting that they also felt that it would be “prudent and effective to broaden the topic of women’s issues to issues of diversity in general or community building.”

 

“It seemed appropriate to us to include issues relating to students and gender relations between male and female students in the campus discussion,” they said, according to the Committee’s report. “Our general feeling is that any steps or actions that help one marginalized group tend to help everyone who may be marginalized.”

KEWL strongly believes the findings of this report to be the responsibility of every student and faculty member, not limited to the women of this community, to be aware and proactive about the issues facing our institution.

“I would just like to be a good teacher, writer, and member of this community--to do my work well--and that is inordinately difficult in this climate,” Wheeler writes.

The report can be found in its entirety at:    http://www.wlu.edu/x15107.xml

K.E.W.L.

Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders


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