Saturday, April 07, 2007

Committee of Women

In the past, I've written disparaging comments about people who denigrate committees comprised entirely of women, as if the findings of a Committee of Women (COW) were somehow less valid and more biased than those of a committee comprised mostly or entirely of men. Well, maybe I'm a hypocrite, but I'm thinking of turning down an opportunity to be on a COW that is charged with improving the situation for women faculty at my university.

This COW seems to exist mostly so that administrators can say they are doing something about women's 'issues'. In the collective administrative mind of my university, women's 'issues' are things like childcare; for some reason, this is not an issue for male faculty, and requires a COW to come up with the finding, which is then ignored, that faculty (and staff and students) need more quality childcare. I have talked to some women on this committee, and been to one open meeting. Although I think the committee is not taken very seriously by the powers-that-be, the women are impressive, and I think that on a personal level it would be interesting to interact with them.

One reason to be on the COW would be to work to make the committee a more visible and major player in changing the academic culture of the university. I don't think I need to be convinced as to whether that is a realistic goal or not in terms of deciding if I want to be on this committee. The theoretical mission of the committee appeals to me.

Even so, when my department Chair said he wanted to nominate me for this committee, my initial reaction was negative. My department Chair and my department as a whole do not even think I am qualified to lead a department committee or be on a college-level committee that focuses on general issues, but they think I could probably handle a committee focused on women's issues. If I had a leadership position in my department, I think I would happily do both that and the COW. As it is, I'd be spending my time on something no one in my department values or respects. I know that I should set aside my intra-departmental grievances and focus on the larger issue of how I can be most effective (and happy), and not make decisions based on whether my more primitive colleagues will respect my choice of professional service activities.


Mr. B. said...

In putting your thoughts down in writing, you seem to answer your own questions.

"I know that I should set aside my intra-departmental grievances and focus on the larger issue..."

Do it. Sometimes in order to be treated with respect and assigned to chair committees in your own department, you need to do these things first outside of the department.

There are lots of good places that have COWs and it is going to be harder and harder to ignore what they have to say.

Happy Easter (if you are of that persuasion).

Mr. B.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps your first action on the COW could be to get some men on it, so that its recommendations are bi-partisan.

A COW is by nature polarizing, and while any step towards equilibrium is a good thing, it's altogether too easy to ignore the recommendations of a group of "hysterical" women.

Rosie Redfield said...

A committee consisting entirely or mainly of members of the disadvantaged group whose problems it is supposed to address has no credibility.

Ask your administration to prove its sincerity by putting some men on this committee - enough so that women are no longer the majority.

Make a fuss. The composition of this committee is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ms.PhD said...

I think you should take the slot and then, as others recommended, insist on recruiting a few reasonably well respected but non-clueless men (does your university have any of those?).

Screw 'em and what they think. If they can't do the math, go somewhere that can.

And, you deserve this. Anywhere that you can feel effective, that matters. And trust us when we say we need you and more people like you to be on every COW and in every possible leadership position! We're counting on you to claw your way up the mountain with your fingernails so at least when we have to do it, we can follow your toeholds.

Emily said...

I'm a little late to be commenting on this, but could you suggest to the department chair that he nominate your husband instead, since the childcare issues involved equally affect him? (Or some other male faculty member with children who actually participates in their child care.) I agree that it's insulting that they won't give you any departmental power but will spend your time on a committee they perceive as being of less use. And I also agree that the only way to change the perception of the issues is to get some male involvement in the committee...

Ethel the Tree said...

I'm a female professor in the mathematical sciences at a major state university. I have seen for myself that women can be among the biggest hindrances to the success of other women!

Men who understand the issues should be part of this committee; otherwise, it will be viewed as a bunch of whining b!tches (unfortunately).