CORVALLIS - A progress report on the parity of women faculty and staff at Oregon State University has found that the university has doubled the number of female full professors in the nine years since the last "parity report," but that OSU is still below the national average.
Women of color are "farther from reaching parity in the professorial ranks," the authors report, though they, too, are employed at a higher rate than a decade ago. "We've made some progress," said Beth Rietveld, director of the women's center and a member of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, which produced the report. "There are still a lot of areas for improvement - in the culture as well as the numbers - but these are issues being faced by nearly every university in the country."
The initial parity report in 1994 used data from the two to three previous years to establish a benchmark for the number of women employed at OSU in different disciplines and professorial ranks, as well as how women viewed the environments in which they worked.
In 1993, for example, only 9 percent of all of OSU's full professors were women. In the latest report, using data from 2003, the university had nearly doubled that number to 17.5 percent. The national average is 21 percent for research universities.
Titled "2004 Progress Report: The Path to Parity for Women at Oregon State University," the document is available on the web at: oregonstate.edu/aadmin/comdiv. The report is a qualitative study, the authors say, not a scientific survey. Data were collected from personal interviews with women and senior administrators, through identity group caucuses, from focus groups, and via surveys and other solicited input.
Five thematic areas of concern were present throughout the study, the authors say. These include: workload and work/life balance, institutional culture, professional development and advancement, salary equity, and representational equity.
"It's the nature of the academy," said Anne Gillies, an associate in the Office of Affirmative Action at OSU and one of the authors of the study. "What is going on at Oregon State, in effect, is being mirrored across the country.
"To their credit, the people in charge at the university - like (OSU President) Ed Ray - are demonstrating a personal commitment to making things better," Gillies added. "He wants to know specifically what OSU needs to do to make real improvements. And that commitment is sincere."
Among the report's recommendations:
- Require each academic and support unit's diversity action plans to include tangible strategies addressing concerns about work/life balance, institutional culture, and professional development/advancement, as well as representational parity and salary equity;
- Allocate resources to ensure more regular institution-level assessment on gender parity issues and professional development, and create an upper level administrative position to take the lead on women's issues;
- Reward employees in every category of employment with merit raises, promotions, and other tangible forms of recognition for building a culture supportive of women through teaching, mentoring, advising, promoting and affirming difference, and other forms of service;
- Expand employee development programs to address areas of concern, including training all levels of leaders on issue of power, privilege, subtle discrimination, harassment and climate; train all employees on issues of gender and cultural competence; protect and expand employee access to degree and professional certificate programs; and develop mentoring programs and training for new mentors.
Michelle Bothwell, an associate professor of chemical engineering and co-chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, said a challenge for academic institutions is to recognize that not all employees provide value in the same manner.
"Equal doesn't mean the same," she said. "We need to be able to hold our differences and recognize their value. A lot of students, regardless of gender, come to me because I value relationships as much as scholarship. But there is pressure to bend to the institutional norms that have traditionally valued research and scholarship - grants and publications.
"I'd rather make a significant contribution to a student's professional and personal development - to genuinely impact his or her life - than receive a $1 million grant," Bothwell added. "When I look back on my life's accomplishments, I doubt I'll be thinking about how many research dollars I secured, but rather I'll be reflecting on the relationships I participated in."