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February 17, 2011

Senate Matters: Monitoring women’s progress; A freshman’s perspective

Monitoring women’s progress

by Irene H. Frieze and Kacey Marra

While women now make up more than 50 percent of students here and at universities across the United States, women faculty represent an increasingly smaller percentage the higher up the academic ranks you go, according to the American Association of University Professors. The AAUP’s 2009-10 Report of the Committee on the Economic Status of the Profession also notes that women faculty continue to earn less than men. Women faculty, staff and students face other challenges, as well. Women are more likely to report being victimized by sexual harassment. As the primary caretakers of children, women are more concerned about finding affordable, quality child care. Women often are the primary caregivers for elderly family members as well as others with special needs.

The University has made many efforts to address these issues. Since 1983, the provost’s advisory committee for women’s concerns (PACWC) has monitored faculty salaries in Provost area units and worked on other issues of concern to women faculty, staff and students. PACWC was central in making recommendations about faculty child care leave; establishing the University Child Development Center; developing clearer guidelines for addressing complaints about sexual harassment, and establishing required training about sexual harassment issues. But PACWC members are appointed by the Office of the Provost, so the committee is not independent.

The Campus Women’s Organization is a student group that works on women students’ concerns. Although, like PACWC, it is of great value to the campus community, its scope and mission, too, are limited.

The University Senate periodically has taken a leadership role in assisting women on campus. It was a Senate resolution that led to the 1972 establishment of Pitt’s women’s studies program, which has established an array of courses and programs for the University community. In 2004, a Senate plenary session on the roles of women at Pitt led to three Senate ad hoc committees addressing women’s concerns: the ad hoc committee for the support and advancement of women at Pitt (2004-06); the ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity (2007-08), and the ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity II (2009-2010). (Reports of the two most recent committees are at

It is essential that the Senate continue to serve as an independent voice to monitor the situation for women and to help to resolve issues as they arise. But since Senate bylaws limit the life of ad hoc committees to two years, such groups lack the continuity needed for sustained work on women’s issues.

To address this need, the Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee voted in December to establish the gender discrimination initiatives subcommittee. The objective of this new committee is to ensure that faculty are treated equitably by gender in recruitment, hiring, allocation of leadership responsibilities, compensation and promotion. We hope to work closely with the Provost’s office to develop and implement a universal template for appointing, compensating and evaluating deans and department chairs. We want the template to incorporate features making the opportunity for administrative appointment equally available to both women and men, as well as to include faculty input on administrative performance. Such a template would ensure uniformity across the institution’s five campuses.

We are assembling a group of faculty, staff, postdocs and students to discuss gender equity issues. This subcommittee will be committed to addressing salary differentials, developing seminars and workshops that give faculty the opportunity to develop leadership skills, and pursuing improved child and dependent care. We will continue to monitor the University Child Development Center and sexual harassment policies and procedures. The subcommittee will serve as a resource as new issues arise. If you are interested in participating, please contact Kacey Marra,

Irene H. Frieze chaired the Senate ad hoc committees for the promotion of gender equity (2007-08) and promotion of gender equity II (2009-10). Kacey Marra is chair of the Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee’s new gender discrimination initiatives subcommittee.

A freshman’s perspective

by Patricia Weiss

The Jan. 25 Faculty Assembly meeting included reports from three Senate committees and a discussion by faculty and administration representatives of evaluation procedures for department chairs and deans. (See Feb. 3 University Times.) Afterwards, representative Kevin Kearns — one of three Faculty Assembly freshmen we are following this year — observed:

“I am very impressed by the quality of the dialogue and the commitment to fact-based deliberations. Yesterday’s meeting was a case in point. On several occasions, reports were made by committee or subcommittee chairs that contained assertions of fact that were subsequently challenged (in a very civil way) and clarified via discussion. In both instances, the dialogue revealed new information and/or new interpretations of data that will carry over into subsequent meetings, which I am sure will add greater clarity and focus to our deliberations and will lead to wiser decisions on our part. There is a lot of experience and a lot of wisdom in that room. I’m very impressed in particular by the ability of the president to guide and, at times, control the discussion, preventing it from straying too far from the topic.”

Patricia Weiss is vice president of the University Senate.

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