Conference at UM stresses need to get, keep female administrators

June 03, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Before he even knew she might leave, one of his prized administrators was virtually out the door and on her way to another job.

The president of the Johns Hopkins University, William C. Richardson, says he managed to get this woman to change her && mind and stay.

"Hopkins could not afford to have her out of the position she was in. We managed to turn it around 180 degrees," Dr. Richardson told administrators from 15 other public and private universities who convened here last week to explore new ways of removing barriers to women in securing jobs, advancement and equal pay. The two-day conference was titled, "The New Agenda of Women for Higher Education."

With a quickly growing pool of women Ph.D.s, universities have no "supply-side" problems, according to Robert H. Atwell, president of the American Council on Education, co-sponsor of the conference with the University of Maryland.

As a result, Mr. Atwell said, pressure on universities to achieve equity is also growing. Thirty-five percent of the Ph.D.s graduating each year are women, he said, and 33 percent of those receiving a professional degree are women -- yet only 7 to 9 percent of professors at research universities are women.

"We have to close the gap between potential and reality," Mr. Atwell said.

Said University of Maryland President William E. Kirwan: "It has been endemic to our institutions that decisions are made without the experiences and perspectives of many of those affected by those decisions.

"University administrators tend to look more like me," said Dr. Kirwan, a white male, "than like University of Wisconsin Chancellor [Donna E.] Shalala or like former College Park Chancellor John Slaughter," who is black.

To raise the status of women on U.S. campuses, Dr. Richardson said university presidents must be sensitive to the "critical junctures" -- moments such as the one in which a valued employee was kept at Hopkins.

Michigan State University President John A. DiBiaggio had a similar experience on his campus. He discovered that a minority group applicant was getting no attention from a campus search committee.

Take another look, President DiBiaggio advised.

He said he did not order that this applicant get the job, though that was the result. He did suggest that traditional academic publishing standards might have to be relaxed. That thought seemed to bring the discussion even more squarely into the real world.

Chancellor Shalala of Wisconsin said figures on women available for academic posts might be misleading. Some departments at her university, she said, would be unlikely to look favorably on candidates from programs regarded as substandard.

"We simply are snobs, and we're going to continue to be snobs," she said.

University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo spoke about a conference on his own campus, where the highs and lows of the women's movement were reviewed. The moment allowed him to share "the pain of women and minorities who have not prospered as they should have." At other times, he said, he sees progress and wonders if he is leading or "just riding the wave of historical inevitability."

"There is no question that we have the capacity to change," he said. "The question is 'Do we have the will?' "

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