Three-year grant brings awareness to inequities among professors

Bethany English

The College of Arts and Sciences is in the second year of a three-year change project to evaluate and enhance the climate for women and underrepresented groups within the college.

?Mary Lou Holly, professor of teaching, learning and curriculum studies and the Kent State co-director of the Institutions Developing Excellence in Academic Leadership, has been working on the IDEAL project since it began last fall.

?The National Science Foundation funded the IDEAL grant, with Case Western Reserve University as the lead institution among the six research universities, which include Bowling Green State University, University of Akron, Cleveland State University and University of Toledo.

?The lead university received an advance grant to enhance the climate for women and underrepresented groups and to keep them in the STEM disciplines, which comprises science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

?Case Western then applied for another grant to disseminate their findings and help other universities introduce their own change projects.

?“There are not as many women in the STEM disciplines as it would be good to have in them,” Holly said.

?Bringing more women and others from underrepresented groups into these disciplines will enrich those departments with different perspectives and types of knowledge. Those differences will lead to a more effective education for students.

?“The greater the diversity of people addressing the issues that face the world and its people, the greater the likelihood of improving,” Holly said.

?Each university works on a change theme for three years. Kent State’s theme is enhancing the climate for scholarly and collegial community in the College of Arts and Sciences, which houses the STEM disciplines. Three people are chosen each year to act as change leaders to direct the project.

?In the first year, which Holly called the foundation year, a climate survey was sent to all tenure-track professors in the College of Arts and Sciences to gauge their feelings about their environment.

?After reviewing the results, the change leaders for the second year decided they will hold six separate focus groups to determine the finer details of the survey at the beginning of the spring semester.

?Marilyn Norconk, a current change leader and associate anthropology professor, said the findings from the survey show a clear distinction between male and female professors, with females showing a higher level of dissatisfaction in almost every question asked. Associate professors also conveyed a sense of dissatisfaction.

?While the number of women gaining doctoral degrees continues to grow, Norconk said that rise is not reflected at the full professor rank or in many leadership positions. At Kent State, less than 10 percent of all full professors in the College of Arts and Sciences are women.

?“It’s clear that there’s still this pretty heavy bias,” Norconk said.

?For Daniel Holm, a change leader for the 2010-11 academic year and chairman of the geology department, inequity among professors is an issue affecting everyone.

?“We as males need to be conscious and aware of the inequity and what we can do about it,” Holm said.

?He also said that because of this unbalanced power, many of those in leadership positions who can initiate change are males. This makes it imperative that they have an understanding of issues affecting women and other underrepresented groups.

?Although Holly said three years is a short period to create much change, the change leaders will take the information they have gained and suggest recommendations to improve the conditions for these groups.

?Beyond these recommendations, Holly said another important goal is to attract awareness to this inequity because many people may not even realize it is a problem.

?“I don’t think people normally set out to discriminate against others,” Holly said. “I think a lot of it is lack of awareness.”

Contact Bethany English at [email protected].