September 12, 2008

WSU Wants More Women in Sciences


Robert Bates, the recently retired Washington State University provost, has his work cut out.

With four others at WSU, Bates will manage a $3.69 million National Science Foundation grant to increase the numbers of female faculty in science departments.

"Nationally, women in the specific disciplines we are focusing on comprise 15 percent or less of their faculty," Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture, said by e-mail.

Among tenured scientists at WSU, the figure is more striking: Women make up 7 percent of tenured professors.

"The numbers are low for a variety of reasons," said Amy Wharton, director of the College of Liberal Arts at WSU Vancouver. "To think about it as a pipeline, it starts obviously through early childhood with the stereotypes about girls not being as good at math."

It's a leaky pipeline, Wharton said, and women fall through the cracks.

The tenure track is usually a rigid, six-year process of intense research, and women aren't allowed to take time off if they have a child. Many are often back in the classroom weeks after giving birth.

"Let's make it possible for people to be outstanding researchers while not neglecting their elderly parents," Wharton said. "It's institutionalizing change."

Bates, who moved to Vancouver recently to assume the new position of director of research and graduate research, said WSU will examine how the University of Washington managed its grant money from 2001- 2006. The University of Washington reported a 28.3 percent increase in the number of female tenured or tenure-track faculty during that period.

Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, a clinical assistant professor at WSUV, is a member of a women's group on campus and sits on the university's Commission on the Status of Women. She said child care, elder care and jobs for spouses are hot topics.

"If they want to recruit a diverse work force, they need to start considering spousal issues," Rollwagen-Bollens said. "That's a thorny one, and the commission is trying to help the university develop clear policies."

But Vancouver's campus may have an edge, Wharton said.

"The Vancouver campus is still a young, dynamic campus," Wharton said. "I don't know if our climate is better, if we're better able to track people, the sense of community, but there is a difference."

Wharton, director of the College of Liberal Arts, said she sees more babies on the campus, a healthy change from when she started in academia.

"When I started in sociology after grad school, there weren't many women like me having families," Wharton said. "I think because we're a different generation, we're going to grad school and don't have time for families. I think the times have changed, thankfully, and men and women have saner views of work and retaining a balance between work and family."

Isolde Raftery: 360-735-4546, [email protected]

Originally published by ISOLDE RAFTERY Columbian staff writer.

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