Engineering profs cite gender discrimination
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
“I mean I had just heard there were some issues [with Carberry]. I don’t know what they were,” said Shenton, now chair of the civil engineering department, which is a part of the environmental department.
Shenton has a different opinion of Svendsen than Carberry does. He does not think Svendsen promoted a misogynistic atmosphere.
“I don’t ever recall him saying those kinds of things after I joined,” Shenton said of Carberry’s allegation that Svendsen believed women should not conduct research. “He was a good administrator, I think the department ran well.”
Shenton does not know of any case gender discrimination in his department, but thinks the friendly work environment in his department may not be reciprocated throughout the college.
“Some things I hear about other departments would suggest that they are not as collegial as we are,” he said. “I mean, faculty, you tend to get a lot of people with big egos together and so you can imagine some of the things that might happen.”
Shenton said since civil engineering is traditionally a male-dominated field, it may create an unwelcoming atmosphere for women, which he believes can be true with any minority group.
“I think until you get a critical mass of women then, yeah it’s—I think no matter what you do, there’s going to be a certain, maybe level of, you know, being, maybe not feeling part of the group in the same way everybody else does,” he said.
According to associate dean of engineering Pam Cook, “critical mass” is considered approximately one third of a group—the point when those individuals start being seen as members of the group. Women make up just a third of all university faculty members, and the engineering college is 17 percent women.
“It’s definitely more than it was, but it’s not where we could be,” Cook said.
When Cook, who is a mathematics professor, became associate dean in the engineering college in 2002, there were two departments—civil and electrical computer engineering—with no female faculty members.
“There were only four or five women in the whole college, so it was very isolated,” Cook said. “It’s hard to even know what’s going on if you’re that isolated.”
In 2008, the engineering college received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a program to increase the number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Cook hosts two yearly workshops for faculty; one aimed one aimed at recruiting women faculty, and another at faculty mentoring between senior—mostly male—faculty and junior female faculty. ADVANCE seeks to improve the work environment for women.
On Monday, college officials announced that the Women in Engineering ProActive Network named Cook a “University Change Agent,” an award given to an individual who helps improve the climate for women in STEM fields. Cook said Monday it was the first external award she has received for her ADVANCE work.
“Both workshops include an element on unconscious bias and how we all do that,” Cook said. “Obviously we don’t have enough women yet to have as good representation in here as we would like from the women.”
But Cook and other current faculty members said this problem is not exclusive to the university.
“It’s a concern all across the country. That’s why NSF has this [ADVANCE] program, which is specifically targeted on women faculty,” she said. “There just aren’t enough women in STEM. There’s not enough students—computer science is terrible for women right now, they’re just not going into it.”
However, since 2009, when ADVANCE was initiated at the university, five female faculty members have left the engineering college. Cook said she thinks mentoring is a problem in some cases, which is why there is now a formal faculty mentoring program. Sometimes people leave for better opportunities, Cook said. But not in Shine’s case.
According to Cook, Shine had an outspoken character that often clashed with other strong personalities in her department, including Wagner, she said.
“I think there are two strong personalities, let me put it that way,” Cook said of Shine and Wagner.
Although Cook was not present at the May 7 meeting in which Shine spoke about the associate chair position, she said Chajes’ email banning Shine from departmental meetings is unacceptable.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. If you are a faculty member, you can go and probably are required to go,” Cook said. “But I don’t know the details of her retirement.”
Cook calls faculty who have been at the university for a long time, like Carberry and Shine, “pioneers,” and said it is sometimes difficult for them to realize and accept that the world can change.
“Those of us who’ve been here for a long time remember the past,” she said. “I don’t think anyone would really say they were neglected anymore.”
When Cook first arrived at the university in 1993, there were no family-friendly policies like there are now, she said. “Stop the clock,” a policy which Shine helped bring to the university, allows both male and female assistant professors to stop the tenure clock for one year if they are having or adopting a child. And ADVANCE was brought in with the initiative to hire, cultivate and provide support for female faculty.
While Cook recognizes there may have been instances in the past of women feeling mistreated, Ogunnaike dismissed any possibility of gender discrimination in the college, and said Shine’s grievances
are a result of tension between Shine and Wagner.
Ogunnaike described Shine as a “difficult woman” and said she has had conflicts with many people in the chemical engineering department. He believes Shine is unfairly generalizing the treatment of women at the university using her own experiences.