Tag Archive for women’s studies

A case study in systematic oppression: UA’s Women’s Studies Program

The majority of faculty at colleges and universities are now part-time, also known as adjunct or contingent. The majority of part-time/adjunct/contingent faculty are women. Both are Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 9.40.19 PMtreated inequitably.

Here’s a look at what happens when two forms of inequitable treatment — classism and sexism — intersect within the academy to create what feminist theorists define as systematic oppression.

Let’s take a look at the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Akron. We’ll consider the status — or class — of those who teach in the program, as well as their gender.

Classism, sexism and the two-tiered system

Like other departments and programs, UA’s Women’s Studies Program has what can be described as a two-tiered faculty system. The upper tier consists of a full-time faculty member who receives a nine-month salary of about $50K and full benefits that cost the institution about $8K per year. She teaches 24 credit hours per academic year, not including summer term. If she teaches during the summer, she receives additional compensation.

poverty levelsThe lower tier is comprised of three part-time faculty members and two graduate assistants who teach the majority of introductory classes within the program. The part-time faculty are paid by the credit hour at a rate ranging from $700 to $950.

They do not receive paid benefits such as healthcare, life insurance, etc. Neither are they likely to receive a summer teaching assignment, so they are unemployed during the summer term. Despite this, the university’s standard practice is to dispute all unemployment compensation claims by part-time faculty, including those filed by women’s studies part-timers.

Up until fall 2013, part-time faculty could teach a maximum of 21 credits during fall and spring terms, which would give an adjunct teaching the maximum load an annual wage of between $14,700 and $19,950 per academic year.

As of this fall, part-time faculty at UA can only teach a maximum of eight credits per semester because UA is subverting the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, to avoid providing adjuncts with health benefits.

That means that adjuncts in the Women’s Studies Program can only teach two three-credit courses per semester, as all women’s studies courses carry three credits. That brings the annual pay range of women’s studies adjuncts at UA to between $8,400 and $11,400, wages well below the poverty level.

Graduate assistants receive the lowest stipend UA offers, $663.51 bi-weekly, along with a tuition waiver. In return, they teach two women’s studies courses per academic year. They do not receive paid benefits.

This two-tiered system — where an elite group of faculty receives wages and benefits commensurate with their education and experience, while another group of qualified faculty is paid poverty wages — promotes classism as well as sexism, since — as we have already noted — the ranks of part-time faculty have been feminized.

Marginalized by the report

The two-tiered system, with its inherent classism, was reinforced when UA’s Women’s Studies Program hired Ohio State University’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies to conduct a review of its existing Women’s Studies Program and its Women’s Resource Center, which is currently without a director or support staff. During that process, which took place May 10-11, 2012, individuals who play key roles in UA’s Women’s Studies Program were overlooked. That’s because they belong to the lower tier.

Notably and predictably, adjuncts were not included in the agenda for the review until the last minute. YWCA-blog-earnings-ratio-chart1Then they were given a 15-minute slot on the two-day schedule of events. While at the table, they were asked to discuss Women’s Resource Center programming, not academics.

The former long-term director of the program and a strong advocate for adjuncts during her Women’s Studies Program tenure, was not asked to participate in the campus discussions at all, even though she is a tenured faculty member at UA and maintains her interest in the program.

The report OSU issued after the review continued to support the two-tiered system. In it, adjunct faculty were invisible. The report’s recommendations regarding the future of the Women’s Studies Program and the Women’s Resource Center marginalized adjuncts, ignoring their important contributions to the success of the program and the ongoing relationships they build with UA students. Adjuncts who teach solely in the Women’s Studies Program — and teach the majority of women’s studies courses — were mentioned in passing. Although they and graduate teaching assistants are the mainstay of the program, teaching at least 500 students per year, adjuncts were described in one paragraph as “occasional lecturers who teach in the Program.”

Meanwhile, full-time faculty members who teach mainly in their own disciplines, but teach an occasional course that is also cross-listed as a women’s studies course, received accolades for their “labor of love” and sympathy for their inability to obtain release time from their academic departments to teach in women’s studies.

Even graduate students, who, like part-time faculty, experience exploitative working conditions, got more attention than adjuncts. The report criticized the pay of graduate teaching assistants in the program as being “at the lowest pay scale level.” Adjunct compensation, however, was never mentioned.

Report recommendations ignored

Kathryn Feltey

Kathryn Feltey, interim director of UA’s Women’s Studies Program

The report, for which UA paid paid $1,640, has not been implemented and was not distributed beyond a handful of top administrators. This is despite the fact that it described the program as being “greatly under-resourced” and “in a state of disarray” and recommended that UA strengthen both the Women’s Studies Program and the Women’s Resource Center “to address the needs of women on campus.”

The critique of the Women’s Studies Program also included these points:

  • Program bylaws are not approved.
  • There is no oversight of courses.
  • Holes exist in the curriculum.
  • Few students graduate with a minor or undergraduate or graduate certificate.
  • Few women’s studies courses are offered each semester, making it difficult for students to complete the program requirements.
  • There is little promotion and visibility of the program on campus.
  • There is inadequate advising of students who are potential minors.
  • The program does not have a dedicated, visible space on campus.
  • The program does not have adequate leadership or office support.

The report recommended hiring a full-time director of the Women’s Studies Program, and a national search to fill that position was conducted earlier this year. But despite the search committee’s recommendation that it bring its top candidates to campus for in-person interviews, the search was scrapped by the College of Arts and Sciences. A new search for the position began this fall, with a salary line of $70-$100K, but it was cancelled due to budget constraints, according to an email sent today.

Meanwhile, the program has been without a permanent director since the summer of 2010. Since spring term of 2011, Kathryn Feltey, associate professor of sociology, has served as interim director.

During her tenure, she has refused to assign available classes to part-time faculty with experience in the program. Instead, she has filled all available graduate assistantships and adjunct positions with students and faculty from her own discipline, weighting the program toward sociology and away from its natural interdisciplinary focus.

This semester, two Introduction to Women’s Studies classes were still listed in the university’s online schedule as being taught by anonymous “Staff” on the Friday before the semester began, a practice that does not serve the best interests of students.

The walk must match the talk

imgresThe classism and sexism inherent in the two-tiered faculty structure supported by both UA’s Women’s Studies Program and the report it commissioned goes against the underlying principles of feminism and women’s studies. For it is in women’s studies classrooms and offices and hallways that the slogan “The personal is the political” is heard as a daily mantra. And it is in the women’s studies classroom — and program — that actions should speak louder than words.

UA’s Women’s Studies Program Web page includes a quote from a student who graduated with a minor in the program.

Engaging with women’s and gender studies classes promotes complex thinking and the development of a theoretical orientation that encourages an intersectional perspective as well as the deconstructing and challenging of social inequalities, hierarchies as well as many normative academic discourses and ideologies.

At UA, that is all theory and no praxis. And students and faculty of women’s studies know that theory without praxis is worth nothing at all.