Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

June 12, 2009

What changes are being made?

College of Sciences and Humanities Dean Michael Maggiotto convened a task force to review the current Women's Studies Program. In anticipation of a new director, the group's purpose was to recommend a framework that would empower a well-qualified individual within the academic community to effectively lead and strengthen the program.  Some decisions have been made, while others will be left to the leadership of the new director.

At the recommendation of the task force, the Women's Studies Program will make the following adjustments, effective the beginning of fall semester 2009:

  • Adopt a refocused and refined mission which was last revised 27 years ago.  The new mission is more descriptive of the contemporary importance of interdisciplinary inquiry and more clearly articulates the academic rigor of feminist inquiry.  The new mission emphasizes that issues of women and gender are integrated with, and cannot be separated from, other societal issues. 
  • The director will be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. Working from a position of tenure fully empowers the director with the influence needed to speak on behalf of the program within the university community. The value of this power is not unique to this position or program.  Academic freedom and the values of tenure have an inextricable link that harkens back to the origins of the academy. Tenure provides a faculty member with a safe environment in which to advocate vigorously on issues that are politically conflicted. This change will strengthen the voice of the program within the university and within the broader academy.
  • The program will formalize its interdisciplinary structure and follow a well-established model of similar programs in higher education. There are three elements: 
    First, the curriculum will be taught by affiliate faculty members from across the university. Affiliate faculty will have demonstrated credentials in both their home department and women's issues, as demonstrated by research and publishing and excellent teaching, as well as service in the field of women's and/or gender studies. This decision simply formalizes a current practice of drawing faculty from across the curriculum in a manner that strengthens the program. It's not new but rather more formalized.
    Second, an advisory board will be drawn from the affiliate faculty members to counsel the director on curriculum developments and enhancements.  All curricula change over time to ensure they remain relevant.
    Third, friends of the program will be welcomed as a network of committed and engaged individuals who wish to support the program and its students.
  • The name of the program will change to Women's and Gender Studies. The decision to use "Women's Studies" or add "Gender" to the name of such programs is a matter of serious intellectual debate within the discipline.  After considerable research, investigation of other programs, and review of work by experts in the field, the committee determined inclusion of "Gender" in the name is a more inclusive and accurate reflection of the discipline.  The task force determined that most prominent feminists have argued overwhelmingly and persuasively that the social construction of gender is more complex than what can be encompassed solely by the label "women." Some of them include Dr. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Syracuse University; Dr. Judith Butler, University of California Berkley; Dr. Joan Scott, Princeton University; and Dr. Drucilla Cornell, Rutgers University.  These are some of the most well-respected programs in the country, and only four of the more than 50 reviewed by the task force.
  • There are other decisions that will be left to the new director (in coordination with the dean), who will be charged with strengthening the program to meet its new mission.  They include:

o Determining the most effective way to staff and resource Women's Week.
o Developing and revising the curriculum in a manner consistent with the new mission and using the advisory board as a resource. Curriculum changes are a natural part of every discipline and any effective academic program.
o Expanding the student internship program in a manner consistent with immersive learning and an emphasis on experiences outside of the university.

What is the new mission statement?

The Women's and Gender Studies program at Ball State University is an interdisciplinary program embracing a wide variety of academic approaches relevant to the study of women, gender, and feminisms in contemporary and historical societies. The program stresses that issues affecting women and gender are situated in and intertwined with sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, geography, (dis)ability, and religion (among other factors). We challenge our students to critically investigate and evaluate these intersections through learning grounded in feminist research and theory. We acknowledge and work in the spirit of the remarkable progress made toward gender equity, but we also recognize and analyze how numerous social and political forces continue to work against this advancement. In our programs, we insist upon both rigorous scholarship and an environment of respect and tolerance.

How will the director's time be structured?

The director's position will be full-time, with half of his or her duties geared toward administrative responsibilities and leading the program, a quarter toward teaching, and a quarter toward research. This place the director to on par with academic departmental chairs in the college as well as program directors of similar programs across the country.

How will these changes affect students?

Students will benefit from the perspective provided by fully credentialed faculty who are conducting research, publishing, and engaging in service in a variety of disciplines as well as women's studies. Women's issues cannot be separated from the rest of society and the broad perspective provided by the faculty as a whole will provide students a well-rounded education.  Students will also benefit from a leader that, as a tenured or tenure-track professor, fully integrates the mission of the program and the academic mission of college and university. Ultimately, students will have a better educational experience.

There will be no immediate change to majors, minors, or course offerings in the Women's Studies Program.  Students majoring or minoring in the program may proceed with their degrees as planned.  Students' ability to enroll in classes will be unaffected. Changes to the curriculum will occur over time, but to no greater degree than any other program on campus.  Any changes will be recommended by the affiliate faculty and facilitated by the director.

Did the current financial situation drive these decisions?

No. While this is a difficult time for all public and private entities, the financial climate is not related to the direction of the program.  The search for a new director provides an opportunity to review the program to ensure it is meeting the needs of our students.  The fact that the director position is being filled as an exception to a university-wide hiring freeze and that the position will be elevated to be on par with other department chairs is inconsistent with the idea that the program is being diminished in any way. 

Did the task force look at other programs?

The program evaluated more than 50 programs across the country. There is no standard model for such programs.  The recommendations of the task force reflect a combination of the strongest ideas from other programs that are most appropriate for Ball State.  The structure of a director, affiliate faculty, and an advisory board or committee is a standard approach to interdisciplinary programs in many different fields. 

Is the program being decentralized?

The curriculum will be taught by affiliate faculty members from across the university. This simply formalizes a current practice of drawing faculty from across the curriculum, but doing so in a manner that strengthens the program. Affiliate faculty will now have demonstrated credentials in both their field and women's issues, as demonstrated by research and publishing as well as service in the field of women's studies. This modest change simply strengthens a current practice of drawing faculty from across the curriculum.

How will this affect current faculty?

No faculty member has been relieved of teaching duties in the program.  Women's and Gender Studies will be strengthened by formalizing the relationship between faculty and the program through affiliate faculty status. These affiliate faculty will have demonstrated credentials both in women's studies and in their departmental fields of study, as demonstrated through research, publishing, and service.  The objective is to build a larger critical mass of faculty to create a wider variety of experiences for students, therefore enhancing their education.  Any faculty member may apply for affiliate faculty status through an application form that will be distributed to all faculty throughout the university.

Will the location of the program change?

No decision has been made about changing the location of the program, its library, or archives.  Should decisions about space be required, they will be made in conjunction with the new director.

How were communications handled for these changes?

The decisions that have been made are administrative in nature. They were made with the goal of creating an environment and framework that help the next director lead the program to an even higher level of distinction. Some individuals began speaking publicly before they had their facts correct. The resulting confusion is regrettable.  The purpose of this document is to provide clear, accurate, and official information.

Who can answer my questions related to the program?

Dr. Kecia McBride, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities, is the contact for accurate and official information on the program. Visit her profile page for contact information.