Consortium response to SYS

To whom it may concern:

We write on behalf of the UW-System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium and in response to UW-System’s proposed Low Productivity Policy (SYS, Program Productivity Monitoring). We call for SYS to be rescinded. This proposed policy targets programs with small numbers of majors and will have significant negative consequences for the vitality of Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) programs across the UW System. While we recognize the importance of program review and actively engage in it ourselves, we maintain that this proposed policy demonstrates a failure to understand, recognize, and appreciate the important role that Women’s and Gender Studies programs play within our universities, our communities and the state. In particular, such a policy diminishes the inclusive excellence and diversity work we provide.

As other university, state, regional and national experts have pointed out, assessing the viability of a program or department based on a single metric—the number of majors graduated within a 5 year period—fails to account for the multiple ways in which these programs enrich the offerings of the university system and benefit students and the community. In the case of WGS, there are multiple components to our programming and university sustainability, including contributions to general education, support of co- curricular activities, service work, and other student-centered practices like high impact teaching practices (HIPS) and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). These components tend to be overlooked when assessment rests on graduation of majors alone. This is especially problematic when such assessments are made with no regard to the resources provided to these programs. Consider the following:

  1. Enrollment numbers in WGS courses remain high overall, even when the number of majors remains comparatively low. In other words, our programs are considered productive when measured in terms of Student Credit Hours (SCH) to Full-Time Equivalencies (FTE). Given the multiple roles and demands on programs, many are close to capacity even with comparatively few majors.
  2. Our focus on intersectionality, inclusivity, and diversity provides course offerings that fulfill valuable requirements for other degree programs that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Thus, our courses serve as a valuable conduit to degrees in other fields.
  3. WGS majors enrich the level of knowledge and discourse on campus, in the community, and in key employment sectors. Indeed, the actual number of majors does not take into account the impact that these comparatively few majors have in their communities and within various employment sectors. According to Berger and Radeloff (178)i, the six most common employment tracks for WGS graduates include health professions, entrepreneurship, law, higher education leadership, academe and nonprofit work. Any WGS major working within these professional sectors (and others!) provides vital knowledge and cultural competencies that support a diversity of perspectives and ideas.
  4. The personal, social and economic costs of not providing training to majors within this field has yet to be considered by the UW System. WGS programs cover many content areas related to personal and community health including content

related to domestic and interpersonal violence, harassment, stalking, LGBTQ* Studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, body image issues and so much more. The testimonies of our students about the rigor and transformational effect of their education cannot be ignored.

  1. Women’s and Gender Studies is a field that most students discover once they arrive at the university, having been completely unaware of its existence before then. We should celebrate that we introduce students to fields that they are unaware of in high school, but need to recognize that as a result of this lack of awareness, students don’t consider majoring until late in their college careers. That students don’t discover WGS until late has a discernable impact on the number of majors.
  2. Women’s and Gender Studies is at the cutting edge of research and knowledge production. Policies such as SYS contradict commitments to creativity and innovation made possible by interdisciplinary majors like WGS.
  3. The programs that potentially are vulnerable under this proposed policy would be those with WGS majors and programs at the 4 year comprehensives. This has obvious implications for student access to this curriculum outside of UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee.
  4. We consider this policy as antithetical to strategic enrollment and retention efforts. Our intersectional model and focus on diversity and inclusion attracts faculty and students who do not feel the same sense of belonging and recognition in other disciplines. Elimination of a major inevitably impacts the autonomy and resources that a WGS program has to provide needed curriculum and support gender equity and other diversity efforts on campus. Overall, the elimination of support for WGS majors on the campus and System level will signal a lack of commitment to gender equity and other diversity work.

In order to retain the protections embedded in the Elimination of Discrimination Based on Gender (see Regents Policy 14.3 G) and similar policies, the UW System will need to find ways to preserve the work of the WGS programs and departments and its larger academic network as a means of continuing its commitment to address gender discrimination and related inequalities through education.

The expectations for administrative, budget, and teaching FTE for WGS should be equivalent to the needs of discipline-based programs of the same. As each institution grapples with the implications of the proposed policy on low productivity (SYS, Program Productivity Monitoring), we recommend this model of support for WGS on each campus that will help maintain majors and vital programming:

• Each program has appropriate administrative support and budget to carry out the work of the program, develop curriculum and teaching schedules, and recruit affiliate faculty, staff, and most importantly, students.

  • Administration of the program is not reliant upon unpaid or underpaid volunteer support of the faculty to do the work of the program (as is the case on several campuses).
  • There is dedicated teaching FTE enough to support the core courses of the program without requiring the administrator to beg for release of borrowed faculty from other departments. This can be achieved by shared faculty lines or dedicated funding for FTE buy out of affiliated faculty time.
  • If co-curricular expectations exist for the department, there needs to be appropriate administrative and budget support to carry them out.

The University of Wisconsin System must find ways to maintain and advance WGS courses and programs on each campus in order to support a vibrant, inclusive campus community, and remain compliant with the protections embedded in the Regent’s policy on Equal Education in Employment on the basis of gender discrimination and similar policies based on race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is exactly now, when resources for WGS are most challenged, that the importance of campus WGS programs and departments becomes all the clearer.

We are eager to work with the administration of each campus to find creative ways to boost the number of graduates, minors, and certificates from our programs and departments; however, in order to do this, we need to operate from a substantially larger resource base than is currently in place. Additionally, we seek the support of our Provosts in resisting a single-metric of analysis for assessing a program’s viability, and, instead, challenge our campus leaders to implement more dynamic models of evaluation which take into account the multiple ways in which students interface with many critical programs and departments across each campus. If we are to maintain access to women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and related programing on each campus, and retain the faculty, staff, and students for whom it is most important, then demonstrated support on the part of UW System must be accelerated for Women’s and Gender Studies on every campus.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely,

Ellie Schemenauer
Co-Chair, UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies Department
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
800 W. Main St.
Whitewater, WI 53190

Stephanie Rytilahti
Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium 475 N. Charter Street
University of Wisconsin-Madison
3304 Sterling Hall

i Berger, Michelle Tracy and Cheryl L Radeloff. Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students are Changing Themselves and the World. New York, Routledge, 2015.