January 13, 2009
Like so many across our local landscape and, indeed, across the globe, I have been enthralled by the unconventional manner in which President-elect Obama is constructing his new administration. Beyond the obvious demographic diversity of his leadership team, which comprises Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and women, he has sought to include viewpoints within his administration that are not only widely various but even at distinct odds with his own. This embrace of competing ideas, which many say evokes the daring but distant political approach of Abraham Lincoln, aims to complicate and thereby enrich the discourse that will undergird national policy. I believe this audacious model of “a team of rivals,” as it has been called, is a challenge to all of us, personally, professionally and institutionally. In the ideal, of course, the university exists precisely for the open, dynamic exchange of divergent ideas. As a committed scholar of the Enlightenment, I confess to harboring sincere optimism in the potential of that exchange to enhance the life of the mind and indeed the public well-being.
Within our broad university community as well as the smaller circle of the Association of Women Faculty, therefore, I hope we will engage in vigorous, constructive and civil debate about how best to support the interests of women faculty. Moreover, it is my hope that in our Association’s work with the university administration to conceive and institute new initiatives and policies aimed at enhancing the lives of women and under-represented minority faculty, here too, we can become a team of rivals, openly engaged in a discussion of the spectrum of ideas for the greater good of our membership and of all members of the university community.
This semester, the AWF board will again focus its sights on promoting substantive change for the expansion of diversity across the university landscape. Beyond continuing our advocacy for the establishment of an office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, an institutional and administrative commonplace among our peers, on March 30, we are sponsoring a Town Hall Meeting on Diversity at Washington University featuring Professor Patricia Jones, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Stanford University, who will speak on “Building Excellence Through Faculty Diversity: Institutional Implementation.” The event will include an open discussion following Professor Jones’ talk, led by a panel of faculty members from both campuses who have been involved in the campaign to move the bar graphs and the culture of our institution in the direction of greater diversity. As with all events sponsored by AWF this semester, the town hall meeting is open to all members of the university community. Please look to the “Diversity” link alongside this letter for more information about AWF advocacy on this issue.
With best wishes for a tranquil new year and semester,
Rebecca Messbarger, President
Association of Women Faculty