Goodbye Women’s Research Institute

Had I not been raised Mormon, I suspect that I would not have majored in English literature.  I like nonfiction more than novels, but literary criticism offered me women’s studies and a vocabulary through which I could think critically about how my Mormon culture prescribed gender roles that I found constricting.  Being able to grasp a historical perspective on the evolution of gender was liberating to me, because this understanding gave me an expanded psychological capacity to choose how I would live my life.  I appreciated that I found a place that was willing to take women’s experiences as serious objects of study, thus making significant experiences that were often under-valued.  

But in the five years since I graduated from college, my attitude towards  women’s research centers has become more complicated.  While I have benefited from the broader success of the feminist movement in creating increased opportunities for women, academic fields that take women as their object of study (as distinguished from the general feminist impulse to support women) sometimes seem to limit opportunities for women as much as they promote them. The very fact that women’s studies centers often exist as separate entities outside the traditional department structure of universities reinforces the idea that women’s concerns are minority interests.   By focusing on women too much, women can be limited to being women.

I recognize now that by studying women—a topic that the world typically does not view as marketable—I ensured that I would become many of the qualities we associate with women.  I limited my future earning potential.  Ironically, because my husband’s field commands more pay, the fruit of my women’s studies focus is that I am at the moment dependent on his income (though I have taken steps to change this situation by deciding to pursue a practical degree).  I begin slipping into the very gender roles I once hoped to abandon, albeit with an increased appreciation for the positive value that those gender roles can offer.  For me, studying women did not produce solutions to the structural problems that create barriers for women.  It lacked a practical bite.

When I read about BYU’s decision to eliminate its Women’s Research Institute on Square Two my emotions were therefore mixed.  The chief problem I see with this decision is that it is all too easy to read as confirmation that Mormonism remains uncomfortable with feminism.  But I also believe that there are pro-women arguments to be made for decentralizing women’s studies and having women’s interests be a lens and a priority throughout all aspects of the community.  Women who focus on traditionally male fields–sciences, economics, and the like–while being cognizant of gender might well have more practical impact on women than those of us who choose to focus on women.

There are no easy answers here, but my hope is that BYU truly commits to giving women scholars more resources than they are losing through the loss of WRI and that women’s centers cease to exist only when their demise reflects that they are no longer needed because women have been woven into the fabric of academic and professional life and because projects focusing on women are not seen as special interests.**Update:  It seems like BYU would do well to overcome the legitimate concerns that this loss will not be made up by presenting concrete evidence (with dollars amounts attached) of how this move will expand opportunities for women.

Comments

  1. Here, here! Valerie Hudson is a champ.

  2. Thanks for the write-up, Natalie. I must confess to not knowing much about the activities of BYU’s former WRI over the last 30 years; but I like how you have tried to situate its declension in a broader and perhaps constructive context.

  3. It’s tough, Natalie, and I find myself in agreement with your mixed emotions. On one hand, equality will be best acheived when women are simply represented in all fields without reservation- and that’s what I hope to see. I hope for the day when a “women’s studies” program is not necessary, because we are simply part of humanity. We are not there yet, alas.

  4. decentralizing women’s studies and having women’s interests be a lens and a priority throughout all aspects of the community

    I agree with you on this point. I wonder how close (and how quickly) we are coming to this, though, realistically speaking. Not trying to be cynical. Actually wondering. Particularly where BYU is concerned.

  5. Stapley–shame on you! Your work is directly facilitated by work that has been supported by the WRI. All those lovely online sources on women’s history? Thank the WRI (among others).

  6. Indeed, Kristine, shame on me. Still, I know little about what has happened with the WRI over the last 30 years. Is there a primer somewhere?

  7. Valerie’s post is pretty good.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Natalie, I appreciate the post and am saddened that the WRI has been shut down. I agree that the tempting and obvious conclusion to draw is that BYU — and LDS by extension — are anti-woman, which I hate.

    But for some reason I keep singing your blog post title to my self to the tune of “Candle In The Wind.” Is there any help for me?

    Goodbye Women’sresearchinstitute, though I never knew you at all…..

  9. Is there a reason given why the WRI is being shut down?

  10. And J., of course I meant shame on you with a big sisterly smiley (along with the noogie)

  11. Natalie B. says:

    #8 — Um…I spent about 5 years affiliated with a women’s studies center.

  12. The problem with feminism is that women only seem to want things for women. Women only clubs, witchcraft, goddess worship, women only buses in Mexico and Japan.
    Where is the men’s studies department?

  13. Oh, Henry.

  14. O Henry.

  15. Henry,
    When you consider the vast majority of the historical figures studied in art, history, literature, music, and philosophy along with the a consideration of the vast majority of academic theorists and instructors through the years, the answer to “Where’s the men’s studies department?” is “everywhere else”

  16. Natalie B. says:

    #15: Exactly right. Part of the practical problem I see with Women’s Studies is that, unfortunately, the minute it becomes called women’s studies scholarship can become seen as exceptional stuff that applies only to women. Much like how some men don’t listen to the RS president in General Conference. It is a really hard balance between needing to jump start interest in studying women through special programs and then re-integrating women’s studies eventually so that it ceases to be seen as “special” or somehow of less than universal import.

  17. Feminism is all about women. I guess I should say radical feminism. I just don’t think women need to be coddled anymore with women-only gyms, buses, studies etc. They have proven enough that they can hold their own.

  18. Anyone who has seen Million Dollar Baby agrees with you, Henry. Thanks for your participation!

  19. Cynthia L. says:

    Henry does a great job of making the case for continued necessity of women’s studies…

  20. Cynthia:
    Where is the negativity in this comment?

    They have proven enough that they can hold their own.

  21. I’m a little disappointed that much of your regret about your Women’s Studies degree comes from your inability to make money with it, Natalie, because the Mormon drive to turn out more lawyers and accountants is partly responsible for the demise of the WRI and numerous other programs that BYU has cut recently. If we are going to start axing programs because people can’t get jobs with them right out of college, all of the humanities and social sciences are going the way of the dodo bird. I remember something about intelligence, rather than money, being the glory of God …

    I don’t think we can deny that most Mormons are still uncomfortable with feminism, but I don’t think that fear of feminism was behind the demise of the WRI. After spending a term teaching and working in the WRI, I can say that the kind of women’s studies that go on there (let’s educate women! let’s end violence against women!) were never anything that would have been considered very “feminist” by anyone who wasn’t a pretty die-hard conservative. Nevertheless, it was a start in the right direction. Now we will have to wait until it looks like the ERA is going to pass again, or African-Americans aren’t going to be included priesthood again, for its revival.

    While I don’t think we have evolved to the point where women’s studies performs an unnecessary function at any university, women’s studies (at other universities) has often become the home for other disciplines that represent groups that are undoubtedly minorities in academia: African-American studies, queer studies, etc. Not much space to even toy with them at BYU anymore, even though Mormons in general aren’t really known for their good relations with either group.

    And feminism is not really about women, because it would not exist, and could not be studied, without the “men”ism that has always existed.

  22. melodrama says:

    My understanding is that the WRI raised a significant (50%+) portion of its own money. Even if we assume BYU is taking a progressive step, when you eliminate the institute and its reputation and history, who is now going to raise these funds? It doesn’t seem that an interdisciplinary approach will really work here yet. According to squaretwo, this move creates a net cut in funding.

    I agree it is possible to make pro-women arguments for decentralizing women’s studies, but when the university is not making these arguments itself and has not established a reputation for its progressive strides in this area and is essentially cutting funding, we are stretching our benefit of the doubt a bit.

  23. Stephanie says:

    And feminism is not really about women, because it would not exist, and could not be studied, without the “men”ism that has always existed.

    This is a great comment.

  24. #16 – I clicked that link with a little trepidation that I was going to have some explaining to do for the images that I figured would be part of the link.

    I’m more disappointed that the link is actually about men’s studies and that it exists at all.

  25. Natalie B. says:

    #22: I was only affiliated with Women’s Studies. My degree isn’t in it.

    When I was in college, I did not feel that making money was a top priority for me. But in retrospect, although I value the education I received, I believe I should have developed more marketable skills. Being able to be thoughtful in a disciplinary-specific way is wonderful, but not especially comforting when one struggles to make ends meet. While becoming rich doesn’t matter to me, being able to support myself does.

    As I have slowly left behind gender studies for other pursuits, I have found that there is a great deal of intelligence and smart thinking in a range of professions that have produced powerful ways of understanding the world. I’m not at all convinced that being marketable has to come at the cost of being less intelligent. The new skills I have developed recently have, if anything, expanded my opportunities to engage with my community.

  26. Natalie:

    “The very fact that women’s studies centers often exist as separate entities outside the traditional department structure of universities reinforces the idea that women’s concerns are minority interests. By focusing on women too much, women can be limited to being women.”

    1- Very intriguing insight. Is there a point where once a critical mass of inertia is achieved, permitting autonomous growth through actual engagement (i.e. women enrolling in law, business, or science courses, etc.) is more effective for their own progress than the study of inequality?

    2- I believe interest groups are important to get the ball rolling, but I also feel that that they can often be counter-productive. I remember reading a piece from Susan Estrich, which was so eccentrically anti-male that I can no longer give her fair consideration when reading her writings. I am not interested in special causes that appear to advance that cause at the expense of logic, reason, and equity…and that is precisely my judgment of Estrich. Could a type-cast of extreme feminism have played a role?

    3- Lastly, is there such a thing as extreme feminism? Is a feminism that realizes bounds or limitations to its advancement truly feminism? In context of WRI, did it therefore seek to advance the cause with a priority second to none? If that were the perception, then the consolidation makes some sense. Any discipline that seeks to advance itself first, regardless of the particular focus, would seem incompatible with the mission of BYU.

  27. Molly Bennion says:

    Maybe Henry’s right. Perhaps enough men’s studies courses would stop the gross groping of girls and women on city buses in some countries. But a woman I know who, as a schoolgirl, endured that groping every day for years would have opted for the women only bus.

    If that’s too snotty, blame it on the blood I carry from a direct ancestor convicted of witchcraft in Salem–an ancestor spirited from prison and saved by powerful men who yielded to their higher instincts of equality and justice for all, even when it called for occasional special treatment for an individual or a class, as should we.

  28. Natalie B. says:

    #27: On your point number 2, I think part of my dissatisfaction with current women’s studies does come from the direction of some of the scholarship. In particular, I am not sure that it is actually helpful to the majority of women to see women’s studies fuse with such topics as queer studies. The trend towards seeing gender as a construct I feel is not necessarily as useful as a “strategic gender essentialism” that would rally around and demand support for specifically women’s concerns such as pregnancy.

  29. While I am somewhat sympathetic to the theoretical idea that decentralizing women’s studies could be a move towards greater equality, one would want to make sure that the complete integration of women’s issues into a variety of disciplines was firmly in place. I think that one could easily make the argument about future employment, earning potential, etc. about many of the liberal arts but perhaps the solution lies in creating co-op components for degree programs or integrating more “practical” courses into the university ie. public history options for history degree programs.

    That being said, I don’t think the question here is getting rid of the women’s studies program as it will be subsumed, but dissolving the institute, which performs several important functions in a university community. For instance, here is a link to the Autumn WRI event schedule. (http://wri.byu.edu/pdfs/schedule_F09_0924.pdf) Without a co-ordinating body, how will series like this occur? Other functions include advocating for women on campus, providing a meeting space for women’s studies scholars to exchange ideas across disciplines, the facilitation of on-line historical sources providing greater access to researchers who want to do Mormon women’s history, etc. Particularly where both the past and present cultural narrative is dominated by men, the loss of the WRI at BYU is a great loss for female students as well as Mormon scholars at BYU and beyond.

  30. Natalie B. says:

    While I am somewhat sympathetic to the theoretical idea that decentralizing women’s studies could be a move towards greater equality, one would want to make sure that the complete integration of women’s issues into a variety of disciplines was firmly in place.

    I completely agree. And I think this is what makes the situation tricky.

  31. I think it is important to note that the BYU WRI wasn’t doing anything even remotely in the same galaxy as the kinds of things Henry mentioned, which might be of concern to the BYU culture. Their marquis projects were as non-controversial as they were important:

    * WomenStats Project: “The most comprehensive compilation of nformation on the status of women in the world.” The data they collect helps strengthen women and families in developing nations.

    * Mormon Women’s History Project: Activities such as transcribing pioneer women’s diaries, studying and publishing diaries of Emmaline B. Wells.

  32. Kris, subsuming the women’s studies program into the Sociology department seems like a recipe for bureaucratic in-fighting, though, too…

  33. Frank McIntyre says:

    “who is now going to raise these funds? ”

    It is an interesting question, but I think there is a fair bit of substitution in donations — which is to say that some (or most?) of those funds will still end up doing good somewhere, many of them at BYU. Some people complain about this in regards to Athletic donations. One place one could donate would be the Women’s Resource Center (or whatever it’s called). Or they could be put to funding an annual grant run out of a the college or a department with a focus on issues pertinent to women.

    “It doesn’t seem that an interdisciplinary approach will really work here yet. According to squaretwo, this move creates a net cut in funding.”

    But closing the center likely decreases administrative overhead (especially valuable during a freeze) so the true net effect is unclear. FYI, BYU also closed down a college over the summer and redistributed it’s departments. So this is likely part of a general set of moves by Samuelson to streamline.

    As for the value of an interdisciplinary approach, I think what is most valuable is a well grounded disciplinary approach which is then applied to thinking about an issue pertinent to women rather than trying to think about women outside of that.

    If you want to study women’s brain chemistry, go to Nueroscience.
    If you want to study women’s wages, get an economist.
    If you want to study women in English literature… etc.

    If you want to integrate across 2 of those you should understand both of them, not neither.

  34. Frank McIntyre says:

    “Kris, subsuming the women’s studies program into the Sociology department seems like a recipe for bureaucratic in-fighting, though, too…”

    Why do you think this is more likely to bureaucratized than what proceeded it?

    Also, the announcement released by the University said the minor would be chaired by Renata Forste in Sociology, but it will operate as many other minors do on campus. There is a committee of interested faculty (rather than, I guess, just the one director of the WRI?) who are charged with making it work and overseeing any proposed changes or adjustments. Such minors also tend to to be focal points for clubs or other organizations to work with them.

  35. Frank McIntyre says:

    Womenstats gets funding from all over (and outside of) the University including the Kennedy Center, Poli Sci, Geography, and ORCA.

    I would imagine it will still be able to operate even if it loses the funding it got from WRI.

    The archival work sounds interesting and, if interesting enough, probably will get picked up by someone else.

  36. Frank raises some good points. I wonder if it would not make sense to decentralize the economics department, because economics is really part and parcel of everything in life. ;) If one wants to study mathematical aspects of economics, go to the math department. If one wants to study the economics of agriculture, go to the Benson Institute (or wherever agriculture classes are taught). If one wants to the history of economics, go to the history department, etc . . . .

    Come to think of it, I would similarly advocate disbanding the business and accounting departments as well, and decentralizing their study. ;)

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, you Renaissance man, you. How did you ever become such an expert in Women’s Studies, Sociology and school administration? I took you for the ‘disciplinary approach” sort.

    Or, you might be talking out of your ass.

  38. > If you want to integrate across 2 of those you should
    > understand both of them, not neither.

    Frank, surely you don’t mean to imply that your colleagues who work in WRI understood none of the disciplines they worked in? Would you like to name specific names of your fellow faculty who you believe do not understand anything?

    > Womenstats gets funding from all over (and outside of)
    > the University including the Kennedy Center, Poli Sci,
    > Geography, and ORCA.

    So it follows that any faculty whose research gets funding from NSF, NIH, DoD, etc, could have their units disbanded without harm? So long, been nice knowing you, College of Engineering and Technology!

  39. Natalie B. says:

    #37: It seems like part of the difference that Frank is getting out is the difference between disciplines that have strong sets of methodologies that they apply to a range of topics and a department that is set up to study just one vague topic–women–without a coherent set of methodologies that require training to learn. I think as a matter of what is best for students, Frank is spot on. In fact, I feel that most professors who teach in women’s studies have done exactly that: gotten a degree in another discipline and then studied women through that lens.

  40. JNS – don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of getting rid of independent women’s studies programs and departments at all. But BYU is not the only place integrating women’s studies into other disciplines, worrisome as it is. Getting rid of the WRI completely seems like another issue.

    Frank McIntyre, why are you like moth to a flame with an innocuous comment from JNS?

  41. Natalie, I think disciplinary majors are very often what’s best for students. But surely there’s no harm in an interdisciplinary minor?

    Kris, I agree completely — eliminating the WRI is a much bigger and broader deal than the odd choice to put an interdisciplinary program bureaucratically inside a disciplinary department.

  42. Frank McIntyre says:

    Kris, I had just finished typing a comment and saw JNS talking about the integration. So I thought I should mention that I thought there was some misunderstanding about how the minor would be run. As you may have noticed, I wrote 3 comments in a row…

    Speaking of moth to the flame, try 37, 38, and 39.

  43. Frank McIntyre says:

    David, see Natalie’s comment about _methodology_. And, actually we strongly encourage our students to minor or major in math if they want to do graduate work. Mathematicians teach real analysis better than economists.

    Steve, sparkling commentary as usual. The College sent out an email when the WRI was closed. And, you know, this is where I work. Presumably if we were talking about your law firm you might have pertinent information.

    Cynthia,

    “Frank, surely you don’t mean to imply that your colleagues who work in WRI understood none of the disciplines they worked in?”

    We agree that that is not what I said.

    “So it follows that any faculty whose research gets funding from NSF, NIH, DoD, etc, could have their units disbanded without harm?”

    I believe WRI had affiliated faculty in other departments and one director. I don’t think disbanding affected the primary affiliation of anyone but the director — who is now in the Psych department. I’m saying that the Womenstats project can likely go on without WRI. Your example is therefore not parallel. But yes, i would say the same if 10 groups funded a data entry effort in Engineering and one of them– even a big one– left I would expect the data entry to continue.

  44. Sorry, Frank, just jumped over here from your insightful comments at T&S re: world hunger. I must have made a mistake – my bad.

  45. Frank McIntyre says:

    “Natalie, I think disciplinary majors are very often what’s best for students. But surely there’s no harm in an interdisciplinary minor?”

    I believe the minor will still be interdisciplinary.

  46. Natalie B. says:

    #42: I agree. I don’t see the same issues with interdisciplinary minors in general. But I am uncomfortable with women’s studies centers on the whole for reasons already expressed. I’d much rather see feminism integrated throughout the entire university than set aside as its own field. At my undergrad, everyone had to take a class on feminism, and, guess what, both men and women there took it as seriously as it was treated. This was not the case in my grad school where there was only a center.

  47. Frank McIntyre says:

    Kris, me too. Often I don’t bother to comment but when I do I’ll often end up commenting on several things at once. Much to your obvious delight.

  48. OK, conceded my presentation of the first point was a bit of a cheap shot, as you were most likely referring to students. Though you admit that (a) it is just a minor, not major, and (b) in any case the minor will *still* be interdisciplinary. So your points about disciplines either apply to faculty or are irrelevant?

    Regarding funding, that the work will continue now that the project is well-established is a bit of a red herring. In the SLTrib, Valerie Hudson makes the case that the project’s origins were critically tied to WRI. Will similar widely-funded, widely-acclaimed projects be conceived and started in the future without WRI? You’re an economist, think opportunity cost, not just direct cost. :-)

  49. Frank McIntyre says:

    FYI I just got an email in my inbox from the Dean to the College. It confirms that was already said in the announcement (but not quite right in the SquareTwo article). The minor will not be housed in Sociology. It will be run by an interdisciplinary committee (which is how other such minors are run).

    Renata Forste will be the first chair of that committee and she is a the chair of the Sociology department, hence the confusion.

  50. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, by “talking out of your ass” I am referring to your penchant for applying your economist’s tools to various disciplines. It is ass-talking because you seem to enjoy multidisciplinary approaches when they favor your given discipline and/or biases, and eschew them then they don’t. Now, most human beings probably behave in this way, but it takes an economist to insist that they’re correct to do so.

  51. Frank, thanks for the clarification. The changed situation for the minor will probably work fine as described here.

    Natalie, I’d love it if the new plan at BYU involved more students being exposed to feminist ideas through coursework. I’m not sure that’s exactly on the table, though.

  52. Natalie B. says:

    #49: This response is off-topic, but just as a general comment having nothing to do with WRI, I think that as a merely practical matter, it is probably in the interest of projects to become self-funding so that they can last through budget swings and cuts.

  53. Frank McIntyre says:

    Cynthia,

    OK, I think the confusion is that you thought I was talking specifically about the WRI closing when in that paragraph I had moved on to the general idea of interdisciplinary approaches.

    You wonder whether the WRI is needed to start other large projects. Well, as it happens I have a friend who’s done a lot of research on NIH grants. What he found was that the marginal effect of an NIH grant on publications was zero, because (presumably) if the idea was good somebody else would fund it and if it wasn’t it did not matter. Based on that, I’d guess that people with good ideas and fundraising ability will get their ideas funded with or without this institute, given the number of available other institutes and organizations willing to fund things.

    Valerie Hudson said the WRI was the midwife to the data project. But honestly I would be quite surprised if Valerie Hudson would not have gone ahead and done it without them.

  54. hmmm … maybe a different analogy re: midwives and birth? Women are actually the people who give birth while midwives facilitate such events. So yes, Valerie Hudson might have gone ahead and done the project but could have a different process/outcome without the WRI

  55. Frank McIntyre says:

    Steve,

    “you seem to enjoy multidisciplinary approaches when they favor your given discipline and/or biases, and eschew them then they don’t. ”

    Perhaps you are confusing subject with methodology. I enjoy answering questions, no matter what other discipline studies them, if those questions are amenable to being answered through econometric analysis. If not, I am far less interested. That is not what I think of as multi-disciplinary, but I can see why you might.

    What I find less enchanting is when the organization lacks a coherent methodology, in which case the lack of tools makes it hard for them to compellingly answer the questions they want to. As JNS and Natalie pointed out, this is a common complaint about, for example, “interdisciplinary majors” that tend not to teach students a sufficient toolkit because they students bounce from field to field. My comments were not specific to the WRI.

    Another example: A friend of mine publishes in medical journals. He notes that one of the finest medical journals in the world occasionally publishes social science research and the quality is really low compared to what you’d get in a good social science journal.. Presumably it is shoddy because the referees/editors lack the tools to do a good job identifying good social science work, even though their medical research skills are, in many cases, world class.

  56. Frank, I think your #54 is too fixated on the funding aspect. Innovation isn’t just about funding. The whole reason academics have conferences, guest speakers, and even universities (as research institutions) themselves, is that new ideas are sparked when researchers are exposed to other ideas and people. Ok, maybe the reason we have conferences is that we just like junkets. Seriously though, I think what Hudson and others have argued is that there is value in formally facilitating interaction between the individuals who have been working in the institute.

  57. Frank McIntyre says:

    Natalie,

    “I think that as a merely practical matter, it is probably in the interest of projects to become self-funding so that they can last through budget swings and cuts.”

    Indeed.

  58. Natalie B. says:

    #52: I agree, which is why the last paragraph of my post suggested that women’s centers should only be closed if the commitment to replacing the loss is genuine and reflects that the university is willing to incorporate women fully.

  59. Frank McIntyre says:

    Cynthia,

    It would indeed be interesting to know whether other groups will pick up the slack in this regard. It would also be interesting to know how much of this the WRI made happen.

    The Dean has noted that they plan on sponsoring seminars in connection to the minor, which would fit in very much with this kind of interaction. The group coordinating the minor, called the Committee of the Whole, will likely also serve as a gathering point for discussing ideas. Or it least it has with other similar committees.

    Perhaps the Faculty Women’s Association could sponsor something as well.

  60. Frank McIntyre says:

    Cynthia made me curious, so I looked at the list of publications by WRI Affiliates. In 2009 the only two WRI Affiliates that I could see who published together were both in the same department (nursing). This makes me a little more skeptical about the value of the institute for creating ideas (or at least publishable ones) that would not otherwise happen.

    Of course, people can help you with off the cuff ideas even if you don’t coauthor. But coauthoring is often a natural result of any extensive work together.

  61. Natalie B. says:

    61: In the Humanities people very rarely co-author. Not that I think this is a good thing…

  62. You wonder whether the WRI is needed to start other large projects. Well, as it happens I have a friend who’s done a lot of research on NIH grants. What he found was that the marginal effect of an NIH grant on publications was zero, because (presumably) if the idea was good somebody else would fund it and if it wasn’t it did not matter. Based on that, I’d guess that people with good ideas and fundraising ability will get their ideas funded with or without this institute, given the number of available other institutes and organizations willing to fund things.

    See, everyone?! See?!? Markets ARE perfect!! SEE?!?

    Sigh.

  63. Frank McIntyre says:

    Good point, Natalie.

    Here’s the list of publications:

    http://wri.byu.edu/fac_aff_pub.php

    It has many coauthored publications with others, so I think a fair chunk of the affiliates are in disciplines that do coauthor– though surely not all.

  64. Frank McIntyre says:

    Scott,

    The empirical outcomes are based on a regression discontinuity design that is pretty solid, if you are concerned about the result.

  65. #35 Frank,

    Having become extremely close to the WRI in the recent past, I can fairly well assure you that the WRI was definitely not bureaucratic. Bonnie Spanville is determined, smart and insightful and obviously not a bureaucratic infighter.

    It will be missed. One of the research efforts was the study of the antecedents of peace, which seemed particularly apt as a women’s study. They have done very interesting and good work. The WRI has published many peer reviewed papers on many subject. Has brought noted scholars to BYU and has sent representatives to many conferences. Likely this will not continue.

    The committee which voted to end the WRI included the Chair of the sociology department which picked up the charter. Does this not seem unseemly, that judgment should be passed by people with a vested outcome to the process? In my opinion the whole affair reeks of personal animus and politics on the part of BYU management.

  66. Frank,

    I’m not expressing doubt in your ability to read your buddy’s STATA output. Rather, it is this:

    Based on that, I’d guess that people with good ideas and fundraising ability will get their ideas funded with or without this institute, given the number of available other institutes and organizations willing to fund things.

    Isn’t the “fundraising ability” you assume people have the lynch pin here? In the population of people wishing to publish in women’s studies there will be a wide range of abilities, no?

    The existence of specialized research institutes is important for those with less knowledge or capability of funding opportunities, just as journals less prominent than JET, JPE, and ‘metrica are important for young economists hoping to get a job or get tenure at a lower-tiered institution.

    While you’re completely right that there are many “other institutes and organizations willing to fund things,” another fact is that there is now one fewer than than there was last month.

  67. Frank McIntyre says:

    Scott,

    BYU has pretty extensive small internal grants available for funding basic research– either through the college or ORCA. Plus the end of the WRI started a new $25,000 annual grant. I guess to know whether fund-raising (or grant writing ability is constraining one would need to know how much money and in what amounts the WRI was putting out funds. My impression was that we were not talking about big amounts of funds.

    “another fact is that there is now one fewer than than there was last month.”

    Yes, but some (all?) of the funds it dispensed are still available. And whether having one less matters I think depends on the availability of others, rather than being something one can know all on its own.

  68. Frank McIntyre says:

    BobW, I imagine the WRI was not very bureaucratic. It had very few people; a director, an assistant and a couple student secretaries? But I am just not sure why one would expect the replacement to suffer bureaucratic in-fighting. Nor, in this case, is it obviously worse to have faculty specialists with competing visions arguing over how to run the minor compared to having one person decide on her own.

    “Likely this will not continue.”

    I am not sure I agree. I think many of those things, if they were worthwhile before, will likely continue. Certainly if I was studying a topic and lost a grant for it, or never got one, I would keep going on my own if the project was likely to have important outcomes. Tenured faculty can study what they wish, and untenured faculty should do research that gets published, WRI or no. In reality for good projects, I think grants follow projects rather than projects following grants.

    “The committee which voted to end the WRI included the Chair of the sociology department which picked up the charter. ”

    So you think Renata Forste (a former Associate Dean and current Chair of Sociology) was hoping to land a plush part- time position administering a minor? I do not find that likely. This does not give Sociology any money or additional slots for hiring.

    More likely she, along with many faculty and the administration, prefers housing academic programs within a committee of interested faculty (which is what will happen) rather than having an academic program administered by a lone person. This is the continuation of a decades-long move towards running minors this way.

  69. Frank, (68.)

    Yes, but some (all?) of the funds it dispensed are still available. And whether having one less matters I think depends on the availability of others, rather than being something one can know all on its own.

    I don’t honestly believe that you believe your own implication here–that funds spread out over multiple venues are just as visible and easily identified and marketed as funds in a central dedicated location? For better or for worse, women’s studies comprise a small percentage of the pie, and eliminating such clear signal from the marketplace can’t possibly result in similar outcomes in my opinion.

    This is not to say that similar outcomes are desired or desirable, or that substituted activities would not be preferable–I don’t really care one way or the other what BYU does with its money. I just sense you are building an argument that this has little effect on real people, and I think that’s unlikely to be the case.

  70. Frank,

    You have conceded so many things and yet won’t let go. Help me understand how your argument hasn’t been plainly reduced to a completely nihilistic claim that no institution of any kind has any value, because if what they did were valuable, others would do it in their absence.

  71. Frank McIntyre says:

    Scott,

    How familiar are you with research funding at BYU? There really are a lot of places on campus and heavily advertised for getting basic RA funding (one RA, 10 hours a week, for example). For bigger projects there are also quite a few options. And funding, in our college anyway, tends to favor the young faculty just because they are young and need more help. So I am doubtful that very many important projects won’t find a financial home somewhere sometime.

    This is if they even need one. Many things an RA does could be done by a faculty member if the project was a worth the effort.

    In any case, I am not saying that the change will not affect people, just that the good projects will likely still get done.

  72. Help me understand how your argument hasn’t been plainly reduced to a completely nihilistic claim that no institution of any kind has any value, because if what they did were valuable, others would do it in their absence.

    +

    In any case, I am not saying that the change will not affect people, just that the good projects will likely still get done.

    =

    Frank p0wns himself, via SB2.

  73. Frank McIntyre says:

    “You have conceded so many things and yet won’t let go.

    I don’t really understand what it is you think I’ve conceded that should make me “let go”. What does letting go mean in this context?

    “Help me understand how your argument hasn’t been plainly reduced to a completely nihilistic claim that no institution of any kind has any value, because if what they did were valuable, others would do it in their absence.””

    I’m noting that many of the functions of the WRI were specifically set to be replicated by other groups– though it is still unclear to me if total funding changed. Additionally, I suppose that those functions that aren’t being well replicated but are valuable might be able to re-emerge elsewhere as part of another organization, thus minimizing the long term damage. I don’t think that is the same as what you said I said.

  74. Frank McIntyre says:

    Scott, the claim that good projects still happen is not the same as the claim that no institutions matter.

  75. Frank McIntyre says:

    I found WRI’s list of research grants. It looks like they fund 7 or 8 projects a year. Best guess is that these grants average a few thousand each ($2-3K? although if someone knew more I’d be interested). In which case the faculty grant funding situation is basically identical as before, but now run under the University’s $25,000 Wells grant for women’s studies (assuming it can be split across faculty).

  76. Jonathan Green says:

    Academic organizational plans get reshuffled all the time, and interdisciplinary centers have shorter life-spans than other units. It really shouldn’t be all that surprising when one opens, or closes. This is no reflection on the value of a particular unit. Just the fact that there are limited resources and competing institutional priorities means that no unit will last forever in any particular form.

    It’s also true that academic reorganization really sucks for the people who experience it. Things of real value get lost along the way.

    But right now it’s very difficult to see how closing BYU’s WRI represents more than a typically painful reorganization. Other universities have a much longer and deeper list of programs to be axed this year.

  77. “But right now it’s very difficult to see how closing BYU’s WRI represents more than a typically painful reorganization.”

    C’mon, Jonathan, try!! I’m sure you can do it.

  78. Here’s a hint: semiotics.

  79. Jonathan Green says:

    Spell it out, Kristine. If you want to argue that it means something more than organizational reshuffling, then you make the argument.

  80. Oh, for hell’s sake. BYU’s percentage of women faculty, graduation rates for female students, maternity leave policy (to say nothing of things like on-site daycare) and pretty much every other measure of attention to gender equity are abysmal. Cutting a small program devoted to the study of women instead of, say, one or two assistant defensive coaches of the football team says a lot about what the institutions priorities are.

  81. And, Frank, if you come back with statistics on how the football program pays for itself, I will punch you. We’ll meet at some conference somewhere, I will smile sweetly and pop you one.

  82. Natalie B. says:

    Giving some thought to this discussion, I think what BYU needs to do is show concrete plans with dollar amounts for how this change will help women on campus. Only by presenting a satisfactory replacement do I think they can get over the suspicions that most people seem to have.

  83. Kristine,

    It’s not very ladylike to say things like “Oh, for hell’s sake.”

  84. Frank McIntyre says:

    Kristine, sometimes I am forced to speak truth to power. But I make the sacrifice on behalf of all the little people.

    By which I mean elves.

  85. Steve “but it takes an economist to insist that they’re correct to do so.” is wrong.

    It takes an economist to be correct when they do so ;)

  86. And, Frank, if you come back with statistics on how the football program pays for itself, I will punch you. We’ll meet at some conference somewhere, I will smile sweetly and pop you one.

    Interesting point, whether or not the amount of funds diverted from the football program should go up or not as justifying physical violence.

    Ouch. I’m avoiding conferences.

  87. #84– But don’t worry Scott–if KH stops swearing, other institutions will seamlessly step in to take over the job.

  88. Markets in everything!

  89. Jonathan Green says:

    Kristine, when you say “abysmal,” do you mean “deviating significantly from an ideal,” or do you mean “much worse than other similar universities”? And do you see those abysmalities as rooted in demographics, or in institutional sexism? I’m not being snide here, because what you think about those questions really does affect the semiotics you mention.

    In my time at BYU, I did hear people who should have known better say some stupidly sexist things. I suspect there’s even a measure of institutional sexism. But I’ve spent some time at a good number of universities by now, and institutional sexism just isn’t one of those things that makes BYU unique. (BYU certainly has its unique features, but they aren’t necessarily the things I thought they were when I was there.) On-site daycare is limited to non-existent at every university I’ve been. The things you mention, well, they should be better! But I don’t see that BYU is sexist to such a degree that closing the WRI and shifting around resources during a time of tight budgets becomes fraught with implications.

  90. Jonathan, all these personal anecdotes from you are great and all, but let me suggest that your male personal experiences aren’t really the best measures of the climate at different places for women.

  91. Jonathan Green says:

    Well, Cynthia, that’s a real conversation starter.

    Perhaps you or someone else could add some non-anecdotal reasons that closing the WRI appears worse at BYU than it would somewhere else?

  92. Steve Evans says:

    JG, non-anecdotal reasons for why an event appears worse?

  93. Steve Evans says:

    You mean, besides the general problem of perceived gender inequality in Mormonism?

  94. Jonathan, ask Frank how many women are in his department, which has ~25 faculty.

  95. Oh, but Cynthia, we all know that women are naturally nurturing and not good at math.

  96. Mormonism (a movement of which BYU is understood as an educational flagship) is not widely seen as being an organization that values women’s contributions in their own right. Setting aside whether or not that is an accurate perception, it does describe how we are seen. Ending the Women’s Studies program at BYU will likely be seen as another step away from the American mainstream position on gender equity (such as it is) on the part of the church. So yes, closing it does appear to be a particularly bone-headed move as regards Church PR and it seems like it would appear worse for us to do it than it would be for another university to do it, especially when other religiously-affiliated universities are not doing the same.

  97. Perhaps you or someone else could add some non-anecdotal reasons that closing the WRI appears worse at BYU than it would somewhere else?

    Take the ten most successful departments at BYU — using any reasonable rubric for “success” other than percentage of female faculty — and measure the ration of “tenured” men to women as compared with any other university in the country besides Bob Jones U.

  98. This is silly. Let’s back pedal.

    In the world of academia, there are departmental reshufflings which are paper changes and mean nothing.

    There are also departmental shufflings which redirect research, money, and resources in serious ways.

    There is no evidence one way or the other that this is either A or B. Everyone agrees on this.

    People have different

    Frank trusts the University and the church. He has said, there’s no evidence that this is a big deal, so why is everyone hyperventilating? It’s probably innocuous.

    Kristine has said, given institutional (and church?) historical and demographic (and perhaps doctrinal?) factors, she would like to see some evidence that it’s actually innocuous.

    Y’all are talking past each other. Each side is placing the burden of proof on the other. Neither side has proven anything, because we don’t know right now whether the change is big or innocuous.

  99. According to a quick count I just did at the BYU law school website school, the BYU law faculty is 25% female and 75% male, with two women as full professors.

    It’s also true, however, that many law school faculties skew male (though I believe that 75% is pretty high even given that background).

  100. This is big. I am a member of WRI. I know of no one within the organization that is happy about this. It is seen as a loss by those actually affected. As far as I know the WRI was not consulted in this decision. This is all I’m going to say except this decision saddens me deeply.

  101. Natalie B. says:

    # 98: One thought on this issue. In my experience, many women who are tenured at big name universities have sacrificed the opportunity to have families in ways that Mormon women might not accept. I can only think of one female professor in my women-leaning grad department that had a child. Are Mormon women less represented amongst BYU’s tenured ranks because BYU is more biased against women than other institutions, or are Mormon women just less willing to make the sacrifices of family life that seem to be expected within some fields? Not that all institutions shouldn’t work on combatting this problem…

  102. Natalie B. says:

    #101: That is disappointing indeed that the WRI was not consulted. It tends to confirm the more negative reading of the situation that I was really hoping wasn’t the case.

  103. #102: I think all of the female faculty in my male-leaning Earth and atmospheric sciences department have kids. The culture supports it, recognizing that women are capable of having kids and still contributing intellectually. At the same time, nobody has more than two, so that would be a selection against most LDS women I know.

    I knew at least one female faculty member at PSU who had her kids young, went back to school and was hired to a tenure track position in her 40’s. I’d love to see BYU specifically looking for women following that path, given the talks we’ve been given about doing things in the right season. It’d be nice if BYU provided an example of how that would work.

    Not that this has anything to do with the WRI. I agree it doesn’t look good that it’s being shut down.

  104. Frank McIntyre says:

    Steve, you say “as far as you know”. How far do you know? Have you talked to the director about whether she was interviewed or her views elicited? Because the Dean sent around an email about the process and it sure sounded to me like at least some of the people involved in the WRI had been consulted.

  105. Natalie B. says:

    #104: My husband has a science degree, and I have noticed that the sciences tend to be more family-oriented than the humanities. I have often wondered what accounts for that.

  106. Oh, and about the disciplinary majors/interdisciplinary minors discussion–in geology the environmental sciences/engineering major is a similar beast, I think, to women’s studies. For environmental engineering, it’s best to have a disciplinary major as an undergrad, so you get a solid grounding in some approach (be that geology, biology, chemistry, or engineering), and then a minor (or even better, a master’s degree) in the environmental aspect.

    I suspect centers like the WRI benefit grad students more than undergrads because as a grad student you’re branching out and looking for new approaches in a way you simply aren’t as an undergrad. If for no other reason than to get people who are thinking about the same issues together for seminars and lunches it seems like a good idea to have centers like the WRI. I know the Y is primarily an undergrad institution, though I also think having grad students around and a viable research-oriented grad program aid in undergraduate education (though I may be biased–my undergraduate institution had more grad students than undergrads, and I learned A LOT from grad students). I understand the need for streamlining–proliferation of majors isn’t a positive for undergrads–but at the grad level it’s rather helpful.

  107. Women have been fighting for quite a while for that. There’s been a big push for I don’t know how long–longer than I’ve been around–to get women into science and keep them there. I’d guess that has something to do with it.

  108. “part of the difference that Frank is getting out is the difference between disciplines that have strong sets of methodologies that they apply to a range of topics and a department that is set up to study just one vague topic–women–without a coherent set of methodologies that require training to learn.”

    I stand corrected. Rather than disband the economics department (which I still advocate), we should disband the Family Studies Department (or whatever it is called). Given that “women” is a vague topic to study with a coherent set of methodologies, it must follow that “men” is also, and the combination of “men” and “women” as well into “families”. Family studies should be spread out among sociology, biology, anthropology, economics (assuming economics is not disbanded), foods, clothing, medicine, law, psychology, and the like. I mean, what are the “methodologies” that Family Studies uses that differ from other disciplines?

  109. oops “‘women’ is a vague subject to study without a coherent”

  110. Frank McIntyre says:

    Natalie,

    If your conjecture is true, it’s possible the sciences don’t have quite the same excess supply issues as the humanities and so you get more competitive responses in the sciences to lure people out of the high-salary private sector.

  111. Back in the early 80’s, I was the woman leading the Air Force cadets in drill and academics, running faster than 80% of the officer candidates selected for pilot training, getting a degree in economics and computer science, and working as a boatman navigating some of the biggest rapids in the United States. I was a curiosity at BYU who was still able to get three marriage proposals, but my only advice to further women’s advancement is for us to stop whining and complaining, and start doing. Only I (or we) limit myself (ourselves.) (Wow, the Lord certainly blessed me with some confidence.)

  112. Stephanie says:

    In my experience (husband with PhD in Biochemistry), I haven’t observed that the sciences are very family friendly to those with graduate degrees. Most graduate students and post docs work 7 days a week (DH worked 6) with long hours. In general, there don’t seem to be many women PhDs, but there are many women technicians. DH has 3 female technicians he supervises – all with children. All work 8 hour days with flexible hours (they start and end according to their own schedule). DH works longer days with less flexibility. The one female PhD doesn’t have children.

    I would love to see science be more family friendly for those with advanced degrees, but I haven’t yet.

  113. Diana, I think you’ve missed the whole point of the post.

    It’s hard to “get doing” when your forums for such action are obliterated.

  114. my bad: “start doing.”

    Or, more accurately, “keep doing.”

  115. “do as I’m doing?”

  116. Peter LLC says:

    working as a boatman navigating some of the biggest rapids in the United States.

    Quite an accomplishment for a woman!

  117. Diana, I think your idea is good, as long as we can find a way for the less attractive and socially awkward women to validate their worth in a way other than number of marriage proposals.

    I know! Maybe BYU can develop an interdisciplinary research institute where women from all academic backgrounds can collaborate on research projects, encourage and mentor undergraduate students, set up campus events, conferences, and speakers, and help women, despite the low percentage of female faculty at BYU, to visualize success in their own academic and professional careers. It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work!

  118. Karen FTW.

  119. Karen — Best. Comment. Yet.

  120. Stephanie–It’s very subject, department, and school specific. My undergrad institution (Caltech) was notably less family friendly, meaning there were very few dual career couples, almost none were both employed by Caltech, and yeah, almost everyone put in 12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week.

    Penn State was completely different–and people were much happier. The pace was a little slower, the culture and the pressures different. There were more women in the department, and several dual career couples (and a few more hired while I was a student there). Purdue has somewhat the same attitude toward family–like it’s expected instead of expected to be a nuisance–and I suspect there were some personalities that played into that. I keep hoping more of the sciences will go that direction, especially as more of my generation, with more women and more women who have had children, move into faculty positions.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but is there any sort of push in the social sciences and humanities to hire more women to faculty positions like there is in the sciences?

  121. Natalie B. says:

    #121: In my observation, the humanities don’t really have a shortage of women. The issue is that there are so many applicants per position and that there is so little geographic flexibility that jobs go to those who can commit that kind of time and move anywhere in the country (i.e., those without children).

    It seems like most of the couples I have met that are able to do dual career either a) met at their faculty positions or b) had one member of the pair be sufficiently famous or promising that a department hired both. It seems hard–though not impossible–to do dual career from the beginning. At my current university town, I have met many, many spouses (male and female) of faculty members who feel under-employed.

  122. @ Peter LLC – working as a boatman navigating some of the biggest rapids in the United States.

    Quite an accomplishment for anyone!

  123. Diana, I think Peter was just referring to the old masculine form of the title “boatman.” (Although I have to say “boatperson” just doesn’t sound as cool :))

  124. I read that the BYU administration touts the demise of the WRI as a move to “streamline and strengthen” women’s studies. As one who remembers the founding of WRI (which was not without controversy, to be sure), and who knew founding director Ida Smith well, I find myself equating this decision to removing a patient’s heart: even on life support, the body suffers.

    I also read that various groups have asked the administration to reconsider, with some people even trying to organize protests. In the entire history of the Y, can anyone remember when any kind of protest at BYU actually succeeded in getting its administration to overturn a decision?

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