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Initiative empowers women in faculty

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Eli Rahamim | The Daily Wildcat

Professor Joellen Russell poses in the Environmental Resources Two building on Feb 16. She holds the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair of Integrative Science and is a professor in the departments of Geosciences, Planetary Science and Hydrology & Atmospheric Science.

Similar to a vast majority of universities across the country, the University of Arizona offers tenure to professors who showcase excellence in their respective fields. However, the distribution of male and female tenured faculty has not always been equal.

The Daily Wildcat spoke with Dr. Andrea Romero, the vice provost of faculty affairs at the university, to get a better understanding of how the UA has made efforts to increase the diversity of its tenured faculty over the last decade.

“I think that’s an ongoing conversation,” Romero said. “How do we support all faculty, and especially groups that are still underrepresented like female faculty?”

In 2011, only 28.7% of the tenured faculty at the UA were female. A decade later, women make up 34.3% of the tenured faculty at the university, an increase of almost 6%, according to the UA's statistics. In addition to that, 46.9% of the tenure eligible faculty are female, an increase from only 43.1% in 2011.

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In comparison to peer institutions across the nation, the university fares well in terms of its diversity between male and female faculty. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of fall 2018, women only made up about 31% of the total full-time professors in universities across the country.

“I would attribute a lot of that to our hiring process,” Romero said. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure that our hiring process is unbiased and fair, and that we really make sure we get a wide range of candidates that come in to be considered.”

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In addition to promoting the diversity of faculty at the university, the administration has made efforts over the past few years to improve the conditions for female faculty at the university. A recent example of this is the new human resources initiative, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for faculty members who are parents or caregivers.

Implemented on Jan. 1, 2022, the expansion doubled paid parental leave for faculty from six to 12 weeks, and it applies in the case of birth, adoption, foster placement, guardianship, stillbirth or surrogacy. For female professors like Professor Joellen Russell, this new initiative is a step in the right direction for the UA.

Professor Russell is a distinguished professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the UA, and said she faced difficulties from the university when she became a caregiver for her two children. Russell had to use sick days in order to recover from her pregnancies, since at the time the university did not offer paid maternity leave. 

“I had two kids, who are now 11 and 14, and there was no maternity leave,” Russell said. “I’m so glad we’ve fixed that now. It’s become a better place to work.”

This initiative provides promise in establishing a more accommodating workplace environment for female faculty members. Potentially, more efforts will be made in the future to assist female faculty in educating students.

“There are challenges that are specific to women, and they could use a little extra help,” Russell said. “It’d be really hard for a dude to say, ‘I had two C-sections.’”


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