Our History

History of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women

This brief narrative provides some background on the work of the President's Commission on the Status of Women and the current implementation of the Women's Caucus.

In 1971, President E. Arthur Trabant appointed an Advisory Committee on Programs, Policies, and Services Affecting Women Students, Faculty, and Staff, chaired by Nancy H. Colburn of the Biology Department.  Responding to a “Report on Women at the University of Delaware,” written for a sociology course by student K.H. Dahl, the Advisory Committee members undertook a full-scale study of women’s equity at the University, and presented their findings to Trabant in 1972.  Among their recommendations were: instituting standard recruitment policies for faculty positions in order to eliminate the use of “old boy” networks in faculty recruitment and hiring; ending nepotism policies that discriminated against qualified women whose spouses happened to be faculty members; providing child-care facilities for women employees; redressing dramatic pay inequities between equally qualified women and men faculty and staff; and instituting gynecological services at the Student Health Center.  A key recommendation led to the hiring of a full-time affirmative action officer.

In 1973, at the recommendation of a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee, Trabant created the Commission on the Status of Women as a permanent body.  Chaired by Mae Carter, well known for her work as an advocate for women’s equity on campus, the Commission reported directly to the president.  Beginning with its first report in 1975, the Commission annually presented documentation assessing the campus climate for women faculty, administrators, staff, and students, and recommended necessary changes.  It compiled statistics, pressed for pay equity, held open hearings regarding the University’s compliance with Title IX (of the 1972 Education Amendments), monitored conformity with affirmative action guidelines in faculty hiring, and advocated for the needs of women students.  In 2000, the Commission established a subcommittee, WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) specifically to address the recruitment and retention of women in those fields.

In 1978, at the Commission’s recommendation, an Office of Women’s Affairs was created.  An administrative unit that served the Commission, OWA did much of the daily legwork required by the Commission’s mission, compiled materials for its annual report, and organized programs for women students, faculty, and staff, while also pursuing independent activities for the benefit of women on campus.  Until her retirement, Mae Carter headed the office as Assistant Provost for Women’s Affairs and Executive Director of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Over the years, the Office of Women’s Affairs worked to institutionalize policies and practices recommended by the Commission on the Status of Women, including a sexual harassment policy, improved campus safety, sexual assault awareness programs and support for victims of sexual violence, attention to racial and sexual bias in classrooms and offices, a full range of gynecological services at the Student Health Center, child care arrangements, parental and family leave policies, a “stop the clock” tenure policy, pay equity surveys, professional development for women employees, mentoring for new women faculty, attention to recruiting women from underrepresented minority groups, training women for leadership positions, recognition programs for outstanding students, and an annual workshop on promotion and tenure for faculty.  The Office of Women’s Affairs also administered a series of prizes for students, faculty, and administrators, including the Mae Carter Award, the Bessie B. Collins Award, and the E. A. Trabant Institutional Award for Women’s Equity, as well as travel awards for professional conference presentations by graduate students and faculty.

The Commission’s annual reports, the final decade of which are available at http://www.udel.edu/CSW/annualReports.shtml trace an active history of advocacy for women across campus and provide useful statistics by which to measure changes the employment, promotion, and retention of women faculty and staff.  The reports particularly evince Commission members’ continuing desire for accessible, affordable, and flexible child care for faculty, staff, and students and their efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of women faculty and staff across the University.

In 2010, at the suggestion of President Pat Harker and in response to the work of his Diversity Task Force, the Commission on the Status of Women was dissolved, along with the Commission to Promote Racial and Cultural Diversity.  A new Diversity and Equity Commission carries on the work of the former commissions and administers the programs and awards they had sponsored in the past.  A new Office of Equity and Inclusion provides administrative support to the Commission.

The Women's Caucus accepts the Trabant Award (2013)

The Women’s Caucus accepts the Trabant Award (2013)

Further Reading: Carol E. Hoffecker, Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware (1994): https://www.udel.edu/PR/hoffecker/foreword.html
Commission on the Status of Women, Annual Reports, 1975-2009

Written by  Anne M. Boylan
Submitted September, 2011