Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:07 pm | Author: Ellen-Earle Chaffee, VCSU President
I vividly remember my first meeting of the Chancellor's Cabinet when I began working in the North Dakota University System office in 1985. I was the first woman ever to join that group, which consists of the chancellor, vice chancellors, and campus presidents. Legendary presidents Tom Clifford (UND), Laurel Loftsgard (NDSU), Gordon Olson (Minot State), Charles House (VCSU), Claire Blikre (NDSCS), Garvin Stevens (UND-Williston), and others made for an awesome assemblage.

I was determined to remain silent, but I could not. They had a long discussion about whether to allow an official representative of the state Council of College Faculties to attend Board meetings. Finally I suggested that communication among constituencies is usually a good thing. I don't remember how it turned out that day, but we have come a long way. Today, the faculty representative sits at the table, gets expenses paid, and participates in the discussion – the only thing he does not do is vote.

The frustrating part about coming a long way is that sometimes it does not stick. And so it has been with women's representation on the Cabinet and on the State Board of Higher Education.

I have now attended 22 years of Cabinet and Board meetings. I was not alone as a woman on the 15-member Cabinet for long - Sharon Etemad joined in 1987 as dean of UND-Lake Region. Sharon and I were the only ones for six or seven years until Laura Glatt became a vice chancellor.

During the next decade or so, new women presidents came on board: Donna Thigpen of BSC, Sharon Hart of NDSCS, and then Pamela Balch of MaSU gave us five of the 11 presidencies for a couple of years. As of this July, however, 100 percent of the presidencies will be held by men.

As for the State Board of Higher Education, perhaps the most prestigious appointment in the state, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, two of the Board's seven members were women – one more than a 'token,' each year, every year. Then at about the same time the number of women presidents went up, so did the number of women Board members. In 1996-97 the Board had five women and three men as voting members, plus a woman faculty representative. In only five of the 11 years since 1997 has the Board had more than two women, and never again a majority. The last six appointees have been men. Two more years at this rate, and the Board, too, will be 100 percent men.

All I have said so far is a matter of fact. Many of us have opinions on various aspects of these facts, and we are entitled to different opinions. You can guess mine – I find these facts outrageous. Do we really have to get out our 40-year-old 'women's lib' banners again?

I will spare you the feminist lecture (unless you ask!) in hopes that I have at least encouraged you to pay attention to these things in your own world. Moms, sisters, daughters, and granddaughters are depending on you.