The stark statistics and harrowing stories of women and girls incarcerated in U.S. prisons, and the sobering realities of higher education funding were among the keynote issues explored at this year's University of Colorado Women Succeeding Symposium.
The CU Faculty Council's Committee on Womenhas sponsored the annual symposium for the past seven years as part of ongoing efforts to advance and support the success of women in academia. This year's event on Friday, Feb. 26, at the Anschutz Medical Campus drew a record 175 faculty and staff participants from all four CU campuses, organizers said.
Faculty and staff networked with colleagues and attended breakout sessions on topics as diverse as promoting women of color faculty, mentor-mentee relationships, creativity and leadership during uncertain times, and workplace bullying among women (see related story). Before lunch, some participants relaxed at a yoga workshop.
Karen Jonscher, Ph.D., co-chair of the Faculty Council Women's Committee, said early response from participants has been positive.
"We are very excited about using this resource for continuing career development," said Jonscher, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "In the future, we hope to continue to offer a diverse array of workshops to help with teaching issues, administrative issues, career development for tenure and non-tenure track faculty, work-life balance and more. We'd also like to develop a format where groups with common interests can develop action plans and can really start moving forward to deal with issues identified in these workshops."
Joanne Belknap, Ph.D., a CU-Boulder sociologist, is the winner of this year's Elizabeth D. Gee Memorial Lectureship Award, which recognizes and honors an outstanding CU faculty member for efforts to advance women in academia, interdisciplinary scholarly contributions and distinguished teaching. Established in 1992, the award honors the late Elizabeth Gee, the wife of former CU President Gordon Gee and a faculty member of the CU College of Nursing.
Belknap is the author of "The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime and Justice," and a CU-Boulder alumna who received her doctorate in criminal justice and criminology from Michigan State University. During her afternoon keynote address, she discussed her research into the lives of incarcerated women and girls, and touched on the contributing factors that lead women into prisons, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological trauma and abuse.
"Women's and girls' victimization and offending is so invisible, and when it's not invisible, it's often so misrepresented and poorly understood," Belknap said.
Belknap also discussed the conviction of Molly Bowers, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence related to the 2006 death of her infant son, Jason. Belknap noted that Bowers' ex-husband, Alex Midyette, also received a 16-year prison sentence in the child neglect case, but under more lenient conditions, despite the allegation that he caused the injuries leading to his son's death. The professor introduced Bowers' parents, Jane and Dan Bowers, who were at the symposium to share their story with others.
"This trajectory from victimization to offending can happen to anyone, even someone raised by loving and wonderful parents," Belknap said. "I hope that my research, whether it is in publication or when I give presentations, is a way for voiceless women and girls to have a voice."
Earlier in the day, Kathleen Bollard, Ph.D., associate vice president and chief academic affairs officer, offered a sobering overview of higher education funding in Colorado and around the nation. In her morning keynote speech she also gave participants an update on proposed state higher education legislation, and explained the importance of the university's branding initiative as CU absorbs deep state funding cuts.
Bollard said the university's branding initiative, expected to make its debut later this month, would strengthen CU's role, mission and public message going forward. If a proposed initiative to create a dedicated funding source for higher education makes it onto the state ballot in the near future, CU might have to take its message directly to the people of Colorado.
"To solve our fiscal situation, we're probably going to have to go to the public," she said.
Currently, the state contributes only 3.3 percent of the university's total budget. The university is backfilling budget cuts with stimulus funding, but faces a fiscal cliff once those federal dollars disappear next year. CU leadership has said the university is facing its dire fiscal situation with a three-pronged approach that includes cutting administrative costs, seeking greater operating efficiencies and searching for new revenue sources.
As Colorado colleges and universities chart their futures amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, they are exploring innovative proposals, Bollard said. Among others, state lawmakers this year are reviewing proposed legislation that would give universities greater flexibility in setting tuition and administering financial aid, and would streamline the credit transfer process between community colleges and four-year institutions.
"It's pretty extraordinary in terms of roles, missions and branding. People are being pretty entrepreneurial," Bollard said. "But where does that leave us as the University of Colorado?"
Citing the words of Chief Financial Officer Kelly Fox, Bollard added, "When we come out at the other side of this, we may look different, we may be doing things differently, but we'll still be a great institution. We're pretty resilient."
By Deborah Méndez-Wilson