UI celebrates women’s month


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Adrien Wing went from being a happily married woman to a divorced, single parent struggling to take care of two children.

And the series of events took place while the University of Iowa law professor sought tenure.

Twenty-four years ago, Wing became the first black woman hired by the UI College of Law. She was also the first female tenured law professor at the UI to have a baby and was one of the few African-American faculty members.

“There were two black men who were senior to me,” said Wing by phone from London, where she’s working as the head of the London Law Consortium. “It was very challenging.”

Women’s History Month kicked off Wednesday with assistant professor and author Deborah Whaley speaking to a crowd of about 50 in the Main Library on the importance of activism by the African-American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.

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The month celebrates the strides women have made thanks to people such as those in the sorority and Wing.

The UI is making progress. There are now at least three black female professors at the law school, and the overall number of female and minority faculty is growing throughout the university, according to the annual diversity report by the Board of Regents.

The percentage of female faculty tenured or on a tenure track met the regents’ goal last year, increasing from about 30 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2010.

Minority representation among tenure track faculty also increased to its highest level to date, at almost 19 percent, exceeding a UI goal of 16 percent.

“I think there’s been considerable improvement over the time that I’ve been on the board with regard to diversity in most areas, not all,” said Regent Robert Downer. “But I do think that, by and large, all the universities are making a strong commitment to this, and I’m pleased with the progress that’s being made.”

But some say the UI still has a long way to go.

In minorities’ “experience of promotion and tenure, they’re still vastly underrepresented,” said Leslie Schwalm, a UI history professor who specializes in gender and African-American studies.

“Times have definitely improved for some women but not all women,” she said. She emphasized the importance of courses on sexuality studies and African-American studies at the UI that reach out to undergraduates to promote change.

One lingering problem, however, is the UI’s lack of a policy on maternity leave.

“I think the big issue for women getting tenure has to do with women who have children,” said UI anthropology/women’s studies Professor Ellen Lewin. “That’s traditionally the big issue and what makes it hard for women to be successful in their academic careers.”

Studies have found women with children are less likely to get tenure in academic jobs.

Wing, who was instrumental in creating a UI policy that automatically pauses the tenure clock when a woman faculty member has a baby, said progress has been made but more can be done.

“I feel, having to be at the forefront as both black and a woman, it was a lot of pressure, but I feel things have improved since that era at least for some women,” Wing said.

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