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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

It’s the start of the fall semester. New committees are being formed, old committees are having new members appointed and all of them are convening for their first meetings of the year. I happened to get hold of the minutes of the first meeting of the Committee on the Status of Women in Science and Engineering (CSWSE) at IncrediblyLowPercentageOfWomenInEngineering Polytechnic University (ILPOWIE Tech). The committee members were appointed by the provost, and they included the Engineering Dean, the Women in Engineering (WIE) Program Director, and a Women’s Studies (WMST) Professor. Read and see if any of it seems vaguely, horribly familiar. WARNING: WIE directors, in particular, may suffer flashbacks.


Engineering Dean:

We’d love to have more women/black/Hispanic students/faculty/department heads. Just let us know how to find the good ones and we will be happy to reruit/hire them right here into our program where excellence has always been our standard.

WMST Prof:

The Western, patriarchal, hierarchical scientific and technological enterprise oppresses multi-ethnic peoples of the global community by imposing a myth of objective truth that obscures the power relations of a capitalist hegemonic construction of social inter/course and can only be partially transformed through a shift towards a postmodern hermeneutics that (re)births a specifically female deconstruction of lived reality.

WIE Director:

What we need to do is focus our efforts on maintaining girls’ interest in science at the middle school level, before it’s too late, and at the high school level, in the AP classes. And the first year of college is really key. Mentoring programs will help. And classes that give them hands-on experience with tools and equipment. We should make sure they get good internships, or maybe undergraduate research opportunities will help us grow the next generation of female engineering professors. And we need to mentor the young female faculty. And we need money, and staff, and time, and what do you mean, assessment? I am really busy.


Engineering Dean: (to WIE Director)

ALL of your ideas are really great. I would like you to make all eleventy-hundred of them a major priority for the next academic year. Because of the incredible importance of the work you do, we are giving you this budget of $1,248.73 plus a part-time undergraduate student helper that you will share with the Multicultural Engineering Program. Uh, but don’t say anything to the MEP director about your budget, because they are getting squat from us. Although we did give them that expanded broom closet for the MEP student lounge, so I don’t know why they squawk all the time. It’s not like we have so many MEP students they can’t fit into the broom closet.

(to WMST Prof)

Because the Engineering Dean is not aware of the WMST Professor’s existence.

WMST Professor:(to Engineering Dean)

What makes you think women want to participate in your oppressive Western technological enterprise that has contributed so much to global environmental habitat destruction, has produced so many noxious chemicals that pollute our bodies, our rivers, and our backyards, and that medicalizes women’s natural bodily existence?

(to WIE Director):

Recruiting women to science and engineering: sooooooo Second Wave. What you need is to think more about the interpenetration of capitalism and culturally constructed biological human/cyborgs…oh, Haraway explains it so well! You’ll want to give all of Sandra Harding’s works a deep read, too. Women scientists? Booooring. Media studies of the cultural construction of women’s medicalized bodies and representations of the human genome project in popular media? Soooooo cool!

WIE Director: (to Engineering Dean)

([sotto voce]…must…not…strangle…dean…) It is so great to have the support of the college administration! Very few engineering deans are as visionary as you are. We are fortunate to have you here with us at ILPOWIE Tech. It’s wonderful to see this enthusiasm about these eleventy-hundred new initiatives – and I couldn’t possibly agree with you more. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that only two of them can be started in the next year. Which two would you pick? Oh great, recruitment and the faculty diversity retreat. Uh, about that retreat…what would you think about a focus on climate issues, the culture of engineering, not just a review of the percentage of “others” like we usually do? Yes, we’d have to ask the professors to read a little. I know, I know.

(to WMST Professor)

I don’t have time for transformation, because I’ve got this big assessment initiative I have to deal with, and another damn diversity retreat with the engineering faculty coming up. And do I expect them to remember anything beyond the most basic concepts about gender and engineering? Noooooooo. At the end of it all they’ll clap me on the shoulders and say what a great job I’m doing and how glad they all are to have me here to “take care of all that gender stuff”. And the dean will smile and say “I think we made some real progress here” and I will go home and have a headache. And you want me to read Haraway? It may be the new millennium for you but it’s 1950 in Science-and-Engineering Land!


To: CSWSE Committee Members, ILPOWIE Tech

As you know, CSWSE is an integral component of ILPOWIE Tech’s university-wide Diversity Initiative. The President joins me in thanking you for your service on this important committee. We look forward to much progress in the year ahead in our strategic Plan for a More Diverse ILPOWIE Polytechnical University, and celebrate last year’s extraordinary successes: enrollment of women in ILPOWIE Tech’s college of engineering climbed from a low point of 7% to 9%, still below national averages, but an improvement, and our percentage of multicultural students increased from 2% to 3%! We know it is due to the sustained efforts of committed individuals like you. We congratulate you for your past hard work and anticipate your future success.

Disclaimer: the above does not refer to any particular persons, living or dead, nor does it refer to any particular institutions. It is a work of ficiton. All events, statements, and statistics are made up for the purposes of writing this piece of fiction. Any resemblance to real life is purely accidental and disconcerting.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 8, 2006 at 10:42 am

    1) Wow! I’m reading this blog more often.
    2) I used to work for one of those organizations that was “sooooo second wave.” They were really good at getting women and minorities into undergraduate research situations (apparently). The real problem, I was told, was that at every stage after that – PhD, post-doc, professor, tenure, etc., the pipeline was “leaky” and was losing women scientists left and right. But then what do you do about all that once you’re at the tail end and you’re supposed to be hiring?

  2. Ethan Vishniac
    September 8, 2006 at 11:01 am

    You owe me a new keyboard. Unless you can tell me how to extract a latte from a MacBook.
    I have forwarded this to my wife, who will find it incredibly depressing, or very funny.

  3. Ethan Vishniac
    September 8, 2006 at 11:44 am

    She found it incredibly depressing.

  4. September 8, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    Wow. Just reading this post gave me a headache. Way too close to home, this one.

  5. September 8, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Ethan: I did leave this warning on my inaugural post at Scienceblogs:

    I do not recommend reading Thus Spake Zuska while eating, except for those with the strongest of stomachs. I cannot be held responsible for damage to keyboards, laptops, or any other electronic device should you choose to ignore this warning.

    Admittedly, this is not a warning against what could happen if you are reduced to helpless laughter, and perhaps I should add this as an expanded warning to the “About” page…anyway, sorry about the keyboard mishap. 😦
    Give my condolences to your wife and tell her that Zuska says we must be able to find humor in even our most bleak moments and situations or else we’ll go crazy. Even our putative allies can be crazy-making at times, so we just have to be able to laugh amongst ourselves, to refresh and renew so we can go back out there and tackle the enemy once more.

  6. Peggy
    September 8, 2006 at 4:45 pm


  7. Chris
    September 8, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    This scenario is EXACTLY what my job (and much of my life) is like right now. I direct a WISE Program at a large research university. Scary to know it’s so pervasive and recognizable that it has wide appeal on a blog!
    I know that directing an advocacy unit within academe for several years has not been healthy for me, but this is such a clear example (albeit fabricated) of how agrandizing (self and other) and theoretical babble have become self-sustaining and protective of privilege that I am entirely embarrassed by it.
    When did institutional support for intervention, practical application, and investment in real change become passe?
    I’m starting to think it always has been and that I was just too stubborn, committed, and naive to believe it before. Very sad . . . . .

  8. September 11, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Yep, this sounds familiar. BTW, can you hook me up with WMST prof? 😉 Or a job opening for similar? It seems the WS folks aren’t all that interested in the science studies stuff either… I hope I’m wrong.

  9. SuzyQueue
    September 18, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    Very familiar!! I have never figured out why anything to do with women and engineering automatically has the Women’s Studies department involved. They resent being assigned to these tasks as much as the token females in engineering do. You should include the two or three ‘passionate about women’ male engineering professors to sit in and applaud the dean for his decisive leadership initiative.
    How about this one for an engineering dean. ‘You’re doing such a great job as a role model for women in engineering. Keep up the good work in that department you’re in.’ He was being very ‘supportive’ that day.

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