This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: September 2, 2004

Barbara Bono is associate professor in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender, informally known as the Gender Institute.

Gender Week at UB starts tomorrow. Why is it important that we devote an entire week to the discussion of gender issues?
This is the third year in a row that the UB Gender Institute has sponsored "Gender Week" in the third week of September. "Gender Week" this year runs from our major prequel event tomorrow, a one-day conference on "Advancing Women in the Sciences and Engineering at UB," through our keynote address on Monday by Margaret Sullivan, editor of The Buffalo News, entitled "Is the Glass Ceiling Really Broken?," to a poetry reading on Sept. 24 by UB English Department and SUNY Distinguished Professor Susan Howe. It is a campus-wide festival of lectures, symposia, panels, conferences, open classes, exhibits, concerts and performance events highlighting the importance of gender issues in and across the disciplines for all of our constituencies—faculty, administrators, staff, undergraduate and graduate students—and also for members of the surrounding community. This year, it involves the collaboration and co-sponsorship of more than 25 units to present more than 25 events, all of which are free and open to the public. For an up-to-date calendar of the week and detailed descriptions of the events, consult the institute's Web site at http://www.

"Gender Week" is big and various because gender as a subject is big and various. Everyone—men and women—has gender, and our experience, study, understanding and action upon it is fundamental in all of the disciplines. Gender is not only a pressing issue of access for women to education, disciplinary knowledge and power. For example, in the American academy, women now constitute more than half of the student body in nearly every higher education field, but women still typically constitute less than 25 percent of the tenure or tenure-track faculty in research universities, and, sadly, I think that we still are very far, even in our imaginations, from electing a woman president of the United States. But gender also affects the very shape of knowledge and the objects known. Not only does consideration of gender change what is art and artistic expression; not only does it change what is culture and history and social science, but in medicine it affects what constitutes human physiology and its successful functioning, and in even the mathematical and physical sciences, it affects what is studied, the tools and metaphors by which those objects of study are understood, and uses to which the knowledge of them is put.

I'm fond of saying that if you don't think that gender affects you, stick around and it will, as you and people whom you care about move through life, and you—or your friends, or your partners, or your daughters or sons—experience the exhilaration and opportunities of the subject matter, the fact that gender arrangements change historically and the disappointment of continuing patterns of ignorance and discrimination. "Gender Week" gives us a chance to celebrate gender achievements through joyous events, such as our Wednesday vocal concert, "Brava! Music by Women Composers" by the Freudig Singers, or by listening and dancing to the music of the Ladies First Big Band on Sept. 23. But it also considers critically areas of ongoing concern, such as the representation of women in science and engineering, the problem of sexual harassment, the persistence of homophobia and the legal definitions of rape and the potential for redress. We hope that everyone in the UB community can find something of interest and relevance to attend, because as our buttons and posters say, "Gender Matters."

What is the role of the Gender Institute at UB?
The stated mission of the institute is "to promote gender-related research and to enhance the content and delivery of curricula that focuses on women and gender." Women's studies as a discipline predates the Gender Institute—which was founded in 1997—by many years. It is represented on the UB campus by the Department of Women's Studies, with a distinguished history running back to the 1970s and an innovative three-track curriculum that studies women in culture, public policy and international affairs. The Department of Women's Studies mounts the most regular, focused research and curriculum on women and gender on this campus. Its reach—through its many affiliate faculty members in other departments—is broad, and its chair sits ex officio on the Gender Institute Executive Committee.

The Gender Institute's work is less disciplinary and daily, but our mandate is broader and more interdisciplinary still, involving the range of gender issues on the campus as a whole. In addition to our constant partnership with Women's Studies, we have partnered in recent years with numerous other academic departments, from Chemistry and Neurology to Social Work, Asian Studies and Media Studies, and with other units of the university, such as the Office of Equity, Diversity and Affirmative Action, the Division of Athletics, the Office of Student Affairs, the Graduate Student Association, the undergraduate Student Association and the United University Professions, in a range of projects to promote gender awareness and responsible knowledge and gender practices across campus.

We are probably best know publicly for our fall semester Gender Week and our spring semester International Film Festival, which has completed its eighth season and takes place downtown in the Market Arcade Film Center, where it has significant community outreach. But every other year, we offer small faculty research development awards that have resulted in significant new approaches to breast-cancer research, the physician-patient relationship, a documentary film project on women in war, the archaeology of Western New York, the effect of reunification on German women writers and networked work from the home, to cite just a few. And every other year we offer small faculty curriculum development awards that have produced, again to cite just a few, new courses on the biology of women, gender and technology, mathematics in the context of gender, gender and ethnicity in the labor market, feminist theory, Mexican film and the careers of nurse practitioners. We sponsor a Distinguished UB Faculty Lecture annually that alternates between the South and North campuses and highlights the work of outstanding UB women faculty members, and we have housed international scholars-in-residence. Every other year, our broad graduate student constituency, led by our graduate student GA, organizes and participates in either a series of mentoring events or a Graduate Student Symposium: last year's symposium, "Gender Across Borders," featured the work of more than 50 graduate student scholars from as far away as Ireland. We foster interdisciplinary connections and mentoring through our research-interests database, our Web site and listserv, and our personal introductions, beginning with the annual "Old Girls/New Girls" reception—an invitational event for old and new faculty.

You've been a faculty member and held a variety of administrative posts at UB for 20 years. How have things changed for female faculty members during that time?
There are marginally more of us, although the numbers are still discouraging and require continual vigilance. Statistics from about this time last year show UB with 1,473 full-time faculty. Of those, 421 of the total—29 percent—were women. Of 473 full professors, 66, or 14 percent, were women; of 344 associate professors, 98, or 28 percent, were women; of 271 assistant professors, 94—35 percent—were women; of 385 "other" professors (often adjunct or research faculty who have less job security and are less attached to the institution), 163, or 42 percent, were women. The pace of promotions to full professor is still discouraging slow, and the university needs to remain alert to the fact that women of talent and achievement are readily recruited elsewhere—in my own department a few years ago we lost three distinguished women full professors to other institutions, even as we welcomed a number of new women hires.

Even more important, I think, is that the basic infrastructure to support widespread access of women and two-career families to the professoriate has not kept up with need and the pace of social change. Some excellent policies—that did not exist at the time that I was advancing toward tenure either here or at my previous institution, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor—have been put in place here at UB, such as former Provost Tom Headrick's 1995 policy that permits stopping the tenure clock for "critical life events," such as pregnancy or childbearing, and the CAS-wide provision of a semester's research leave in the course of one's progress toward tenure. However, the legal provisions for family medical leave, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the New York State Family Sick Leave, still are dysfunctional with respect to the flexible needs of young professional families to accommodate the typically one, or no more than two, children they are likely to have during their careers. Pregnancy is described as a condition of sickness, rather than of health and a social good; any leave-with-pay depends on sick-leave accruals that relatively new employees may not have accumulated. Leave conditions cannot be adjusted easily to the length of an academic semester or the demands of a research program, confronting both parents and department chairs with difficult individual negotiations. A rational, humane and flexible childbirth and family leave policy promulgated by upper university administrations is nowadays one of the keys to real advancement of an excellent faculty. Women want to work, and to work hard and well over long and productive careers. But in order to do so, they need equal workplace support and facilities, and help, such as a supportive childbirth policy and adequate day-care facilities—the UB Child Care Center has a waiting list of more than 200 prospective clients—at crucial moments in their careers.

It's been more than seven years since the President's Task Force on Women at UB reported that there was a thick "glass ceiling" for women at the university. Since then, UB has had a female provost and several female vice presidents. Would you agree that the glass ceiling at UB is "cracking?"
It's cracking—but no more—under conditions that are hard on all of us, women and men. A recent front-page article in The Buffalo News (July 30) that documents statistics for full, associate and assistant professors (but not the "other" category) in area colleges and universities shows that between 1996 and 2002-03, the number of women faculty members at UB rose from 218 to 244 and the number of male faculty members fell from 846 to 731. But I think the deeper story, equally disturbing for both men and women, is that the total number of faculty fell during that same period from 1,064 to 975—a decline of 9 percent overall—despite expanding enrollments and more and more professional demands. In other words, in an era of university downsizing and adjuncts and part-timers, we're all working harder, including the women who are making slow statistical advances into positions of leadership. As the statistics I cite above show, there still are relatively few women full professors at UB, and virtually every one of them I know is doing one or more very responsible jobs as chairs, as directors of centers, as leaders of creative and research projects, etc. Talk of burnout is common among us.

I have found it wonderful to work with women leaders here on campus and also with male leaders who are sensitive to women's concerns. But I think that even broader issues about appropriate expenditures in education and in education personnel underwrite the changes in gender arrangements that many of us would like to see.

Do you think the task force has made a difference in the lives of female UB faculty, staff and students?
I think that it made a huge difference to have had a Task Force Report (available electronically at ), and that some very positive things resulted both directly and indirectly from it, such as the existence of the Gender Institute, the coming to be of the North Campus branch of the UB Child Care Center, the fuller representation of women on campus decision-making bodies, the development of some genuinely helpful policies in the process toward tenure, and most of all, a heightened awareness and sense of collegiality among women on campus. But much remains to be done, including the strengthening of women's studies as a discipline fundamental to a major research university (women's studies has lost faculty as rapidly as it has been able to gain them, and simply requires more overall institutional commitment), the full implementation of affirmative-action goals by all units, the development of rational and open childbirth and childcare policies, the continued recognition of distinguished accomplishment by women in all fields and a personnel commitment to dedicated record-keeping and follow-through on these issues. Feminism and social change have now made women fully qualified for work in the public sphere, and society as a whole needs them in these jobs. Forward-looking institutions will embrace this process. By the way, the Task Force Report and its chair, the late Professor Bernice Noble of Microbiology, will be among the achievements of UB women celebrated in the UB Library Archive exhibit, "Women's Work: A Tribute to the Women Who Make UB Work," opening on Sept. 28 in the Library Special Collections Reading Room in Capen Hall.

Is there still such a thing as a "women's movement" in this country? Do young women-college age, and even those in their 20s and 30s-take for granted the achievements of women of the baby-boom generation?
Yes, there is still a "woman's movement" in this country, and it often is visibly three generations strong as grandmothers, mothers and their daughters unite to lobby on such issues as reproductive rights, equal-pay, global policies and ecological concerns, and anti-war movements. I'm a parent myself and enough of a follower of psychoanalytic theory to believe that each generation defines itself in part by denial and rebellion, and that history is a punctuated, and not a smoothly progressive movement. Young women in America—and young men too—are going to believe initially that they can be anything that they want to be and may well feel that they should resist or can do without an advocacy movement like feminism. But I think that they will discover otherwise over time, as they begin to experience historical and ideological constraints and struggle to deal with them constructively and humanely. I have been thrilled at the response that my own feminist teaching has found—again, among men as well as women—over the years, and I believe that the full integration of women into the public sphere is a difficult goal to be fought for, but is inevitable. College gives large proportions of our population some time to think about the massive social changes we are undergoing, one of which is changing gender arrangements. Again, everyone here at UB should be concerned about gender.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
I wish you'd asked me if I like heading the institute, because the answer is emphatically that I do. The task is more multidimensional than any I've ever undertaken, and therefore the question of focus, priorities and progress even less clear. But when I look back at my own career, it's clear to me that it has been inflected at every stage—for good or for bad, in terms of subject matter, methodologies, mentors, life choices and outcomes—by gender. I'm pleased to be in a position to reflect back on this fact and to highlight it for the institution. I think that if the university takes the time to think about gender, it will realize its critical importance as well.