The Newsletter That’s All the Rage: A Review of Women in Higher Education

by Mark J. Drozdowski

SHOULD WOMEN WORKING at colleges and universities be enraged? The editors at Women in Higher Education think so.
The mission of this monthly newsletter is “to enlighten, encourage, empower, and engage women on campus to win acceptance of women’s styles and values, improving higher education and society.” Its Web site adds “enrage” to this mission, and content reflects that goal.

Sample just a few issues and you’ll find plenty to incite, rile and provoke. Read about how Radcliffe has been reduced…again. Learn about new challenges to Title IX and to progress in women’s athletics. See “Male Athletes Acting Badly” by cheating, harassing and assaulting. Discover that in the 133-year history of the University of Nebraska, only four women have served on its board.

Just whom is WIHE trying to enrage? About 85 percent of subscribers are female administrators, and 65 percent work at four-year campuses. Editor Mary Dee Wenniger started the publication twelve years ago with a small inheritance; it now boasts a circulation of 2,000 but claims to reach over 12,000 readers across the U.S. and Canada (many more if you include the 1,000 daily hits to the Web site). Yearly subscriptions run $66, or $73 if you choose to be billed, while students can receive it for $40.

For that relatively modest sum, readers get 24 to 36 pages of news tidbits, feature articles, condensed research and job ads. The “Newswatch” section, comprising the first few pages, offers summaries of stories culled largely from the mainstream press. Topics range from affirmative action to legal cases, women gaining promotions and intercollegiate athletics: in all, various instances of justice and injustice. Wenniger chooses and summarizes all such pieces.

Feature articles come mostly from regular contributors, stringers whom WIHE employs. Usually running one or two pages, articles present current research on a variety of women’s issues and interviews with female scholars and administrators. Examples include pieces on women’s leadership styles, how to launch a consulting practice, surviving a job search, women as scientists, creating a culture of acceptance for gay athletes, how to be a senior administrator and a mom, and learning to be a successful “second banana.” Writers find source material at conferences, in journals and other publications, and in doctoral dissertations.

Each issue also offers opportunities for outside contributors to showcase their work. A column called “In Her Own Words” presents a first-person forum for women. And men. Despite the feminine pronoun, might WIHE consider a submission from a man?

“We accept anyone’s pieces for review,” says Mary Helen Conroy, who manages job ad placements. “Do we have a gender bias? Absolutely. But our main goal is to provide women information to improve their campuses and lives. If it comes from a woman or man, that’s what we include.”

That gender bias (feminism, if you will) is readily apparent in the tone and tenor of the publication, often to an extreme. In the preface to Gender Equity or Bust!: On the Road to Campus Leadership With Women in Higher Education (Jossey-Bass, 2001), which captures the first ten years’ worth of articles, Wenniger and Conroy write that their newsletter is “dedicated to the proposition that higher education is too important, too valuable, and too fragile to be dominated by one sex….” They urge women to chip away at the “bedrock of patriarchy in higher education” and call for a new climate in which “women and men can work together to shape the academy into one that serves all people, not just middle-aged white males.”

Articles echo that theme. One, on ethics in business schools, suggests that, “If women are more moral than men, the growing numbers of women in business school bodes well for the future of ethics in business.” Another, called “Communication Lessons from a Tattoo Parlor,” recounts a female doctoral student’s turn as a parlor owner. “Men don’t usually scheme and plot to define a woman in terms of a man,” the author writes. “They don’t connive to exclude her from conversation or ignore her existence. They don’t have to. They’re just doing what they consider natural in that setting.”

Should I be enraged? Do I, as a male administrator, always “focus on the result and believe that the end justifies the means,” as Wenniger and Conroy conclude, while my female colleagues “savor the process of being inclusive and collaborative so that all stakeholders believe their voices are heard…”? Do all men behave badly?

I of course don’t share the female perspective, so I’ll give the editors the benefit of the doubt. They do, after all, present research findings to back their claims.I merely find such stereotyping rather simplistic and offensive at times.

Other than that, my complaints are few. In articles written by stringers, it’s often difficult to tell if an author is editorializing or paraphrasing the subject of the piece. And while content is clearly presented and well-written, some pieces do occasionally slip into jargon. One article, on female administrators at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, offers the following:“Examining the narratives of these women provides a cross section of epistemologies…that characterized their self-defining standpoints.” Such jabberwocky seems strangely out of place in an otherwise straightforward publication.

Adjuncts looking for relevant articles and job ads could lodge their own complaints. The newsletter’s middle section, called “Career Connections,” runs anywhere from seven to 20 pages and contains ads for leadership positions (i.e. presidents, vice presidents, deans) and full-time faculty spots. Conroy, who manages this section, admits that because the readership consists mainly of female administrators, adjunct faculty are not a primary concern. So don’t look for part-time teaching jobs in WIHE.

But Conroy is quick to acknowledge the importance of adjuncts, and would welcome articles discussing related issues.

“Our readers work with and direct adjuncts,” she says, “so if we received an article about how administrators could assist women adjuncts, we’d love it.”

If you’re inclined to submit such a piece, visit the newsletter’s Web site (http://www.wihe.com) and sample the articles. The site offers content dating back to 1996; most of it is reserved for subscribers, but some is available free. You’ll also find links to pertinent Web sites, a calendar of events and conferences, and a few, albeit dated, sets of data on gender differences in administrative salaries and female representation among academic leadership. Should you wish to subscribe, you’ll soon be able to download previous issues in PDF format.

And if you’re a female working in higher education, as a senior administrator or otherwise, you’ll probably resonate to what WIHE has to say.

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