WGSS Faculty Agrees to Memorandum

Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.

The Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies program recently agreed to a memorandum that would give them at least one full-time faculty member, and in exchange will not seek departmental status for a maximum of five years.

In a 12-2 vote, the WGSS steering committee voted in favor of the memorandum written by SUNY New Paltz Interim Provost Phillip Mauceri, WGSS Program Director Kathleen Dowley and Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Stella Deen, the program has now been authorized by the provost to begin a search for a full-time faculty member.

At the end of the spring 2013 semester, faculty governance voted 88-8 in favor of the program seeking departmental status. After the vote, Mauceri, Deen and Dowley worked on the memorandum over the summer. The memorandum restores a tenure track line that Mauceri said will allow the program to expand the curriculum and increase course choices.

Before reaching departmental status, however, the provost said he believes the program needs more time to become stronger to make itself a better candidate for departmental status in the future.

“The memorandum is a commitment to work together to do all we can to strengthen WGSS as an interdisciplinary program, and requires all the signatories to confer regularly and work on concrete measures to strengthen the program,” Mauceri said. “To ensure that we are making progress on these mutually agreed to goals, the memorandum asks for an assessment on our progress in three to five years.”

The current WGSS program is interdisciplinary, and offers courses that incorporate other departments such as sociology and Black Studies. Mauceri believes the interdisciplinary nature of a program like WGSS will make it stronger within the next several years.

“I firmly believe that the interdisciplinary character of WGSS is a source of strength, allowing it to transcend the silo mentality that all too often develops in departments, and giving it a campus wide influence that is usually difficult for departments to attain,” Mauceri said.

Dowley said that after Amy Kesselman left her post of 31 years as the only full-time faculty member at the end of the spring 2011 semester, the department has yet to find full-time faculty support from an educator with a background in Women’s Studies.

While the memorandum would guarantee a replacement for Kesselman, Dowley said that once the first full-time faculty member is hired, there is a possibility and an increased likelihood that a second full-time faculty member will be hired in the future.

“Stella [Deen] believes that WGSS is a program that deserves support, and she played a large role in making sure our needs will be met,” Dowley said.

Student Association (SA) Vice President of Academic Affairs and Governance Jordan Taylor said SA originally believed the program would only be given one full-time faculty member. However, the SA E-board now supports the program accepting the memorandum on the condition that there is room for another full-time faculty member to be hired.

“It is going to take a full year for the program to hire someone full-time for the program,” Taylor said. “Then in the coming years they’ll get the ability to compete to hire another full-time faculty member every year starting next year.”

Former chair of the Academic Affairs Committee Janice Anderson said in a dissenting email to the WGSS steering committee that her initial response to the memorandum was to question the hesitance of giving the program departmental status.

“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, why isn’t it a duck?,” Anderson said in her dissent email. “If the WGSS ‘program’ functions administratively just like a department, why is there such resistance to the name designation, ‘Department?’”

Taylor said the difference between whether something is a department or a program is in the name and the legitimacy the name brings. He said a department offers more legitimacy and autonomy regarding who faculty can hire and fire.

He also said that with departmental status, WGSS would be more appealing to professors with educational backgrounds in Women’s Studies, as opposed to the program’s current faculty make up where the majority of its staff is comprised of educators who specialize in fields like sociology and political science.

With the current timetable of three to five years before seeking departmental status, Taylor said Mauceri wants to use that time to make WGSS an example of a strong university program for other programs at New Paltz.

Mauceri said the amount of time listed in the memorandum would give the program and the administration the time to evaluate whether or not WGSS improves or not.

“Clearly these efforts will require time, which is why we set five years as the outer limit of our timeline,” Mauceri said.

Anderson said in her dissent that she believes the memorandum fails to recognize the importance of the WGSS program.

“The Provost’s interdisciplinary “center,” I contend, is a smoke-screen for implicit gender/heterosexuality bias which refuses to accord the WGSS Discipline enough legitimacy to “rate” in Administrators’ eyes as a department,” she said.

Mauceri said through discussions with other faculty members and students, the dialogue on the whole has been respectful, despite a few instances.

“I am disappointed with the resort to ad hominem arguments” Mauceri said. “College is a teaching and learning environment that requires us all to model civil discourse, in which we respect the rights of others while creating an atmosphere where students and faculty reason with clarity, logic and mutual respect.”