University Committee on Women

The University Committee on Women (UCW) at Iowa State was created in 1971 as a response to a heightened awareness of discrimination for women on campus in conjunction with the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. It brought to light the unequal treatment female faculty, staff, and students faced, especially over the issue of equal pay for equal work.

The impetus to create the UCW came from two university officials, Edwin C. Lewis, then Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, and George C. Christensen, then Vice President of Academic Affairs. According to Lewis, in early 1970 he read an editorial in the journal Science that highlighted a movement among universities and colleges to “pay more attention to women in the academic area.” Some schools had already created committees through which to address women in academia, and he suggested to Christensen that Iowa State follow suit.

After consulting with other members of the university administration, Christensen assembled a group of faculty and staff to sit on a committee for women at Iowa State. He sent a memo to this group on December 13, 1971, formally calling them to be members of the committee and charging them to examine and evaluate the current status of women employees and students. Dr. Marguerite Scruggs, Assistant Dean of the College of Home Economics, agreed to chair the committee. The memo stated:

“The committee will have the responsibility of making a thorough study of the status of women at all levels of the university and of recommending positive steps that the university should take to ensure the current status of women, not only in terms of numbers and salaries, but also in relation to policies and practices of the university which may inadvertently cause special difficulties for women employees and students. In addition this committee should concern itself with methods by which the university can promote fuller participation of women in the university community, especially in relation to the admission of students, the hiring and promotion of faculty, and opportunities for promotion for women non-academic employees.”

Christensen’s call to action enabled the UCW members to explore the many ways that women related to Iowa State, and the committee began its work during the spring semester of 1971. The first recommendation from the UCW came through a memo to President W. Robert Parks dated June 27, 1972 in which Scruggs indicated that the language used in brochures sent to future students was sexist. The brochures described the future college student as “he” and contained phrases such as “the college student is preparing himself for a professional career,” “in this curriculum he learns,” and “he should also take courses.” The UCW recommended replacing “he” and “himself” with “you” and “yourself.” Parks wrote back to Scruggs assuring her that the matter would be addressed promptly.

On May 23, 1973, over two years after the UCW began its investigation, it produced an extensive report on the status of women at Iowa State. The report outlined numerous instances where women faced inequality on campus. For students, the committee found that some professors intentionally steered female students away from jobs in traditionally male fields like engineering and the sciences. Other instructors only permitted women to ask and answer questions on certain days of the week. In the residence halls, women’s dorms were locked from midnight to 6:30 am Sunday through Thursday and 1:00 am to 6:30 am on Friday and Saturday, and women out after hours had to get a key from the resident director. Men’s residence halls had no lock-down period. Women’s athletic programs, both intercollegiate and intramural, were not funded equally to men’s programs. For the 1971 to 1972 school year, student activity fees provided men’s athletics with $172,978.75 while women’s athletics received no funding from the student fees. During the same school year, men’s intramurals received a $40,000 budget while women’s intramurals received $1,000 budgeted dollars.

For female faculty and staff at Iowa State, the situation was not much better. As far as faculty promotion and tenure, of the two women promoted to full professor while the UCW administered the survey, they spent an average of nineteen and one-half years in their previous rank. Of the fifty-one men who were promoted to full professor, they had spent an average of five years in their previous rank. In addition, while 58 percent of non-academic university employees were women, fewer than 10 percent held administrative or supervisory positions, and women held none of the major administrative positions. When the UCW examined the offices of registrar and admissions, it found that while women held the majority of the fifty combined positions, there was not a female director, associate director, or assistant director. Finally, the UCW found that women custodial workers were paid forty-five cents less per hour than their male counterparts, even though they held virtually the same duties and responsibilities.

The fundamental recommendation of the UCW’s report was for the university to “create a climate in which women in all positions-faculty, staff, and student-are given opportunities equal to those of men to develop themselves as individuals and to be engaged in activities commensurate with their abilities and interests…[the] climate should ensure adequate and appropriate representation of women at all levels and all aspects of university functioning…[and] encourage women to undertake new challenges and to broaden their career horizons beyond those traditionally assigned to women."

At the publication of the 1972 report, the University Committee on Women hit the ground running. That same year, in October 1972, the UCW drafted the proposal for a Women’s Center on campus. Two years later, in March 1974, that proposal was accepted by the administration. In October, 1975, the first Women’s Week was sponsored by the UCW. The UCW played an active role with the Iowa ERA to work for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Iowa. It also evaluated the Student Health Service Gynecology Clinic in 1978, finding it inadequate to meet the needs of female students on campus.

Women's Protest

Student Protest, 1978

In 1979 the UCW became involved in a dispute over seating at the women’s basketball games. Women’s games were held right before men’s basketball games. At the time, the policy prohibited people attending the women’s game to sit in the reserved seats set aside for the men’s game. Spectators at the women’s games, therefore, were forced to sit in the second-tier seats, far from the court, while the first-tier seats remained empty. According to the athletic department, the women’s games were merely “preliminary contests” even though Title IX guaranteed equal athletic opportunities for men and women. When the problem reached the UCW, UCW Chair Jean Adams wrote to the associate athletic director with a list of possible alternatives to the policy, including roping off prime seats for fans of the women’s game or allowing fans to sit anywhere until they were asked to move for the men’s game. In the end, the athletic department listened to the UCW’s concerns, and fans were allowed to sit in the first-tier seats during the women’s games.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the UCW played a prominent role in the university community. The also issued a study of rape and sexual assault on campus in 1982. The study found that local and campus newspapers were underreporting the number of assaults and rapes on campus and that, surprisingly, many reported incidents took place at the Iowa State Library. In 1989, the UCW recommended a new policy for search committees on campus, emphasizing the hiring of more women and minorities.

ERA Workers

Field Workers for the Equal Rights Amendment, 1981

The UCW continues to address the needs of women at Iowa State. Tanya Zanish-Belcher, president of the UCW in 1997, said that the UCW focused on holding a welcome reception for new women faculty and staff, developing the Faculty Women’s Network, and hosting forums on gender equity and family leave. The UCW also began their College Review of the Colleges, producing data-driven reports that the administration used to discover areas of weakness in women’s issues. In 2008, the committee reviewed the College of Business, and in 2009, the UCW will review the College of Veterinary Medicine.