Valedictory dinner, and discrimination

Yesterday we took the capstone exam concluding the MPA program, and tonight was the valedictory dinner, where we got to walk across the stage and get “memento” plaques. Assuming we all graduate, we’ll get the degree certificates later. (I would call them diplomas, since in US systems the diploma is the piece of paper documenting a degree, but in this system “degree” and “diploma” are actually different academic achievements.)

I've spent much of the last few days on feedback; I mentioned some rough notes to the vice-dean and in response to his urgent request I sat down and hammered out a 1600 letter and sent it around to the dean, vice dean, etc. The response was warmly welcoming, which was gratifying. But I left one thing out, which was my desire to see more female professors (and other professors from under-represented groups, which in Singapore usually means Malay/Muslim, but the faculty is actually quite international and diverse in various ways, so the only glaring problem that I'll commit to without crunching some numbers is the shortage of women among the faculty and administration.) I had previously raised it with a few students and faculty and the most common response was essentially, "there aren't many good women applying". Which is either missing the point or not knowing it even when it smacks you in the face, or some other idiom along those lines.

After all of the speeches at the dinner we went into mingle mode, and I stalked the dean. While waiting for him to stand in photos with students, I talked to a pair of faculty and/or adminstrators, and their immediate reactions were a leering "of course we want more women around" and some sort of joke about pregnancy. This was a crushingly disappointing response. It seems to me that a non-superficial understanding of the problem of discrimination is incompatible with these reactions. I do think it's possible to be a person who does not discriminate while also having an appreciation of women as objects of attraction, or while having unresolved concerns about how to handle the practicalities of employees with families. But for those wisecracks to be the first things out of your mouths? That very strongly suggests that in other circumstances, you also say things and do things that undermine women. Maybe better camoflagued, maybe without snickering, maybe not in mixed company. But you don't see the problem. You don't see your role in perpetuating the problem. I can't help you with this, and since you exercise gateway power, you are going to continue damaging the women you don't know you're discriminating against, and damaging the institution of the school and its students, faculty, and staff

The notion of posting this triggered some warnings in my head, so I thought about my personal first rule of blogging: would I say this to your face? And does posting this violate your privacy, since involved parties can probably come quite close to identifying who I'm talking about. And I decided that ....?

To end on a more positive note, when I talked to the dean about the topic of doing more to hire women, he had none of these negative reactions and appeared to listen carefully. Perhaps he can set a better tone.