FAIRBANKS — A letter sent to University of Alaska Fairbanks administrators is asking them to implement specific actions in an effort to address institutional challenges that women and other underrepresented groups face as employees and students at UAF.
The letter was drafted by six women working and studying in various sciences at UAF, after receiving input from a larger group of 20 women. Since being published last month, more than 200 people have added their names to a corresponding petition to show their support for the proposed solutions. The six authors requested a response by Wednesday.
“Although institutional change to create an inclusive and diverse community at UAF is ongoing, the current gender distribution of leadership positions and salaries suggests that UAF has yet to create equal opportunity for everyone,” the letter states. “We seek institutional changes that provide an equitable environment for all, as no gender, race or other identity should have primary access to leadership, mentorship or teaching positions.”
Among the solutions requested are: An investigation into salary equity and an implementation of equal salary levels, leadership training to help leaders understand stereotype threat and bias, a formalized mentorship program to help develop leaders in both grad students and employees, the development of family inclusive policies such as the ability to donate sick leave toward maternity or paternity leave, and many more.
“I want the university to be a place where everyone in Alaska is able to succeed,” said Lily Cohen, a researcher for the International Arctic Research Center who helped draft the letter. “I want the university to be honest about what it says it is. Right now the university is an equal opportunity employer. Of the highest salaries, $4.5 million go to men and $500,000 go to women. When I see these numbers, it says there’s something fundamentally wrong. I would like UAF to be a fair place for everyone.”
Vanessa Raymond, a project manager at the Geographic Information Network of Alaska, said she has received positive vibes so far from the university leadership.
“They’ve treated this respectively,” Raymond said. “I think they’re encouraged to see that UAF is mobilized about something positive.”
Chancellor Dan White said both he and UAF take these issues seriously. He has already responded and says he is putting together a more formal response.
“I’m frankly quite happy about this group’s effort to bring diversity to the forefront,” White said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re going to take some action. You’ll see in the letter I send to the authors.”
White said he is going to launch a Chancellor’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in January. The letter’s authors will be able to nominate people to this committee. In the meantime, his office is working through an inventory of what UAF is already doing to address these concerns, and also what it can do immediately. White said there are already other groups addressing diversity at UAF such as the Faculty Senate Committee for the Status of Woman.
“I want to be clear we’re not waiting. Diversity is what makes us strong at this university,” White said.
The letter has also been presented to the faculty senate and staff council.
“At both presentations there was a positive response,” Raymond said. “It’s great to hear that UAF is a progressive forward thinking community and that people want to work on these issues.”
Cohen said the proposed solutions are not groundbreaking ideas, as many of them have been implemented at other institutions.
“I don’t see an excuse as to why they can’t follow through,” Cohen said.
To read the letter in its entirety, go to: https://goo.gl/PmnqRy.
Contact staff writer Kevin Baird at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.