Office of the President

President’s Commission on Women’s Issues | Narrative History

"Orchestra kind of stuff" By Kathy Shollenberger

In December of 1973, Charles Bishop, Chancellor of the University of Maryland, established a Commission on Women's Issues.[1] Twenty-five years later, the Commission celebrated its anniversary with gusto; women prominent in its history gave witness to its positive influence, both past and present, on the quality of life for women on the College Park campus. This essay seeks not only to capture the spirit of those first twenty-five years, but also to account for the continuing vitality of a group that might well have faded in the face of backlash against feminism, burned out as issues became more fuzzy, or declared its work finished after righting some of the most grievous wrongs.

The research for this essay drew on both oral interviews and archival sources. I examined documents dating from 1974-1985 in the Records of the Chancellor's Commission on Women's Affairs located in the Historical Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Maryland College Park Libraries, and based on the chronology and issues that emerged from perusal of those records, wrote a prototype guide for the first set of interviews with participants in the Women's Commission. After completing that set of ten interviews, I returned to the records to track issues from 1985 to the present as a basis for an interview guide to shape the second set of nine interviews.[2] I received additional documents from several interviewees, and I also searched through the records housed in the PCWI[3] office. I made decisions about whom to interview as follows. Based on the assumption that leadership made a significant difference in the history of the Commission, I chose to interview every available chair. I interviewed as many of the earliest members as possible, and included numerous people who have served on the Commission, either in an ex officio capacity or intermittently, over a long period of time. I also included several people outside of, but extremely important to, the history of the Commission. As I progressed, it became clear to me that diversifying the interview list would make my study more valuable. I decided not to focus on gender diversity, although the Commission has always included several men amongst its members, but I did pay increasing attention to racial and employment diversity, interviewing three women of color, seven associate staff members, and one classified staff member (now called exempt and non-exempt staff respectively), and the campus chaplain, in addition to nine members of the faculty. Of the eighteen interviewees, eight have left the University, either for retirement or other positions. I interviewed one person twice: Dr. Virginia Beauchamp, referred to during the 25th Anniversary celebration as the "mother" of the Commission. That seemed to be a good idea, not only because of her role as mother in the earliest days, but also because she returned in the 1990's, first to serve as Commission chair and then in her role as Special Assistant to the President for Women's Issues. I soon discovered that the list of potential interviewees was much too long for the scope of my study, so I have included in the appendix, along with a list of all of the people interviewed, another list of those who would also have been valuable interviewees. All but two of the interviews were conducted in person, in either the office or home of the interviewee, and the remaining two interviews were conducted long distance by speaker phone. Every interview was taped, and those tapes, along with my accompanying notes, are now available in the Commission office for anyone interested in doing further research.

Midway through the interviews, a problem arose which then shaped the rest of the study. My curiosity was piqued by a seeming conundrum which arose out of the interviews and documents: how to explain the longevity of passion and commitment on the part of leaders and members of a commission that originated in the context of a social movement now well into middle age. Why is this particular commission still alive and well after twenty-five years, when the issues for women appear to have shifted so dramatically since 1974?

Both the interviews and the documents suggest that the answer to this puzzle lies in the Commission's ability to persevere doggedly with stubborn issues, at the same time recognizing, anticipating, and framing new ones. As Judy Sorum Brown, second chair of the Commission, said as she tried to characterize its spirit, "This really is orchestra kind of stuff; you just don't know who your first violin is going to be when you start, and you don't know who's going to be playing various chairs, and you don't know which music you're going to be dealt, and you don't know how the tastes of the community are going to change. And you just move forward sort of with all that in mind."[4] The Commission shifted and adjusted and kept its forward momentum like the best of orchestra.

Research suggests further that this ability to anticipate as well as respond to new trends and events and to shift focus accordingly shaped the Commission's history into four eras, each with variation in energy and goals, but all four grounded in the same basic approach and mission. During the first of these eras, from 1974 to 1981, the Commission's focus remained fairly narrow, mostly pointed towards gender equality for white, straight faculty and students, paralleling the concerns of the concomitant women's movement. From about 1981 to 1990, the Commission's agenda broadened to include diversity in a variety of ways: race, class (as represented by type of employment within the University), and sexual orientation. The emphasis shifted from obtaining equality with men to appreciating difference among women. During the third era, from about 1990 to 1996, the Commission's work was in large part shaped by severe budgets cuts; because of low morale and lack of funding for new initiatives, the Commission's main focus became maintaining ground and protecting women from the effects of University decisions about how to handle those cuts. The final era, from 1996 to the present, has been one of stocktaking and anticipation: a look at where the Commission (and women at UMCP) started, how far it has come, and where it might go next. After providing historical context for the Commission's beginnings, this essay examines the four eras in depth in order to explain its long-lived vitality.

Historical Context, 1961-1973

The Commission started its first era in response to the unfriendly environment for women at University of Maryland, but it was also part of and mirrored a larger phenomenon, which began with President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women. Historians often argue that this Commission, established in 1961, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt and dominated by Esther Peterson of the Woman's Bureau, marked the beginning of a second wave of feminism.[5] Although the Commission's report, American Women, affirmed the importance of women's traditional roles within the home, it documented inequities and discrimination in employment, and pointed to the need for childcare.[6] According to historian Winifred Wandersee, the Kennedy Commission was important because it changed the discussion of women's roles and status "from ridiculous to respectable" and opened the door to stronger recommendations. The national Commission's report led to the establishment of state commissions with the charge to gather data and document discrimination. By February of 1967, commissions existed in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. [7] These state commissions provided a rallying point for professional women, represented a "tacit admission" that a problem existed, and established a platform from which inequities could be publicized and the need for change asserted. [8] The commissions created both a network of individuals and groups concerned about women and a set of expectations, and became an important source of leadership in the women's movement. The National Organization for Women, for example, emerged during the 1965 national conference of state commissioners, and the resulting organizational meeting, in October of 1966, included veterans of state commissions on the status of women. Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes established a Commission on the Status of Women on July 22, 1965.

Several other factors were at work when, eight years later, Chancellor Bishop established a similar commission on the University of Maryland campus. The PCSW led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and paved the way for inclusion of gender discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a federally funded institution, University of Maryland was directly affected by this legislation. Even before the 1972 amendment of the Civil Rights Act, Bernice Sandler, an activist in the Women's Equity Action League and chair of WEAL's Action Committee for Federal Control Compliance in Education, used Executive Order 11375[9] to file specific charges against 250 institutions, including the University of Maryland. These complaints were a "bombshell . . . the trigger . . . that forced the issue of women's status wide open on every campus."[10] The charges legitimized the issue, made it easier for women to band together, and forced campus administrators to "take a new look at women." As a result, campus committees on the status of women were established, and soon reports began to appear; within two years of the first suits, reports emerged from more than one hundred educational institutions.[11]

Inasmuch as a university campus reflects its surroundings, University of Maryland's self-examination would have happened even without WEAL's suits. By the time the University of Maryland's commission began, a whole series of unsettling events had occurred outside its walls: the publication of the first theoretical journal of the women's movement and the protest at the Miss America Pageant in 1968; the creation of the women's liberation symbol and publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1969; the publication of Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, the start of the Feminist Press, House Discrimination against Women hearings, Women's Strike for Equality, and House passage of the ERA in 1970; the start of courses in women's history and literature and the founding of the National Women's Political Caucus and Women's Action Alliance in 1971; the birth of "women's music," the passage of Title IX, and the appearance of Ms magazine in 1972; and Roe v. Wade in 1973.[12] Any university would have had difficulty ignoring these events and the climate they created.

Slightly closer to home was the creation, in 1971, of the Project on the Education and Status of Women under the aegis of the Association of American Colleges. The project's purpose was "to develop and distribute materials that identified issues and provided recommendations for overcoming barriers to equity for women in higher education."[13] It published On Campus, a newsletter with information about the status of women in educational institutions. The project was based on the "rather optimistic assumption that there were many people of goodwill in the field of education who would make the right decisions if they had the best information available." [14] Perusal of the University of Maryland PCWI's archive suggests that these AAC materials, specifically the Project on the Education and Status of Women, had a significant influence on the early thinking and work of University of Maryland's Commission.

Seeking Equality, 1974-1981

The Commission was set up as advisory to the University's President, which placed it firmly within the reform branch of the women's movement. In a broad brush way, the movement, at least initially, divided into women's rights advocates, working to right wrongs within the system, and women's liberationists, seeking liberation from ways of thinking and behaving which keep women subordinate to men. [15] All of the first generation of Commission members interviewed for this study described the Commission's early work as a reform effort, although no one actually used that language. Retired physics professor George Snow said the Commission's mission concerned "fairness and equality."[16] According to Carol Pearson, chair in 1984 and 1985, Commission members had to be "good girls" because they were mindful of being there "at the will of the chancellor . . . Everyone knew the parameters [even if] no chancellor sat us down and said, 'cross this line and you don't exist.'"[17] Vicki Freimuth, chair just before Pearson, described the Commission as "always polite." We were "the conservative element in the sense that we were working within the system, something I was very aware of, but we also were advocates within the system."[18] Sorum Brown spoke of the Commission's struggle to find a "third way…not a compromise between two points." Members, she explained, worked on "finding common ground."[19]

Almost all interviewees mentioned the work of Dr. Barbara Bergmann, Professor of Economics, as a counterpoint to the Commission, and a decidedly useful one. While the Commission adhered to the less confrontational techniques of persuasion and pressure, Bergmann used litigation. She served as chair of the Committee on Women (or Committee W) of the American Association of University Professors. In this capacity, she filed a class action suit against the University regarding salary inequities. [20] Judy Sorum Brown described Bergmann as a firebrand who "lambasted" the Commission's "centrist policy for its lack of attention to the deep disparities and great inequities that had been visited upon women." Brown talked about the Commission being in the middle of a continuum from Bergmann to the Athletic Director Jim Kehoe, who believed that these ideas about equality "would really lead to the destruction of the American family and our society."[21] Marilyn Berman, retired Associate Dean in the College of Engineering and early Commission member, remarked that had the Commission been made up of Barbara Bergmann's, "it would have been so offensive, no one would have listened." The times called for "a Gandhi, not a revolutionary approach," according to Berman. [22] Freimuth argued, however, that those Barbara Bergmann's played an essential role in the Commission's early success. They made the Commission look "better by comparison," argued Freimuth. "In a social movement," she maintained, "you need the people who are out there taking a radical, non-compromising approach."[23]

As the Commission sorted out its place on this continuum from reform to revolution, its members were faced with many wrongs to right. By all accounts, in 1974, when the Commission actually began its work, the climate at University of Maryland was at best unfriendly to women, at worst hostile. Only white men held administrative positions. Women were invisible in the curriculum and unsupported as employees. The University paid women poorly and blocked them from promotion. In 1972, the University employed only two full women professors. [24] Any negotiation about these matters was conducted in private between the professor and her department chair. Rules about nepotism forced the University to choose between a husband and wife if both were eligible for positions, and they always hired the husband. [25] Department chairs rarely held meetings, so women had no entrée into department level decision-making. The sciences included few women professors or students, and those who did brave the unfriendly climate had to sit through lectures where slides of naked women often found their way into the presentation, ostensibly to warm up the mostly male audience. Female athletes had no locker room, no transportation to away games, insufficient funding, and no women in the administrative ranks of athletics to look out for them. There was no women's studies program, no women's health center, no program for returning women (and according to Marilyn Berman, few returning women. She found little support for her own decision to return.).[26] The College of Engineering had no female students and one female professor. The Department of Journalism used a textbook with excerpts from Playboy. Female students complained bitterly about advising, which limited their options. For example, one student reported, "I wanted to be a doctor, and my advisor told me I should be a nurse." Much of this information surfaced in 1973 during a series of what then English professor Virginia Beauchamp called "inchoate" mass meetings of faculty, staff, administrative staff, cleaning women, and students, held by an ad hoc women's caucus and spearheaded by Yolande Ford of the Human Relations Office. Based on the picture that emerged from these meetings, Ford went to Chancellor Bishop, and he appointed the first commission, with its mission to address the concerns of women on campus.[27]

The Commission's original goals read as follows: "to maintain systematic contact with organizations on the Campus concerned with women's affairs for the purpose of reducing overlap in their functions and encouraging discussion among them; to serve as a point of contact between the Campus and external organizations concerned with women's affairs; to identify unique problems faced by women on the College Park campus and propose solutions to them."[28] Although Virginia Beauchamp, by virtue of her simultaneous service as Commission member from the start and the first Women's Studies chair, established a connection that addressed goal number one, most of the Commission's early energies went to goal number three.

The Commission began its work in the spring of 1974 by holding a series of open hearings over a period of several weeks, inviting anyone who wanted to talk about life for women at University of Maryland. The opening paragraph of the resulting report, submitted to the Chancellor in July of that year, reads as follows:

To the extent that the University community reflects the world at large, that community is primarily hostile to women. As a class, students are especially vulnerable to this hostility. They find few faculty women and female administrators to act as role models; they find a curriculum largely devoted to the interests of males; often they find their career interests downgraded or denied; they find women ridiculed in textbooks, personally the butt of jokes, usually of a sexy nature, or their ideas attacked merely because the advocate of these ideas was female. They have fewer facilities than their male counterparts and fewer services. They have fewer opportunities for expression of grievances--and because of past conditioning tend to find themselves to blame for their own victimization. In short, in the University as outside its boundaries--it's a man's world.[29]

By September of that year, Commission members made a series of recommendations, based on this report, to Chancellor Bishop, including several strategies for addressing concerns about student safety, a review of discriminatory policies like laundry services provided for male but not female athletic students, and a survey of the need for child care on campus.[30]

This first round of activity established a mode of operation that Commission members would follow throughout its twenty-five year history. According to Vicki Freimuth, Commission chair from 1981-1984, they would take an issue, either raised within the group or recognized more widely as a matter of concern on campus, serve as the "initial advocates and investigators," then report, often in writing, to the President. They tried not to be the implementers; instead they monitored those issues they had "put on somebody else's plate" to make sure they did not slide off. This mode of operation allowed the Commission to act as a catalyst. Freimuth called this "historical," explaining that by pushing off these responsibilities onto someone who perhaps did not want them, they were putting into place a "pressure mechanism."[31] Marie Davidson, now Executive Assistant to the President and closely associated with the PCWI over most of its history, described what she called the "conceptual" part of this modus operandi: "They would conceive. What will be some of our issues for this year? Where are the needs? They came up with sexual harassment as an issue at a time when no one else was seeing it as an issue. They would say things like I think we have to have a policy."[32]

The Commission's internal mode of operation was shaped in part by its heterogeneous composition. From the beginning, its thirteen members [33] included faculty, staff (formerly associate and classified, now known as exempt and non-exempt), [34] graduate and undergraduate students, men as well as women (although it was predominantly female), and people of color (although it was predominantly white) among its official members. Early on, the Commission also began to adopt ex officio members who served more or less in perpetuity--e.g., director of the Student Health Center, director of Women's Studies, campus chaplain--in order to maintain on-going connections with others working on the same kinds of issues. This made the Commission a complex mix: cross-gender, race, class, and generation. Mary Shipley, Commission Secretary until 1994, explained that the intent was to be representative of the population on campus and of all the subdivisions of that population. "How to stay on top of this? You don't."[35]

Indeed, one reason that the Commission has remained so vital for twenty-five years is that it did not try to stay on top of every issue. Instead, according to Shipley, the Commission gave its members the freedom to pursue issues about which any one of them felt passionately, begin a subcommittee and invite other Commission members and outsiders to join them.[36] Judy Sorum Brown, chair from 1975 to 1977, described what evolved as a self-organizing system where people "voted with their feet." She spoke at some length about the advantages of capitalizing on that energy: "If you end up on the Commission with somebody who's just a firebrand on faculty salaries, and that's only a fifth priority, it may still be the year to do it." [37]

The framework for this "self-organizing system" remained fairly consistent throughout the Commission's history. Interest-based subcommittees met regularly and reported back to the Commission as a whole during its bi-monthly meetings. Subcommittees sometimes wrote reports and often made recommendations for action. Chairs served for two or three years and took a good deal of responsibility for managing the Commission's business. The chair met on a regular basis with the Chancellor, later President; kept in close contact with subcommittee chairs; and often took the lead in the kind of "conceptual work" Marie Davidson touted. Both chairs and Commission members have always been appointed by the President's Office, with heavy input from the Commission itself.

The Commission as a whole set priorities, made decisions about how to handle individual or organizational requests for support, and attempted to reroute the petitions that they could not handle. They did not get involved, for example, as advocates in individual tenure fights, and according to Vicki Freimuth, that was "difficult because a lot of women felt there wasn't anyone they could turn to for support."[38] Early on, they passed over a request for attention to alleged harassment of lesbians by residence hall staff; [39] Virginia Beauchamp suggested an explanation for this by remembering that, in the 1970's, lesbianism was "really difficult to talk about; a few people were naming it, but most people were really uncomfortable [talking about lesbianism]." She recalled her experiences at a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute at University of Alabama in 1979. Participants spent the first several days in intense, but uncomfortable discussion of race and gender; when they were asked to turn to lesbianism, Beauchamp explained, everyone gravitated back to race and gender, which seemed far less uncomfortable by comparison.[40]

During this early era, the Commission tackled a variety of problems, mostly concerning women students and faculty, and always arising either from the special needs of women or from inequalities which existed between women and men. It investigated safety for women students, addressed inequities in faculty salaries, and proposed a campus childcare facility. It raised consciousness about sex bias in classrooms and University publications, lent support to a program for returning women, and addressed the issues of recruitment and retention of women students and faculty, and promotion of female faculty.

Of these early agenda items, faculty salaries proved the most compelling. In fall of 1974, Commission member Virginia Beauchamp met with economics professor Barbara Bergmann about a survey Bergmann had done, inspired in part by the student newspaper's publication of faculty salaries. Vicki Freimuth and Diana Jackson spoke of the effect of seeing those figures in print. "I exploded," said Freimuth, "because people next door who were male and in many cases much less productive were making more money."[41] Jackson, Commission chair from 1985 to 1987, said, "without the data, you know you're always working with perception, and you could be right or you could be wrong. There is nothing like looking at a printout from the payroll office and seeing how women make on average 10,000 less than men in the same rank. That is powerful stuff."[42] Of 166 female faculty members, 122 had salaries below the predicted level. [43] Based on Bergmann's findings, the Commission decided to launch its own study of salaries, conducted by George Snow, Virginia Beauchamp, and psychology professor Nancy Anderson. In October of 1975, they produced a report entitled, "A Study of Possible Sex Bias in Faculty Salaries." The report clearly outlined inequities, often excused or accepted using this logic: women publish less than men and have been in the tenure track less time, so they merit less money;[44] women need less money than men because they do not have families to support.[45] Those arguments notwithstanding, according to George Snow, "the administration was eager to respond and not be accused of prejudice against women," so they instituted an annual salary study, which resulted in adjustments based on salary discrepancies between male and female professors of the same rank.[46] (The Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Institutional Studies made these adjustments annually until 1990, when the practice was discontinued in the face of budget cuts. The Commission kept the issue of salaries on the table long after the annual studies disappeared.)[47]

Early on, the Commission also expended considerable energy attempting to address the problem of under-representation of women, both faculty and students, in some departments and at certain levels. For example, it sent a letter to the head of the Horticulture Department after hearing from female students who had been advised not to enter the field because it required work "unsuitable for women." The Commission politely suggested that such advice was out of step with efforts to attract women to campus, especially in the areas of math and physical and life sciences.[48] Members also addressed the issue of promotion of women faculty to tenured and administrative positions. Early on, they discussed the problem of women faculty as outsiders in a predominantly male world with little access to advice and unwritten rules or expectations about how to climb the career ladder. For several years, a proposal for a combination internship/sabbatical to facilitate movement of women into administrative positions bounced around among Commission members; although it was never put into practice, the proposal provoked fruitful discussion about the problems facing upwardly mobile women. [49] The Commission played an active role in publicizing openings and soliciting female candidates, and Commission members often sat on search committees. They also encouraged the efforts of individual colleges; for example, the summer program for high school girls first established in 1974 by Marilyn Berman in the College of Engineering.

Several other issues occupied positions of increasing importance during this early period. The Commission became more concerned with eliminating sexual stereotypes in University publications and sex bias in instructional materials as well as improving campus security for female students. [50] Commission members also began to identify childcare as a matter central to the lives of women on the University of Maryland campus. At the time, the University provided only one childcare opportunity for its students and employees: a program run by the College of Education. Commission members recognized two problems with this situation. The College of Education's program could fill only a fraction of the need, and its main mission was to provide early childhood education experiences for its students, not childcare to the University of Maryland community. During this first era, the Commission spun its wheels on the issue of childcare. Sorum Brown explained, "we had for two or three years said that what mattered most to us was daycare, but we weren't doing anything about [it]." She described childcare as the type of issue which "between the logistics and the legalities and the facilities, takes years and years before it comes together." [51] Early frustration about this particular struggle is evident in both the Commission's minutes and in interviews. Vicki Freimuth joked, "I started out [on the Commission] when I had children who should've been in a day care center and by the time we got something, it was almost time for my grandchildren." The real dilemma, according to Freimuth, was that the "women who felt most passionate had young children and were working full time; they were the worst women to try to get to work on [childcare]" because they had the least time and energy to serve on the Commission. And, she added, although no one resisted the idea, it had "no high level champion" either.[52]

Although all of these issues stayed on the Commission's docket, starting in 1975 and continuing throughout 1976, women's athletics and physical education headed agendas because of pressure on the University to implement Title IX directives.[53] During a Commission meeting in September of 1975, students from the Women's Athletics Program spoke of a field hockey team forced to choose between new shoes or new goal cages; this anecdote indicates the scale of the problem.[54] The Commission played its usual role here: investigating, recommending, and then monitoring the outcome. Members expended considerable effort to establish a working relationship with the Athletic Department "in the interest of developing a first-class, competitive women's athletics program and making known to the public the positive aspects [of that program]."[55] After April 1977, when the University declared itself in full compliance with Title IX, athletics became a less frequent agenda item on the Commission's docket.[56] Although the Commission maintained a Title IX subcommittee for years, it assumed a lower key watchdog role.

Three other initiatives involving the lives of women on campus began during this early period, none directly originating with the Commission, but each responsible for fundamental changes in the climate for women at University of Maryland: the creation of a women's student health center by Dr. Maggi Bridwell, the development of a program by Marilyn Berman in conjunction with Barbara Goldberg and Beverly Greenfleig to ease returning women into the University, and the establishment of a women's studies program. A close relationship has grown over the years between the Commission and these three programs, due to both shared purpose, and in many cases, shared leadership. Both Student Health Center Director Bridwell and the head of Women's Studies have long served as ex officio Commission members, and Bridwell and Women's Studies heads Carol Pearson, Josephine Withers, and Virginia Beauchamp have all headed the Commission.

The Women's Commission started during what Beauchamp called "heady days," when the inequities were glaring and the climate hostile. The Commission's mission was clear and its energy high. Without exception, former members and chairs during this period described the Commission's tone as positive and their experience as rewarding in various degrees, from satisfying to life-changing. Two characteristics emerge: the predictable excitement associated with beginnings and a stunning, perhaps not so predictable, consistency in the accolades people used to describe the quality of their experience as part of the Commission during this first era. Beauchamp said the Commission faced "such a black hole that it took a tremendous amount of effort . . . When you are building, it is empowering and energizing." She referred to Commission work as "always dynamic."[57] Carol Pearson spoke of the "exhilaration" of being involved in something so new. "However well-behaved a revolution, it was a revolution."[58] According to Marilyn Berman, "women's issues had not been thought; it was really new."[59] Vicki Freimuth said she found her work on the Commission "enormously rewarding, unlike almost anything else [she] ever did at the University in any kind of committee or administrative work."[60] Maggi Bridwell longed to be part of this group of extraordinary women. Berman loved to go to meetings because she met her "kindred spirits" there. Some people remembered empowerment and validation. Everyone talked of commitment and camaraderie, networks created, and slow but effective change.

Appreciating Difference: 1981-1990

During the second, equally energetic era of the Commission's history, members extended their efforts to benefit constituencies beyond the white, middle-class focus of its earliest years. The first additional group to gain the Commission's focus was staff. Then, later in the decade, as the University launched a major diversity initiative, African-Americans, and gays and lesbians received increasing attention. At the same time, the Commission maintained committees working on issues as yet unresolved from its first era, like childcare and sex bias in the classroom.

The Commission's shift in focus took place against a complicated backdrop of national politics. According to Sara Evans, "the conservative ethos of the Reagan administration abruptly reversed the political influence of the women's rights movement." Conservatives in the Republican Party, Evans argues, used "cultural themes initially politicized by feminists--family, sexuality, and reproduction" to reshape its platform, eliminating support for the ERA.[61] Due in large part to this Reagan Revolution, the decade witnessed the following developments: an attack against affirmative action initiatives for women and African Americans; a decline, following the defeat of the ERA, in the membership of most national women's rights organizations; in 1982, the worst recession since the 1930's, which although brief, left in its wake increased inequalities and enormous budget deficits; in the early 1980's, the "death of feminism," announced by a spate of articles, and the rise of hostility towards feminists; a female candidate for Vice President, Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984 and an increase in the number of female officeholders. This curious mixture of defeat and success suggests that, although Susan Faludi's depiction of the 1980's as an era of "backlash" rings true, the women's movement remained "far stronger than the image of backlash might admit."[62] Against this backdrop of conservatism and hostility, the women's movement blurred its boundaries, dealing not just with inequalities between men and women, but also with "deep differences among themselves." This engendered increasing debate over the appropriate agenda, and according to Evans, the movement "lost focus."[63]

The decade saw a similar shift in the scholarship of women's history, from a focus on equality with men to an examination of difference among women. "The problem of race moved to center stage," writes Evans, "as authors such as Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, and Barbara Smith opened new, multicultural directions within feminist scholarship."[64]

Evans captures this shift during the 1980's as follows: "In a hostile climate, the momentum for women's rights and women's equality slowed the way a river does when its deep and fast currents flow over a broad plain. It spreads out; eddies and currents become separated, almost stilled as they meet obstacles, but the river continues to flow."[65]

The work of the Commission certainly continued to flow. Due in part to the seriousness with which the University proceeded with its diversity initiative, the Commission found itself in a climate which, although not immune to the national backlash against feminism, encouraged forward movement, especially in the area of diversity. In the early eighties, the Commission began to pay more serious attention to the concerns of staff, especially those doing clerical and secretarial work. Most of these employees were women working for low wages. According to Vicki Freimuth, many of these women were "like mothers for their department; they took care of graduate students and were a wonderful resource," but the University exploited them. She pointed to "the work [the Commission] did with clerical staff" during that time (1981-1984) as her most valuable accomplishment while Commission chair. "Clerical staff got organized and looked at serious issues."[66] In March 1982, the Commission's Personnel Practices Committee published a report that identified problems for clerical and secretarial staff in three categories: longevity and salary, merit and incentives, and upward mobility. [67] By the time Carol Pearson, chair from 1984-1985, put together an annual report for that period, Commission subcommittees had been reorganized in a way that reflected a growing emphasis on differences among the women on campus. The existence of three separate committees, for associate (or administrative staff), secretarial and clerical staff, and faculty, acknowledged the three sets of very different concerns. The committee on associate staff requested a study to address gender inequity in salaries. The committee on clerical and secretarial issues began to publish a newsletter for clerical employees, took up the issue of comparable worth, and oversaw the first annual conference for office support staff. [68] This was clearly the start of a shift away from a more narrow focus on students and faculty. In fact, Freimuth mentioned an effort during her tenure by some women professors to start a faculty group "because sometimes [they] felt that their concerns were diluted by having so many [other] concerns."[69]

The selection in 1985 of then Assistant Director for Campus Activities Diana Jackson [70] as chair reflected the increasing importance of diversity to both the College Park campus and the Commission. According to Jackson, she was chosen because, being both an African American and a member of the staff rather than the faculty, she represented a significant shift in leadership. Several things came together to make diversity a bigger part of the Commission's work, she explained: her own appointment, a larger representation of African Americans among Commission members, and the collaboration between Chancellor John Slaughter, also African American, and Assistant to the Chancellor Janet McKay who played an active role in appointments to the Commission during this period [71] and made diversity "the slogan of the Slaughter administration."[72] In fact, the College Park campus was in the midst of a major diversity initiative that pushed all campus organizations to broaden their focus to include race.

The Commission did succeed in broadening its thinking. A look at its annual awards points to that evolution. The Outstanding Woman of the Year Award, begun in 1977, was accompanied by a Clerical/Secretarial Recognition Award starting in 1988 and by the Outstanding Woman of Color Award starting in 1992. In 1990, the Commission started a Women of Color subcommittee, and the Commission's annual retreat that year focused on "how to make the Commission more responsive to issues affecting women of color."[73] During Jackson's tenure, the Commission began to "look at issues of sexual orientation which had not been addressed in an overt way" and, "in the course of planning for the Undergraduate Women's Education Project, worked on classroom climate and began to articulate all kinds of diversity."[74]

Against this backdrop of diversity, the Commission worked on several significant issues during its second era, some of them specific to one constituency and others crossing race and employee categories; some of them familiar to Commission members and others new. Under the guidance of Vicki Freimuth and Carol Pearson, it devoted energy to monitoring Title IX compliance and salary inequities, arguing for the importance of childcare, improving safety on campus, and eliminating sex bias in the classroom. Members also set in motion discussion of a comprehensive family care leave policy. In 1985, towards the end of Pearson's tenure, the Commission launched its Undergraduate Women's Education Project to study the experience of undergraduate women at University of Maryland. At their first meeting, they thought through their objectives as follows: examination of the curriculum, monitoring of campus opportunities for equity, and promotion of self-esteem and intellectual development among women students. [75] This project laid the groundwork for what was to become the Greer Committee on Undergraduate Women's Education in 1987.

Jackson, who followed Pearson as chair, described her own tenure as a period during which the Commission worked on "hot" issues that "took on a life of their own and had a lot of energy behind them." As a result, she said, "I felt like [the Commission] still had a tremendous amount of momentum." It worked hard on childcare; members made significant progress here, setting in motion what would become the Center for Young Children, which provides 120 children of faculty, staff, and students with full daycare on a sliding scale. The Commission also championed eldercare, forming a new subcommittee in December of 1987.[76] Commission members finalized a family leave care policy that led, in 1989, to the adoption of new leave policies for staff.[77] The Commission also picked up the issue of sexual harassment, a subject broached by its sex bias committee as early as 1980. During Jackson's tenure, the Commission drafted a sexual harassment policy, subsequently adopted by the University in 1986. And members continued the work begun by the Undergraduate Women's Education Project.

That project led in 1987 to the formation of the Greer Committee. The Greer Committee used the work of the Commission's Undergraduate Women's Education Project to develop a three part action plan to transform the curriculum by including women's perspectives and contributions, to improve classroom climate, and to increase the numbers of women in underrepresented areas of study. According to chairperson Sandra Greer, the Commission's committee "had done all of the ground work; they reviewed studies at campuses like ours and established what the needs were on this campus. The structure of the Greer report," she explained, "was determined by the structure of the report from [the Commission's committee]; the issues we addressed were those they had highlighted.[78] So, although Chancellor Slaughter set up the Greer Commission as a separate entity, people on campus associated the Greer Commission's outcomes with the Women's Commission. Several interviewees credited this association between the two commissions with the increased visibility of PCWI during what could have been a lull. According to Beauchamp, the Commission "became really visible with what ended up as the Greer Committee" because "transformation of curriculum affects everybody."[79]

The Greer Committee's work did more than provide good publicity for the Commission. The committee's report proposed a very specific action plan and requested substantial funding, most of which the University granted. According to Virginia Beauchamp, this kind of administrative support was unusual; she called University of Maryland "the only institution which used its own money to do curriculum transformation."[80] During her stint as visiting professor, Betty Schmitz used her curriculum transformation expertise to launch the UMCP Curriculum Transformation Project and lead the search for a permanent project director. Under the leadership of Deborah Rosenfelt, hired during that search, the Curriculum Transformation Project began summer curriculum development programs in 1989. The CTP began with a focus on women, but has evolved to "include all the isms," according to Greer.[81] The Classroom Climate and Teaching Excellence Project set up tutors to teach faculty members how to create a better classroom climate; this program has become part of the Center for Teaching Excellence. The third piece, increasing the number of women students and faculty members in underrepresented areas of the University, has not been as successful, according to Greer. The Greer Committee itself became an advisory committee; they continued to monitor the project's progress, and Betty Schmitz was hired as Special Assistant to the President on Women's Issues, specifically to carry out the Greer Committee's recommendations. [82] The fact that the University took seriously the implementation of those recommendations has had a profound effect on both the curriculum and the climate on the College Park campus. Sandra Greer, when asked how it feels to be a household word, called her work on this committee "one of the most satisfying things I have ever done."[83]

Virginia Beauchamp, "mother" in the early days, came back into the Commission's life as chair during the last three years of this period. During her tenure, members shepherded old projects and launched new initiatives. They finalized plans for the Center for Young Children, set in motion a study of inclusionary language in University publications, watched the Greer committee work unfold, and monitored implementation of the sexual harassment policy. Beauchamp's tenure also saw the first in a series of status reports produced by the Commission. Published in 1989, it surveyed the status of women at UMCP. "This is the first," wrote Beauchamp, "of what we hope will become a series of reports- an annual stock-taking of particular issues and of our campus environment."[84]

Diversity infused the Commission's work even more fully by the end of this era. According to Beauchamp, "attention to issues of diversity" unified most of its work during 1989-90. She wrote, "We have been concerned with this theme on two levels, both in the internal dynamics of the Commission itself and as these issues impact, both positively and negatively, on the campus environment at UMCP."[85]

So, instead of the bonds of sisterhood uniting Commission members in the face of hostility as they did in the first era, in this second more complicated period, the Commission was forced to broaden its thinking and deal with the differences among themselves and between different constituencies of women on campus. Although this broadening made the mission more complex and backlash nationally created a new kind of hostility, the Commission enjoyed significant successes, especially where the issues crossed those boundaries and established common ground. These successes helped to strengthen the Commission's reputation, providing a jump-start into what would prove to be a difficult period ahead.

Holding Ground: 1990-1996

A severe recession that devastated the University of Maryland's budget in 1990 put the Commission in the position of simply trying to hold on to the ground it had already gained. Although it continued to work on many of the issues raised in the 1980's, the new initiatives that emerged had to do with minimizing the recession's damage to women in the University, in contrast to the more creative, conceptual efforts of the 1970's and 1980's. During this period, the Commission's agenda was of necessity more reactive than creative and changed in tone and direction.

Maintaining ground became a theme nationally as well. After the 1989 decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, in which the Supreme Court upheld a Missouri law prohibiting the use of public funds and facilities for abortions except to save the life of the mother, membership in NOW and NARAL (National Abortion Rights League) rose precipitously. The passage of Webster made many women "realize how tenuous their rights were and how seriously they must fight for them."[86] In 1991, Susan Faludi published Backlash, and Anita Hill made sexual harassment a household word. The election of William Jefferson Clinton to the presidency put Hillary Clinton in the limelight, simultaneously signaling a reappearance of feminism and highlighting the vehemence of backlash. The defeat of her Health Care Task Force proved both that Clinton would have to modify her style as First Lady and that "massive deficits" generated during the Reagan years "almost insured that new social programs could not get off the ground."[87] In 1994, the Republicans gained a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, attributing the victory to a revolt of "angry white males."[88]

All of these events were felt on the University of Maryland campus, but as a federally funded institution, the University was most profoundly affected by the national budget crisis. Sandra Greer described the "doldrums" of the mid 1990's when, due to financial hardship, there was "no energy for anything and no resources for new initiatives." Her own committee, for example, received its funding because the request came well before the budget cuts; "another two years and nothing would have happened." Greer explained that the budget fell apart in late 1990 and early 1991; up until then, the University had enjoyed 15 or 20% increases in its budget annually; at that point, it started to suffer 15 or 20% decreases. [89]

In addition to these budget cuts, in 1991 the state of Maryland mandated a forty-hour week for all of its non-exempt employees. For many of those employees such a mandate meant going from thirty-five to forty hours with no increase in pay. Eighty-five percent of those affected were women, and their cut in pay amounted to approximately 12%. [90] According to Diana Jackson, the Commission was "as strong an advocate as [it] could be."[91] Members anticipated the impact on women and spoke out against its passage. The Commission wrote a letter to the chairman of the Board of Regents, for example, outlining the "negative impact on the personal and professional lives of a group of employees who are among the lowest paid at University of Maryland." They urged him to either reject the executive order or adjust the salaries of affected employees. [92] Understandably, the executive order created a "tremendous amount of resentment" among non-exempt staff, many of them long term employees of the University, adding to the "doldrums" of the early 1990's. [93]

Inevitably, these financial matters influenced the Commission's efforts and energy. In her review of academic year 1991-92, then chair Josephine Withers described the situation eloquently:

The general climate of the campus during this period of retrenchment and financial down-sizing shaped the choice of issues to be addressed during the year. The budget crisis cast a shadow over projects and activities which the Commission had hoped to undertake. A main priority was to maintain past gains, seek other forms of external funding, and look for ways to improve morale and the quality of life on campus. [94]

This accounts, in part, for Withers' difficulty in characterizing her tenure as chair: "I really cannot come up with a nice sound bite . . . or one specific piece of work or accomplishment" to frame the period. "I cannot find any new and different agenda that I could say marked my tenure there." The Commission worked on old issues with enough energy to keep them moving forward. Those issues were kept on the table, recalled Withers, by active subcommittees that "just rolled along on their own with no prodding." Childcare was "a good example of something I [as chair)] inherited and was happy to carry forward," Withers explained.[95] During this period, the childcare committee focused on final plans for the Center for Young Children, which opened in September of 1993.

The Commission also attempted to maintain ground in the face of budget cuts. According to Virginia Beauchamp, for example, during the end of her tenure as chair preceding Withers as well as her term immediately thereafter as Special Assistant to the President on Women's Issues, the Commission was very concerned about campus budget cuts, and specifically their effect on women. As early as November 20, 1989, Beauchamp wrote President William Kirwan requesting that the Commission be involved in plans for an eighteen-month study of the personnel system in the wake of state mandated budget cuts. That way, she argued, as the University began to anticipate and plan for budget cuts, the interests of women would be kept on the table. [96] This study led to a report called Hard Choices, which proposed eliminating several units. The Commission's Status Report Committee examined the effects of the recommendations made in Hard Choices. With an eye out for the impact on women, members of the Status Report Committee looked at the rationale for the specific choices of departments to eliminate and the way in which affected personnel were handled.[97]

Like any group savvy enough to survive over time, the Commission made several significant changes in its own structure and process. Seeds of these changes were planted during the second era, but most of the adjustments occurred during this third era, when the threat to its continuing vitality was certainly the greatest. During the second era, Diana Jackson initiated discussion about the possibility of a "steering committee to assist her in decisions involving the whole Commission."[98] This idea evolved over time into an Executive Committee that met monthly to set priorities and coordinate Commission efforts. Later, in 1992, whole Commission meetings went from twice to once monthly so that committees could meet more frequently.[99]

During Withers' tenure, the Commission recommended to then President Kirwan that, to better maintain year-to-year continuity, it institute a three year term for chair, with the first year as chair designate and the third year devoted to training and assistance of the next chair designate.[100] This system went into effect as the mantle was passed from Maggi Bridwell to Javaune Adams-Gaston in 1994.

In 1988, the Commission began a tradition of annual one-day retreats (later called "advances" because of the decision to schedule them before the start of school so that the tone and priorities could be established from the outset). [101] The first retreat aimed "to define areas of continuing or new concern for women on this campus and to develop a sense of group coherence among Commission members."[102] The 1990 retreat created a two-year action plan to deal with members' concerns; for example, the need to address gay and lesbian issues, and a perceived lack of depth in dealing with diversity. [103] These retreats provided the Commission with a periodic way to rethink its role, helping members to maintain their ability, even in difficult times, to anticipate and conceptualize new issues.

Perhaps most indicative of its desire to reframe, in 1991, in the midst of budget doldrums, the Commission rewrote its mission statement "in order to focus its priorities": [104]

The primary mission of the PCWA is to be an advocate for the interests of the entire community of women at UMCP. In its advocacy role, the Commission places particular emphasis on the diverse perspectives of women within the community. To achieve its mission, the Commission: advises the President on issues related to women, gender, and diversity; investigates, studies, and makes recommendations concerning the needs of all constituencies of women in the campus community; suggests responses to problems as they arise and communicates these suggestions to the President; educates the community about women's issues and accomplishments. (Author's emphasis) [105]

This revised statement clarifies and highlights the Commission's commitment to serve all the interests of "all constituencies" in the community, and represents their effort, in the face of budget doldrums, to hold fast to essential principles like diversity.

One final structural adjustment was made towards the end of this era, a tinkering rather than a fundamental change. In her review of the academic year 1993-94, then chair Maggi Bridwell wrote, "the first year's efforts were expended in bringing the Commission back into a unit operating as a whole, with committees functioning as an integral part."[106] According to then Assistant Athletic Director for Student Services Javaune Adams-Gaston, [107] Bridwell's successor, although the Commission's strong voice was due largely to committee work, there were "years when the Commission had sort of run by letting committees do their thing." She and Bridwell both worked on "pull[ing] people back to the general commission" to unify its voice.[108] Whether or not Bridwell and Adams-Gaston made this effort with the budget crunch specifically in mind, it is clear that solidarity mattered more in times of crisis.

In addition to making sensible shifts in focus and adjusting structure and process to fit the times, the Commission had the good sense to celebrate itself. The twentieth anniversary festivities included a luncheon and forum with college presidents who all once worked at University of Maryland, and a retrospective of the Commission's history. According to Adams-Gaston, the anniversary events reminded people of the Commission's importance and provided the opportunity to celebrate its challenges to the system "and say look where we are today."[109]

In this third period, then, the Commission attempted to look out for women in the face of budget cuts and maintain ground gained, moved forward with child and eldercare, and adjusted its own structure and process to ensure its continued survival. As the Commission finished its third era, it was alive and well, budget doldrums and "angry white males" notwithstanding. It had just celebrated its twenty-year anniversary, and aside from the odd letter from a male faculty member asking to see the "Outstanding Male of the Year Award," no one seemed to be questioning the Commission's existence or value.

Anticipation of New Directions: 1996-

The Commission's fourth and unfinished era began under the stewardship of Nancy Struna, sport historian, who moved in 1999 to the American Studies Department. She inherited a Commission that for more than half of its previous ten years had been chaired by staff members, with a membership dominated by staff. "The [faculty/staff] pendulum had swung clear to the other side, so one of my tasks was to nudge it to the center." Struna did that in part by launching a collaborative faculty, staff, and student newsletter called Respectfully Yours to "build bridges on the Commission itself." She organized a morning retreat to discuss a planning document she had developed; she wanted to "find out the depth of the antipathy towards faculty," she said. According to Struna, within a year or so of her tenure, members began to forget the categories; "what a number of members of the Commission have come to realize is that there aren't many issues which aren't women's issues."[110] This points to a further broadening of the Commission's mission: from white women faculty and students, to all women, to all people.

Struna outlined the Commission's present struggle nicely. The picture is "not like the 60's or 70's where issues were so clear and the needed distances were so great. When we didn't even have a women's studies program, it was obvious what to do. When you had to transform the curriculum, it was obvious what to do. So for the first fifteen years, it was obvious. What do you do for the next fifteen?" The Commission "spun its wheels for a few years" attempting to find its "place in this new order where discrimination is not as obvious, but you know things are not right."

But now, Struna said, "we are beginning to come up with some of the answers."[111] In recent years, for example, the Commission has taken on a number of new monitoring tasks. In April of 1996, the Commission charged a newly formed research committee with the task of addressing, over a three-year period, a series of questions about governance, academic achievement, salaries, and hiring and load patterns. The basic question posed was "whether and to what extent the institution has made progress in treating men and women equally, and what if any steps remain for it to take."[112] During the first several years of Struna's tenure as Commission chair, University of Maryland devised a strategic plan and underwent a Middle States evaluation for accreditation. The Commission monitored both of these efforts with an eye to the status of women. After reading the University's strategic plan, members decided to concentrate their efforts on analyzing "mini-plans" that the colleges developed to implement the large plan, with special attention to possible shifting of resources. [113] They urged the Middle States steering committee to address these questions: "What have been the central trends and changes since the last report, [114] how have these trends/changes affected women, and what current issues may affect women?"[115] In 1997, the Commission reviewed the Curriculum Transformation Project, faculty salaries and tenure/promotion data, and faculty merit pay procedures.[116] They also followed closely the development of a new exempt pay plan, organizing a public forum for questions about new work categories and pay schedules included in that plan.

In addition to these monitoring efforts, Struna described a "newer, political activist set of actions that the Commission has begun to take."[117] In spring of 1997, members co-sponsored a legislative workshop with Montgomery and Prince George's Counties' Women's Commissions. In the fall, the Commission invited members of the Women's Legislative Caucus to campus "for a very good session of sharing views and information about the needs and interests of people and programs here."[118] This event was repeated in fall of 1999.

The Commission has persevered in its efforts to convince the University to provide adequate childcare for its students and employees. Adams-Gaston called the Center for Young Children a "great step," but bemoaned the fact that the Commission "could never make further steps." Over time, the Center for Young Children's mission as a demonstration school clearly outweighed its service role, and in any case, one program could not pretend to fulfill the needs of a whole campus community. Since CYC's completion, the Commission has lobbied for a "school's out" program to provide care for children whose schools are not in session, a flexible drop-in care program for students who need childcare during classes, and expanded full-time day care. [119] According to Campus Chaplain Elizabeth Platz, who in her ex officio capacity has worked on the issue of childcare for twenty years, the childcare committee is presently looking at an intergenerational center. As envisioned by the Commission, the center would include four facets: a resource center, adult day care, childcare, and interdepartmental collaboration with internships and field experience. Platz thinks this new idea has a better chance than previous schemes because it is "smarter."[120]

In the spring of 1999, the Commission once again celebrated its history, this time twenty-five years' worth, with an impressive event that involved presentations by undergraduate students and highlighted the Commission's role in nurturing the Women's Health Center, the Women's Studies Program, and the Curriculum Transformation Project. The speakers--Virginia Beauchamp, Maggi Bridwell, Mary Shipley, former head of Women's Studies Evelyn Beck, Marie Davidson, and Sandra Greer--spoke eloquently about the Commission's achievements.[121] When Commission members decided to celebrate again in this way, after just five years, they made an important statement: we are still here, ferreting out and attempting to solve more subtle but no less important problems, carrying on the legacy of a whole set of extraordinary women who have gone before us, many of whom still stand with us.

Recently, several new factors have altered the territory in which the Commission functions. Over the years, Presidents have appointed three other commissions-- Disability Issues; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gendered Alliance; and Ethnic Minority Issues--each one advisory to the President in the same way as PCWI. In the fall of 1998, the chairs of the four Presidential Commissions met for the first time; Laura Nichols of Women's Studies pointed to that collaboration as a shift in PCWI's focus toward "coalition building." This development implies that, to some extent, the agenda of the Coalition of Four Commissions becomes the PCWI agenda. According to Nichols, response to racial hate crimes dominated the Commission's agenda during the fall 1999 semester, for example. [122] Marie Davidson spoke of some resistance on the part of the Women's Commission: "they are doing well by themselves, so they don't necessarily see the need to meet" with the other commissions. [123] So this collaborative effort constitutes a new balancing act for the Commission: between its unique mission and the common ground it finds with the other three.

Both the recent transfer of Presidential power from William Kirwan to Dan Mote and the University's financial health have changed the terms on campus, and therefore in the Commission as well. Struna explained that "until recently, most people believed the University just didn't have enough money" to take care of the problems which remain. It will be interesting, she speculated, to "see what develops over the next couple of years if [the University of] Maryland stays flush." If salaries do not go up, for example, how will people on campus respond? People are also "giving [the new President] time to get his feet wet." To some extent, this recent era has been one of "waiting to see what becomes possible once the University gets stable."[124]

For a President's Commission, a new President certainly looms large. By all accounts, Mote's predecessors have believed in and supported fully the work of PCWI, and there is no reason to think that he will do otherwise. Mote indicated his desire for continuity with past directions when he asked Nancy Struna to remain as chair past her term [125] and Marie Davidson to stay on as his assistant. But, according to Davidson, one of Mote's concerns is that "we [at UMCP] don't interact the way we should (with the level of diversity we have) to enrich the environment and the people in it." Perhaps, she speculated, "there comes a time when you have to get rid of all these very specific commissions and deal with the whole of it all." Mote is in the process of putting together a panel to look at diversity, said Davidson, and "perhaps as a result of that, we may no longer have separate commissions, but one umbrella with subcommittees."[126] Questions about this possibility provoked a range of responses from interviewees. Sandra Greer argued that although it might be "wise for someone to reassess the whole organization of these efforts on campus and develop some logical structure for them," disorder might have some advantages. "Maybe a diversity of approaches to the diversity issue is good."[127] According to Diana Jackson, "each of the commissions would be an advocate

. . . for its own continuance."[128] Adams-Gaston, who has served on all four commissions, suggested that together they can use "common ground to make powerful statements," but cautioned that it is important to maintain "each commission's uniqueness and needs." She argued that overlap can be good "in terms of power; if four commissions say this is a big deal," the voice is more powerful. [129] Such discussions, whatever the outcome, force a reassessment of PCWI's role at University of Maryland.

Perhaps due in part to this waiting-to-see about both Presidential intentions and financial directions, the Commission appears to have a somewhat lower profile than in the days of revolution and transformation. George Snow asked, "Is there still a Commission?"[130] Adams-Gaston spoke of "times when everyone knew that the Commission was behind this issue" or that committee, but recently, she said, "I am not hearing as much from the Commission."[131]

Again, no one suggests that the Commission has outlived its usefulness. To a person, interviewees expressed faith in the Commission's continuing ability to adjust and shift its mission and listed future directions the Commission should take. According to Marie Davidson, there is still a need for "vigilance about salaries." It is "tempting" for an administrator, when faced with the choice between a man with a new wife and baby, and a woman who is "not married but equally meritorious," to pay the man more . . . If we don't pay attention to these things, it's amazing how quickly they erode."[132] Adams-Gaston spoke of another kind of erosion control. The first recipients for a new faculty award initiated in 1995 were all men, she explained. Commission members sat down to talk to President Kirwan about why there were no women. This experience "taught the Commission that some things needed to be shaped in order to have women considered. It also told the University, 'we're watching; we see.'"[133] Davidson talked about another important role: it is important, she said, to have "someone looking out for women. Something new comes in, and somebody has to recognize what this new thing is and what it means." This kind of recognition and interpretation, she maintained, will continue to be an important part of the Commission's work.[134]

What is the story told by the twenty-five year history of the President's Commission on Women's Issues? Why this longevity of energy and accomplishment? Interviewees postulated numerous explanations for the Commission's long-term success. Several people referred to the extraordinary "talent pool"[135] or to specific individuals like Virginia Beauchamp or Marie Davidson who made a difference over time. "Davidson," said Struna, "got us into the big house. She is a patron saint."[136] Others pointed to the level of support from the Presidents under which the Commission has served. For example, explained Jackson, "if we wanted to do something about family care leave," the President's office said, "Okay, use our legal staff."[137] From her vantage point in the President's office, Davidson attributed the Commission's success to its focus "around areas of interest" and its "dedicated, committed good work." The person who had to consider a Commission recommendation "could not say, well you haven't done this or that."[138] Struna argued that the "good things early on" through 1988 tided us over through a few years of not doing a whole lot until we came to grips with what we could do."[139] Beth Platz spoke of the Commission's continuity over time, and having been involved for more than twenty years, she is in a good position to judge. Although the "entry point" has always been women, Platz explained, the "basic thrust of the Commission has always been what this is like as a human community." She argued that this continuity of mission explains the Commission's continued effectiveness. [140] In one way or another, many people spoke of the self-sustaining aspect of the Commission's work: service on the Commission created networks which continued to be good for its efforts long after the official connections ended. Diana Jackson characterized her service on the Commission as a "wonderful laboratory for figuring out how things operate . . . I used [what I learned on the Commission] last week on an issue here in this office," she said. People like Jackson, who have figured out how things operate, often go on to administrative positions where they continue to take an interest in women's issues and use that expertise to the benefit of women at UMCP in general and often of the Commission in specific. The Commission gave Jackson (and others) a "bona fide entrée into how administration in a large institution like this works because [they] had to work with people all around the place."[141] Those connections stick; the Commission can use them over and over.

I would argue that the most compelling explanation for the Commission's long-term success comes from this look at the four eras. What emerges is a commission that has managed rather deftly to adjust and shift its thinking and structure, all the while maintaining its essential mission. Over the course of its twenty-five year history, the Commission has commandeered what Judy Sorum Brown called "orchestra kind of stuff"[142] extraordinarily well. The Commission doggedly followed unsettled issues and carefully envisioned new ones, adjusting to the "tastes of the community" when necessary. It embraced new leadership, while keeping close connections to old friends. Both Maggi Bridwell and Virginia Beauchamp served in the first and second eras, and Bridwell still attends meetings as an ex officio member; Marie Davidson has been closely associated with the Commission for at least twenty years; Rev. Beth Platz has been working on daycare for almost twenty-five. It is this balance of stability and flexibility which accounts for an organization that, after twenty-five years, can still elicit this testimonial: "I love the Commission. I have to; I'm a woman. There are some fantastic women here. You just look at them, and your heart pounds a little faster and a little harder because they are so accomplished. It tells you what's possible."[143]

[1] Mary Shipley, interview by author, Tape recording, Beltsville, Maryland, 29 July 1999. The President's Commission on Women's Issues began as the Chancellor's Commission on Women's Affairs. The change from Chancellor to President mirrored a University evolution in language, and the change from affairs to issues resulted from a Commission decision. "We weren't having affairs," explained former Commission Secretary Mary Shipley. Shipley remembered good old boys who asked, "Well, are you women having many affairs?"

[2] See appendix for copies of both prototypes; it should be noted that individual interview guides varied, and often the interviews themselves took unpredicted directions.

[3] For purposes of simplicity, the Commission will hereafter be referred to by its present name, the President's Commission on Women's Issues, with the acronym PCWI, or as the simply the Commission.

[4] Dr. Judy Sorum Brown, interview by author, Tape recording, Hyattsville, Maryland, 16 August 1999.

[5] Sonya Michel and Robyn Muncy, Engendering America: A Documentary History, 1865 to the Present (Boston: McGraw Hill College, 1999), 269.

[6]Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 17.

[7] Winifred Wandersee, On the Move: American Women in the 1970's (Boston: Twayne, 1988), 17.

[8] Evans, Personal Politics, 16.

[9] Wandersee, On the Move, 104. Executive Order 11375 was issued by President Lyndon Johnson and forbade discrimination by federal contractors, including educational institutions.

[10] Joan Roberts, interviewed and quoted by Wandersee, On the Move, 105.

[11] Wandersee, On the Move, 104-5.

[12] Rachel Blau Duplessis and Ann Snitow, eds., The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices From Women's Liberation (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 496-507.

[13] Wandersee, On the Move, 107.

[14] Ibid., 107.

[15] Jane Sherron De Hart, "The New Feminism and the Dynamics of Social Change," in Women's America: Refocusing the Past, eds. Linda K. Kerber and Jane Sherron De Hart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 545.

[16] Dr. George Snow, interview by author, Tape recording, University of Maryland College Park, 16 August 1999.

[17] Dr. Carol Pearson, interview by author, Tape recording, University Park, Maryland, 20 August 1999.

[18] Dr.Vicki Freimuth, interview by author, Tape recording by speaker phone, Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, Georgia, 9 August 1999.

[19] Sorum Brown, 16 August 1999.

[20] Commission Minutes, 15 September 1980, Series I: Meeting Minutes and Agendas, Box 1, Records of the Chancellor's Commission on Women's Affairs, Historical Manuscripts and Archives Department, University of Maryland College Park Libraries, McKeldin Library (hereafter referred to as CCWA).

[21] Sorum Brown, 16 August 1999.

[22] Dr. Marilyn Berman, interview by author, Tape recording, Potomac, Maryland, 13 September 1999.

[23] Freimuth, 9 August 1999.