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AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter July 2012
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 AWIS in Action HeaderAWIS 40th Anniv Logo

AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   July 2012
In This Issue
Advocacy Survey Results
Foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to all the AWIS members who participated in the AWIS Advocacy Survey that I sent out a few weeks ago. Your input on that survey (as well as to the other surveys my colleagues have either already sent or will be sending out later this summer) has been invaluable to helping me understand what issues are most important to those we represent. If you have not had the opportunity to quickly take the survey, it will be open for one more week and then I will analyze the final results. The issues that have been most important according to your feedback thus far are pay equity and the lack of women in leadership.
Advocating vs. Lobbying: Many of you expressed an interest in learning the difference between advocacy and lobbying. Advocacy is generally defined as providing education about something broad, such as a cause or idea. By comparison, lobbying most frequently means asking for endorsement of something more concrete such as a specific piece of legislation. Non-profits are classified into groups by the Internal Revenue Service based on their stated mission. Organizations like the NRA, AARP, AIPAC, etc. can engage in unlimited lobbying. Advocacy groups like AWIS cannot give money, endorsement, or support besides information to candidates from either party which is very important because it allows us to remain bipartisan.
Sequester: Many of you also had questions regarding the threat of sequester. This term was introduced into U.S. law for the federal budget in 1985 and it means an automatic spending cut is triggered by some event. Last summer when the debt ceiling needed to be raised, it was acknowledged that Congress had to get spending under control. Therefore, the Budget Control Act was passed which said that a committee of both parties would get together to come up with a plan to balance taxing and spending. The incentive for both sides to reach an agreement was failure to do so would trigger a Sequester. This sequestration was put into the Budget Control Act as a painful, worst-case scenario to force both sides to come together otherwise they would be causing deep cuts in things that were important to each party; Republicans would see big cuts in Defense spending, Democrats would see big cuts in social spending. And thus, because they failed to reach an agreement last summer, these cuts of 7.8% across the board will take effect in January 2013 if no further compromise is reached. Experts in D.C. are pessimistic about the ability of Congress to reach a compromise and thus many, particularly in the defense sector, are starting to prepare for the worst case scenario which will mean vast layoffs. A report just released by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education details domestic cuts to a variety of programs by state to give a sense of the damage sequestration will have on an enormous range of issues. This also means deep cuts to all scientific funding agencies and thus fewer grants and much lower rates of grant approval for the future beyond just the next fiscal year.
Advocating with AWIS: Many of you expressed an interest in joining our advocacy initiatives. We are working on getting material together which will be available on the AWIS website. This will include information about ways to reach out to your elected representatives and educational material about how to be most effective when doing so. In the meantime, keep an eye out for op-ed pieces we are working on drafting. Meanwhile, if learning about the threat of sequestration has gotten you concerned, and it ought to regardless what you do for a living, let your Congressmen know why it matters and encourage them to work to find a different solution with people on both sides of the aisle. This is a great link for quickly finding the fastest way to contact your congressmen. As they say, all politics is local, and politicians actually do care what the people they represent think, just like our organization cares about what is important to you. If you are in research, tell them about the value of the work you do and mention the agencies from which you receive funding if it is supported by federal dollars. If you are in industry, let them know how cuts to the publicly funded research will hurt the private sector. If you think education and job training, defense and national security, public safety and law enforcement, public health, weather monitoring and environmental protection, housing and social services, to name a few, are important, consider writing a letter or email briefly explaining why in a few sentences.
Making Women’s Participation in Science and Sports Unexceptional
Forty years ago, 37 words changed the opportunities for millions of girls and women in this country. "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This past month, people gathered to celebrate the anniversary of these words, penned by the Honorable Birch Bayh (D-IN) in 1972, signed into law by President Richard Nixon (the same week Watergate occurred), and known as Title IX. Although Title IX is best known assuring equal access to athletic opportunities for girls and women (one will note that athletics is not specifically addressed in those words), it has also been crucial for opening up the doors to all sorts of professions for women. The comment one perhaps hears most frequently is that before Title IX, women largely became nurses or teachers because those were the only real opportunities available to them unless they were fearless enough to blaze a new trail.
STEM benefits from Title IX by the guarantee of equal access for boys and girls, men and women, to classes and resources to further their education. However, it protects employees as well as students and is designed to ensure equal access to enable everyone to achieve their full potential. Any institution receiving NIH or NSF grants, for example, is required to comply with the rules of Title IX, though many may not realize that. Title IX is enforced through compliance reviews which can be conducted by institution’s Offices of Equal Opportunity Programs. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) produced a great report on how institutions can perform their own self-evaluation to make sure they are compliant.

AWIS attended several different events to commemorate the anniversary. The White House had speakers and two panel discussions with STEM professionals and athletes including Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Chicagoan and woman of color in space, Former Senator Birch Bayh, tennis star Billie Jean King, and Secretary of Education (and former Harvard basketball star) Arne Duncan. They also released a statement regarding the next steps the Administration plans to take towards increasing institutional compliance. American Association of University Women (one of the groups AWIS worked with as part of a coalition to produce a report on Title IX) hosted a briefing on the Hill and a cupcake and champagne celebratory reception. The National Women’s Hall of Fame also hosted an event with a lineup of speakers and panelists including former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, Olympian Michelle Kwan, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Dr. Bernice Sandler, whose discrimination by the University of Maryland set the whole ball rolling to create Title IX.
The Future of the American Research University

A topic of increasingly frequent discussion on the Hill revolves around the role of research universities in this nation and AWIS is monitoring that dialogue. Many universities are operating at unsustainable financial levels. Tuition continues to rise as financial support from states decreases due to budget cuts, if sequestration occurs universities will receive less grant money, students are taking on increasing amounts of debt only to enter a sluggish job market, other countries are pouring money into their schools to increase their competitiveness, and the demographics are shifting in the United States but we aren’t attracting a comparable level of those people to the create workforce we will need in the near future. The one certainty is things cannot remain the way they are

Many people are concerned about ways to alter the current on these issues and a broad range of approaches are being suggested but nobody knows what the best solution is. Expand online education? Cut programs that are less popular or functional like philosophy or medieval studies? Increase collaboration with industry to provide hands-on experience and thus a better trained workforce? Institute mandatory civil service for a year? Compel technology transfer offices to generate revenue? Commit to making investments in research 3% of the GDP? Consequently, many different groups are working to try to put forward solutions and Congress has gotten involved too. 

At a House hearing several weeks ago representatives from several different universities, including Auburn, Texas A&M, the University of Arizona, and Duke, convened on a panel to discuss these challenges and subsequent opportunities facing campuses at the moment. Some expressed concerns about the diminishing appreciation for the role basic research by universities plays in supporting innovation in industry. Others alluded to frustration with bureaucratic red tape and the complexities of working through regulations which sometimes slow down progress and innovation in addition to decreasing the time and money available for direct support of research. Central to the discussion also was a report released by the National Academies, Research Universities and the Future of America which posits ten different recommendations including reducing regulatory burdens, increasing partnering with private enterprises, and increasing participation and success of women and minorities in STEM fields to improve individual and national economic success. Many of the audience members were Vice Presidents for Research and similar titles who were in town to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of the Morrill Act, which established the creation of land-grant colleges, and who hopefully took these ideas back to their own institutions for further discussion. Given the scope of the problems, this topic will continue to be a hot one. What is important is that in spite of the need for universities to adapt, we must make certain we are not undercutting the value of what universities and research contribute to this nation in terms of jobs, research training and education, innovation, and national security.
M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
* Galling Gamers and Brogrammers *

There is something misogynistic about video games that never appealed to me as a kid. Plumbers rescuing princesses from castles, stealing cars and beating up prostitutes, scantily clad and anatomically unrealistic animated women; I preferred to go outside and run around with real people. This spring there has been a lot of buzz about the gaming culture and how much more aggressively chauvinistic it has gotten over the years due, in part, to all the networked games which allow players to communicate with other players who are strangers from the anonymous safety of their own homes. There is a certain level of trash talking to be expected in any kind of competition. However, much of this dialogue seems to go far beyond trying to psyche out the competition and extends into the realm of threatening and overt sexual harassment. As women make up 42% of the gamers out there, it seems surprising in some ways that this behavior is tolerated. One woman gamer decided to produce a series of video critiques to critically examine the impact of sexism in gaming. To raise a modest $6,000 to undertake this project she posted the proposal on Kickster. The negative backlash she received was overwhelming and took a variety of forms including threats and vandalizing of her Wikipedia page. However, as others got wind of the story, the money and positive support from men and women poured in, and she raised nearly $160,000, vastly exceeding her goal. This money will be used to produce a far more extensive survey than her initial plans with topics including "Woman as Reward”, "Unattractive Equals Evil”, and "Top 10 Most Common Defense of Sexism in Games”.
Along similar lines, another topic of conversation has revolved around the high tech programming industry and it’s heavily male complexion which can lead to something along the lines of a frat house mentality in the workplace. Currently, roughly 20% of programmers are women. Much of this dialogue began after the SXSW festival where the vice president for business development of a social networking company called Path used a variety of highly offensive vulgarities and anecdotes in his presentation. While this man is part of the younger generation, other complaints of old school discrimination and harassment have also plagued Silicon Valley. Many argue that this isn’t a sustainable problem because companies that want to attract only men will be missing out on lots of good talent from women and men that don’t want to want to work in a fraternity. Ironically, one of the most consistent comments seems to be that the guys who represented that boorish ideological perspective in college didn’t go into computer science, they went into finance or consulting, other industries also not known for attracting hoards of women.
All of this serves to undermine the hard work of women like Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College. Klawe has been working with her institution to try to increase the number of women majoring in computer science by identifying strategies to overcome the isolation they feel in introductory programming classes which often leads them to drop out of that area of study. With their new initiatives, women are now earning 40% of the computer science bachelor’s degrees at Harvey Mudd and other colleges are seeking to replicate that success. These results also indicate once more that it is factors far beyond "female disinterest” that prevent more women from earning degrees and pursuing careers in technical fields.
The broad misogyny and chauvinism which still pervades the gaming and programming community makes many girls and women feel like they don’t belong. Some clearly reject or ignore those who contribute to this hostile environment. However, it is difficult to quantify how many others do internalize those messages from the level of childhood on up through the workforce. Efforts to fight sexism and racism in these areas are ongoing but it’s definitely an uphill battle for those on the side of inclusion. YouTube is trying to compel people to use their own names when remarking on videos which would hopefully encourage more constructive criticism and dialogue rather than the usual nonsense which fills the comment sections associated with most webpages today. Yet there is a fine line between freedom of speech and the occasional need for anonymity. Either way, the handful of bad apples out there who continue to disseminate hateful language and threats are an outrage and frankly a disgrace to those of us who are proud of being geeks.

In This Issue

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