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Women's Studies Center fights for survival

A diverse group of alumni, professors and feminists are heading a resistance movement against the proposed closing the Women’s Studies Center and master’s degree program.

“Friends of Women’s Studies” was started in February 2009 as a response to budget cuts that would have merged the Women’s Studies Center with the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, as well as suspend the master's degree program. Administrators said they hoped to reinstate the program when funding increases.

“The provost had asked all the deans to evaluate the programs [undergraduate and graduate] for their viability and had set up cutoff points. Based on that, and the fact that the master's program enrollments had not grown over a five- to seven-year period, I had to recommend elimination of that program,” said Manjunath Pendakur, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

The program cuts would save FAU about $60,000, which primarily covers operating expenses of the women’s studies center. And students and faculty fear that women's studies might be on the permanent chopping block.

“I definitely worried that cutting the graduate program would just be the first step in eliminating the whole program,” said Katy Smith, who graduated with her master’s in 2009 and is an adjunct instructor for women’s studies.

With nearly 150 followers on Facebook, the group is dedicated to raising money for the center and its programs. Smith and Stacy Gro, also an FAU alumnus and adjunct instructor, created the group along with Tara Laxer and Julie Pavlon, FAU alumni and the group’s current co-chairs.

The women’s center provides an interdisciplinary program that is involved with several colleges within FAU. Women’s Studies courses are represented in the colleges of Nursing, Business, Education, Science and Architecture, Urban and Public Affairs, along with faculty who are part of the Women’s Studies committee.

“We have a larger audience out there who are committed to the continuation of this program,” said Josephine Beoku-Betts, professor and interim director of women’s studies.

The center sponsors academic conferences, colloquium series and special events that focus on women’s experiences. Most recently, in March, the Women’s Leadership Forum brought scholars and academics from around the country to FAU.

“The goal of Friends of Women’s Studies is to get the word out about all the services that Women’s Studies offers to the university and the community and to fund-raise so that we can continue," Smith said.

“Friends” has received donations from the community, along with $4,000 from the Feminist Scholarship Fund, a South Florida-based organization established to help students who are pursuing women’s studies and supporting women’s issues.

During Women’s Equality Day, "Friends" reached out to the community and established a partnership with Boca Raton High School to develop the first women’s studies course at the high school entitled “Intro to Women’s Studies,” which was offered to students in fall 2009.

“It is going to be a never-ending situation now with the fund-raising if we want to the program to be self-sustaining over the next year. I don’t want to use the word success because we don’t know yet how it is going to evolve,” Betts said.

After months of debate with FAU Provost John Pritchett, now the acting president, an agreement was reached and conditions for the program were outlined to survive the next year.

According to Dean Pendakur, the Women’s Studies faculty and supporters must raise enough money to operate the center, about $7,000 per year, along with graduate student stipends. The department also must create an advisory board and membership system that will increase donations and enrollment.

Smith hopes that FAU and the Women’s Studies Center can work together to ensure the program’s continued success.

“We are all hopeful that the community would help us in continuing the work of the center and the masters program. Only time will tell,” Pendakur said.

Those who would like to donate money or become involved with Friends of Women’s Studies can contact Donna Bryan at dbryan@fau.edu or 561-297-3865 or visit the Women’s Studies Center in Social Sciences Room 210.




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