In his December 8, 1970 response to HEW (see Document 25), University of Michigan President Robben W. Fleming formally committed the University to establishing a Commission on Women. This memo, from Fleming to the University's executive officers, reflects his own musings about how the commission should be structured. At the time, the University had an existing Human Relations Council, described here as a commission; significantly, Fleming specifies that the University will now have to have parallel commissions for women and minorities. He outlines his plans to appoint one of his assistants, William L. Cash, Jr., then the University's highest ranking African-American administrator, to be chairman of the Commission on Minorities, and the highest-ranking female administrator, his executive assistant Barbara W. Newell, as chairman of the Commission on Women.
Fleming's draft version of the commission's mission was used nearly verbatim when the commission was formally created. In the final version, the words "Inquire into University policies, procedures, and practices which may contribute to discrimination against women" were added. Nevertheless, the charge to the commission was focused on employment-related issues, and made no mention of University admissions policies.
Many women activists were initially skeptical of the Commission on Women, and considered that its creation was just another University public relations ploy. On December 11, after Barbara Newell had met with several campus women's groups, PROBE registered its concerns in a letter to her, with a copy sent to Fleming: "The establishment of a Women's Commission might be an initial step in the struggle to upgrade the status of women on our campus, but PROBE cannot support a commission which would emerge, fully formed from the central administration, more than vaguely reminiscent of those used by traditional authoritarian, bureaucratic males." PROBE offered to use its skills and expertise to help the University reach out to campus women. "This," it said, "we could undertake with an enthusiasm we cannot bring to the presently forming women's commission."
Twenty years later, attorney Jean L. King, who filed the original HEW complaint, recalled of the commission: "We didn't ask for it, HEW didn't ask for it, and we didn't want it." Instead King wanted the University to move more quickly to promote women and address pay inequities.
In the memo, Fleming chose to disregard PROBE's complaints about the proposed commission: "I conclude that I might as well appoint it. There will be criticism, but there will be under any system, and we can leave the way open in the letter of appointment to make changes later."
In this internal memo, Fleming unwittingly telegraphed how little interaction he had with women faculty. He misspelled the name of Rosemary Sarri, a professor of social work who was a member of the faculty Assembly, and he could not remember the name of the other female Assembly member.
When the commission was named in mid-January 1971, Newell served as chair and its ranks consisted of 10 women and two men, including William W. Freehling, a history professor whose name had been suggested to Fleming, and Edward C. Hayes, manager of compensation plans and personnel information systems. Hayes co-authored the memo (Document 19) that had strongly challenged the validity of HEW's findings. The commission's members also included Jean C. Campbell, director of the Center for the Continuing Education of Women, who had suggested creating a committee to address women's concerns a few months earlier (See Document 18). PROBE criticized the appointments because they included no women who had been active in challenging the University's policies.
At its first meeting, held on January 29, 1971, the commission adopted a resolution, asking Fleming to appoint one or more women students to the commission. It noted that "student membership is a useful means of gaining the confidence of a critical segment of the University community." It also said a student member could add to the commission's understanding "of problems unique to one of the biggest groups of University employees." It added that these members "should be now vitally involved in the women's rights movement flourishing on campus." A hand-written note suggests that on February 8, Fleming told Newell "to go ahead."
The Commission was one of the first, if not the first such body established on an American campus, and over time provided a vehicle through which women on campus could channel their grievances (see Document 33).
To: Executive Officers
From: R. W. Fleming
Subject: Commission on Women
Date: December 16, 1970
We have indicated to HEW that we will establish a Commission on Women and both fedele [J. Fauri, Vice President for State Relations and Planning,] and Barbara [Newell] have done some planning work in connection therewith. Bill Cash has also been involved in various of the discussions.
I conclude that we cannot, through our present Human Relations structure, adequately deal with both the problems of women and minorities. It seems to me that we really have two choices: (1) Have two commissions, one on women and one on minorities, and have them both report to the Executive Officers through Vice President Fauri; or (2) have the two commissions, plus a Human Relations Commission over both of them, and reporting to the Executive Officers through Vice President Fauri. I do not have strong feelings as between these two models.
If there are to be two commissions, under either model, I guess I would make Bill Cash chairman of the Commission on Minorities and the principal staff person in that area, and make Barbara Newell chairman of the Commission on Women and the principal staff person in that area.
If such a Commission on Women is set up, a proper charge would seen to me to be:
1. Review the affirmative action program of the University of Michigan with respect to women and make recommendations in connection therewith.
2. Work with the various personnel offices at the University of Michigan to:
3. Work with the various academic departments in recruitment, employment and promotion practices which will result in equal treatment of men and women.
Assuming that there is to be a Commission on Women, that Barbara is to be chairman (at least at the outset), and that it is to have the above charge, the question that remains is how it is to be named, how many will be on it, and who they are.
As to the first question, I conclude that I might as well appoint it. There will be criticism, but there will be under any system, and we can leave the way open in the letter of appointment to make changes later.
With respect to who should be on it, Barbara has drawn a representative list of people, and Russ Reister[A] has also submitted a list of non-academic people. I have also talked with SACUA[B] about it. That body did not show any enthusiasm about being involved, but did agree that I might just as well name the body. I read to them the list of faculty members suggested by Barbara, and they had only two additions: (1) William Freehling, of History, who is apparently chairman of a committee on the status of women with either the History Department or some larger history organization; and (2) the other female member of the Assembly, other than Rosemary Sairi. I cannot think of her name, but she is from Library Science and is an elected member of the Assembly.[C] They point out, in connection with Sairi, that she is very active in other things, including the newly appointed Commission on the Allocation of Resources.
My disposition would be to ask Fedele to take Barbara's list, and working with Barbara and Reister, and noting (but not necessarily following) the SACUA suggestions, give me a list of people who could be appointed next week.
Depending on how we resolve the question of whether there is to be a reconstituted Human Relations Council, perhaps Fedele could also work on that, and with Bill Cash in brining the Commission on Minorities into the new alignment.
C. This woman may have been Professor Helen Lloyd. In a 1986 oral history, Professor
Rose Vainstein recalled that Lloyd, a colleague is the School of Library Science, was
serving on SACUA during this time period, when Vainstein was appointed to the
Economic Status of the Faculty Committee.
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