Trimming the fat

By Dawn Morgan

Last night, almost 1,200 students and community members filled Eckerd College's McArthur Gymnasium to celebrate Women's History Month with a discussion with uber-feminist Gloria Steinem and her friends Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner. They spoke of consciousness-raising groups (hanging out and talking about everything from their abortions to their children's schooling), politics and the Democratic candidates for president, as well as the history of feminism and where it's headed.

But the big news last night was easily overlooked: USF is rumored to be giving the ax to its Women's and Gender Studies program due to budget cuts. Panelist and journalist Jennifer Baumgardner dropped the bomb early in the evening at the press conference before the event. A Third Wave feminist, Baumgardner was editor of Ms. Magazine in 1996 at age 26 and in 2000 cowrote Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. Baumgardner met with USF women's studies students Tuesday to do what feminists do best: help their sisters organize. The USF riot grrls, who last year drove to North Dakota to protest a statewide abortion ban, aren't likely to take this missionary style.

Tegan (no last name give), is a senior in USF’s women’s studies program, which may lose its status as an autonomous department.

Dr. Carolyn Johnston, director of the Women's Studies Program at Eckerd and professor at the college for the last 30 years, told me last night that USF's women's studies program is a cornerstone in the Florida Consortium for Women's Studies, a coalition of university programs throughout the state. She says that the USF program is "key not just to this area but to the whole state. They have been leaders in the movement."

Kim Vaz, USF professor and chair of the Department of Women's Studies, told WMNF last month that her program is "underfunded, understaffed and undervalued," and that its "expected to achieve at the same rates of larger departments and then held accountable when we can't achieve those goals."

In a memo received today from USF's communications and marketing office, Vaz wrote :

"Due to a severe budget crisis, the Department of Women's Studies faces the potential loss of its status as an autonomous department. As the only freestanding Department of Women's Studies in the state of Florida, and among the oldest in the nation, we believe that curtailing our autonomy will have a negative impact on our discipline and on our university as a whole.

We express our deep concern at the planned restructuring of Women's Studies at USF and integration of the department faculty into other disciplines or the merging of the department as a subdivision of another disciplinary unit."

Emily Reddy contributed to this blog.

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