Women Power

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Women are taking their chunk of power at SDSU and that speaks well for the university, administrators say.

Three of the top four SDSU’s administrators are women. President Peggy Gordon Miller, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Peterson and Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Mary Kay Helling tip the scale to the female side of the gender balance, leaving Executive Vice President for Administration Mike Reger the sole male.

Miller took her role as the first female president of SDSU more than eight years ago and she has never heard any complaints about her gender – at least not to her face.

“There was some apprehension when they hired a woman president, but that’s just because they hadn’t had one before,” she said. “It’s the new, not the gender.”

Her top administrative position is still rare for women, Miller said, noting that there are only two or three women that head land-grant universities.

Still, she feels women have made progress and attributes it to an open-minded society.

“It’s a matter of a maturing society that values people according to our strengths, not necessarily on our gender,” she said.

The prevalence of women in the position of vice president of student affairs proves there is progress, Miller said.

The trend is appearing outside SDSU. With Peterson holding that position at SDSU and Helling assisting, SDSU is one of three state universities with women as vice presidents for student affairs. Also in the game are Dakota State University and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

But Peterson was the trailblazer as the first woman in the state to hold such a high rank, and she said at times, it was difficult.

Promoted from dean of nursing to her current position in 1987, Peterson recalled some tough beginnings, like at her first statewide university meeting.

“I was the only woman and the men all sat with their backs to me. Deliberately.”

She also hit a few snags at SDSU in those early days.

“The first few years there were several male deans that liked to go around me,” Peterson said. “In those first several years there were places in the university that sort of discounted me.”

Now, however, Peterson sees no problems.

“After I’ve proven myself for 17 years, they don’t question me anymore.”

Helling, on the other hand, has only held her position since July 2003 and said she hasn’t had to deal with negative attitudes toward her as a woman.

She sees benefits to having women in top administrative positions on campus.

“It does add multiple perspectives. Regardless of male or female, I think multiple perspectives are always helpful,” she said.

Helling said women administrators speak well for the campus.

“It says whoever is most qualified for the job would be hired, male or female,” she said.

Miller agreed, noting that prospective students might look at the administration and think ” ‘It’s got to be a pretty fair place. We’re going to get treated fairly at that university.’ “

Reger, the sole male in the upper echelon of the university, agreed that fairness is significant.

“I don’t think gender is an issue,” he said. “I think the number of females in senior administrative positions is a very clear indication that when we’ve hired people, we’ve hired the best people we could find and gender was not a factor as far as I’m concerned.”

Reger said he never feels outnumbered working with women and is pleased with the relationship he has with them.

“Dr. Miller, from my perspective, has been an excellent boss,” he said. “I’ve worked directly with two other presidents who were male and I’ve been lucky to have the same kind of relationship with them that I have with President Miller – it’s been close and professional.”

Women in the workplace are often seen as having made sacrifices, but many of the females at SDSU don’t feel that way.

Marysz Rames, the dean of student affairs, said a strong support network has enabled her to reach her high administrative position without feeling she’s missed out on something.

“I’ve had such support here from President Miller and Vice President Reger to flex my schedule. They’ve really helped me strike that balance between family and work,” Rames said.

These supervisors have allowed Rames to keep an unusual schedule. She said she spends evenings with her family, returns to work at 9 p.m. and stays until “early in the morning.”

An understanding family also helps, she said.

“I have an extremely supportive husband,” Rames said.

Rames said it’s important for SDSU to have women in positions like hers and Miller’s to show female students what’s possible.

“I think it’s great to have role models,” she said. “Fifty-one percent of our incoming undergraduates are women and we do reflect our student population.”

In addition to these top administrators, two of the eight college deans are women and a number of department heads are women. Many student leaderships positions are filled by women. For example Amanda Mattingly is Students’ Association president.

Salary equality is a women in the workplace issue, but Peterson said SDSU works to ensure that women are well-paid.

She said a Board of Regents mandate has required a statistical salary analysis for at least 15 years.

“We study the statistical results – if one [salary] is out of sync because of their gender and they’re a satisfactory employee,” then corrections would be made, Peterson said.

However, Miller said gender may still play a role in salary inequality.

“I make $100,000 a year less than the president of Mines and USD,” she said. “Does that make me happy? No. That makes me the lowest paid land-grant president in the United States and that’s kind of embarrassing.”

Miller said the Foundations of other state universities supplement their presidents’ salaries. The SDSU Foundation has not done that and Miller said while the money itself isn’t important, it does make a statement.

Miller noted that despite the fact that SDSU is the largest university in the state and is growing, she is still the lowest-paid president.

“It does say something about the gender,” she said.

#1.885418:3878899392.jpg:womenfaculty.jpg:Carol Peterson, Peggy Miller and Mary Kay Helling hold three of the top administrative positions at SDSU.: