November 27, 2012

‘Climate Change’ A Priority At Texas A&M’s ADVANCE Center

One of the most divisive terms in the English language these days just may be “climate change.” But for organizers at the ADVANCE Center at Texas A&M University, those words have a different meaning, synonymous instead with a unified effort to improve the university’s work environment by encouraging diversity and reducing bias.

“Texas A&M has a rich history as an all-male, military-based college,” says Mary Jo Richardson, Regents Professor and professor of oceanography and geology/geophysics, who serves as co-chair of the Climate Change initiative.  “Obviously we now have female students, professors and administrators which necessitate adaptation to the changing educational environment.”

Mary Jo Richardson

Mary Jo Richardson, co-chair for the ADVANCE Center's Climate Change initiative

Climate Change is just one of a number of efforts managed by The ADVANCE Center at Texas A&M, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an interdisciplinary collaboration among departments in STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Now in its third year on campus, the center’s mission is to enhance and sustain gender equity and improve the representation of women faculty in STEM.

“Faculty members are continually interacting with administration, colleagues, staff and students,” explains Richardson. “Some of those interactions could be improved through awareness of implicit bias, conflict resolution skills, communication skills and respect for each other.”

Goals of the ADVANCE Center include improving the workplace climate and encouraging the promotion of female STEM faculty, recruiting the next generation and increasing their retention, as well as promoting activities designed to increase gender equity.

Such activities include the LEAD Program, a collaboration between the ADVANCE team and the dean of faculties to enhance the skills of department heads. “The importance of the department heads can’t be overstated,” Richardson contends. “They set the tone and the climate for their departments. From negotiating a hire, determining raises, allocating research space and assigning teaching duties ― that’s where the rubber meets the road.” The LEAD Program is designed to further department heads’ understanding of implicit bias in making decisions.

Department mini-grants are a Climate Change activity designed to support departments in their diversity efforts. Through this program, mini-grants are awarded to individual departments based on how well the proposed project supports the goals of the ADVANCE program. “Every year we are investing up to $30,000 in mini-grants,” notes Richardson. “A number of them have mentoring aspects ― having advocates for female faculty and creating support networks. Others are designed to improve faculty skills, such as communication skills for female faculty who are not native English speakers.”

Improving faculty-staff interaction is another facet of the Climate Change initiative and it uses focus groups to explore the nature of such interactions. The findings show that the interaction between faculty and staff is complex and affected by a variety of factors, including context, personality, culture and generational differences. The ADVANCE Center is working to improve faculty/staff interactions by fostering an understanding of each group’s roles, building trust between faculty and staff members, and engaging departmental leadership in the effort.

Another Climate Change activity involves merit pool incentives, by which the ADVANCE team works with Christine Stanley, vice president and associate provost for diversity, and her advisory council to annually assess the progress made by academic colleges and offices at Texas A&M toward reaching diversity goals.

teacher and students

Texas A&M's Climate Change team seeks to promote the idea that students should respect all faculty members regardless of gender or ethnicity.

And finally, the ADVANCE team is working to address implicit biases, prejudices and stereotypes of women and minorities within the student population, and according to Richardson, “We have found that female faculty members are treated differently by both male and female students when compared to male faculty. For example, female faculty members are less likely than male faculty members to be addressed by students as ‘Dr.’ It sets a different tone and expectation.”

To combat this differential, the ADVANCE team promotes the idea of student diversity training to increase student awareness of bias and encourage them to respect all faculty members regardless of gender or ethnicity. “We’ve planned to raise awareness through a short video during spring new student orientations in the STEM colleges,” Richardson notes. “The students’ behavior influences that of other students and strongly impacts the climate in the classroom.”

While emphasizing that Texas A&M has made strides in increasing its diversity ― a record number of Hispanic/Latino students are enrolled this semester ― Richardson says there is more work to be done. “Texas A&M is such a warm, welcoming and friendly campus.  The ‘Aggie Spirit’ is what we are known for. And yet we’re not known for our gender equity and diversity,” she contends. “Change takes time. We have a culture of respect and acceptance ingrained in the fiber of Texas A&M.  As the university evolves, we can preserve all that is already excellent about Texas A&M, while striving for gender equity and increased diversity.”


Media contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-5591

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12 Comments to ‘Climate Change’ A Priority At Texas A&M’s ADVANCE Center

  1. ‘To combat this differential, the ADVANCE team promotes the idea of student diversity training to increase student awareness of bias and encourage them to respect all faculty members regardless of gender or ethnicity.’

    -This is insane that we need to hire some clown to make a video for incoming TAMU students. While attending TAMU I never saw any disrespect to female faculty! This program is a waste of time and money. This article makes TAMU’s hard working female faculty look like victims for teaching at a former military school. I am all about gender equality, but wasteful and worthless spending on programs that provides lip service to equality increases student costs.

  2. AG Engineer on November 27th, 2012
  3. This is what happens now that the “time-out” generation has taken over. It’s all about “sensitivity”, “entitlement” and “cumbayah”. I can assure you that the fine school that you and I attended in the past, is uniquely different today (and not different for the better).

  4. AG Constructor on November 27th, 2012
  5. Fellow AGs, you are right… these are very different times. I think we all recognize the university/college has changed thru the years – some good changes, some not so good changes. While I’m certainly not against much of the diversity they reference in the article… I am against the FORCED diversity – the quota system. The Aggie Spirit welcomes most everyone into the fold regardless.

  6. AG Business on November 27th, 2012
  7. Looks like the writer of the article should read what she’s writing (see third from last paragraph). Both ladies referenced in the article are Doctors (scholastic doctors), yet were not referred to as Dr. Richardson or Dr. Stanley.

  8. AG Doctor on November 27th, 2012
  9. Interesting. Looks like us regular old country boys are being sent out to pasture. Wonder if my son will qualify for the “diversity program” when he gets ready for college one day? Better call Lubbock.

  10. AG Country Boy on November 27th, 2012
  11. Is it just me, or does this article make it seem like we just recently started letting women attend A&M. Heck, women have been attending A&M for almost 50 years now!

  12. Old Army '58 on November 27th, 2012
  13. I’m a class of ’81 engineer and CT.
    a) I’m totally against glass-ceilings , whether corporate, academic, military, or anywhere else but I’m totally against programs that use carrot and stick (merit raises) or any other methods (quotas) to leap frog women of lesser experience/capability over their male counterparts (or vice versa). To deny women equal respect for equal service or achievement is plain wrong, but to artificially give them a shorter lane to run or a lower bar to jump is equally wrong and does great damage to women who HAVE competed head to head and won.

    b) I’m totally against ethnic hiring or advancement bias no matter which way it cuts. I can and do recognize and reward ability, performance, and potential without artificial programs which stack the deck in favor of an external group’s liberal agenda. I knew minority students in my college days who deserved to be in my engineering classes more than I did based upon their intellect and work ethic and I had no issue with that. The people who get admitted on a quota cause long term resentment that carries over into the workplace and into society in general. Some of the product of these programs go into the private sector, which used to be able to figure them out fairly quickly and get rid of them. Much harder these days. Most of them go into the public sector and are there for life. The train wreck is there to see. Our tax dollars spent to get them their degree and our tax dollars spent to keep them in a nice government job.

    c) As someone who went through the college in the late ’70′s/early 80′s and then returned for another degree in the early ’90′s, the drop in respect shown to faculty by students was jaw-dropping. Students who didn’t even know to address a PhD-holding professor as “Doctor” was about the least of it. They would arrive late to class, talk during lectures, cheat on tests, and talk back when corrected. These petulant children were the product of the grade schools where liberal agendas have stripped the teachers of any of the tools with which to correct bad behavior and instill respect for authority. Now the liberals are trying to “fix” the problem by reprogramming the college faculty to be more tolerant?!

    d) Political correctness and “retention is priority one” policies are ruining the Corps. If it it can be seen in the lack of military bearing and discipline during March In (and it can) then the rot runs pretty deep indeed.
    e) Texas A&M is NOT UC Berkeley NOR is it the university of texas. If you want to attend or be a faculty member at a school which is liberal from top to bottom you have many to choose from. Not every school needs to become a UC Berkeley or t.u. Texas A&M is a historically conservative school, attended by predominantly conservative students, and led by conservative administration and faculty. The notion that anything is wrong with that in principle, or that it is an impediment to future growth or the university’s standing, is wrong. Period, the end. There has to be at least one university left which can produce leaders that have their heads set on straight if our country has any hopes of climbing out of the mess it is in today. And as A&M is a public university, and as the “public” in Texas has a conservative majority, it looks like the ultimate “boss” needs become more involved in the running of the school and straighten out some of these programs that have lofty names but hidden agendas.

    What A&M needs to continue to (1) serve the people of this state and (2) increase in stature among the world’s learning institutions is to put the highest priority on getting the BEST qualified people into faculty positions, REGARDLESS of their gender or ethnicity and not BECAUSE of it.

  14. Aggienaut on November 27th, 2012
  15. I agree with many of the comments, but I just want to add the question of ‘What’s wrong with using talented women to raise the children of our future?’ That is really where the root of most problems lie is the absence of true parents (especially mothers who have a special connection to the children they bear) guiding them during the critical periods of their life. And yes it is definitely a full-time job.

  16. Aubrey S. on November 27th, 2012
  17. Well said, Aggienaut. Your points are accurate. We need more men like you. I re-read the entire article again and noticed that word “change” again – what happened to my conservative college in the valley? This is likely the same “change” that is being pushed around our nation. Hmmmm.

  18. Old Army '58 on November 27th, 2012
  19. Are you suggesting that it is the University’s responsibility to “raise the children”? If an 18-year old adult needs additional coddling in college, you gotta be kidding me – please! Maybe that is how it is done up north in those liberal arts colleges with those professors that are infiltrating our southern colleges, but here? Wow, if that’s the case, we have really strayed from the roots of the University that I once knew.

  20. Steve B. on November 27th, 2012
  21. Sorry, I guess my post wasn’t clear. What I meant was instead of women being in these “STEM” positions as mentioned, why can’t they be considered just as successful staying in the home to raise their own children? It makes me sick to think that the role of motherhood is being looked down on.

  22. Aubrey S. on November 28th, 2012
  23. Climate Change is the biggest hoax of our time…just sick that my university is buying into it.

  24. Mike on November 28th, 2012
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