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K-School Highlights Women's Issues

News Analysis

By Andrew K. Mandel and Elizabeth S. Zuckerman

Through several new initiatives and appointments, the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) is galvanizing an effort to emphasize the importance of women in public policy.

"We're going through such a period of growth that everything is changing," said Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women's Leadership Initiative, which hosted its first international conference this May.

Budson, who joined the KSG eight months ago, is one of several recent hires which have placed nationally prominent women in the school's administration and substantially increased the percentage of tenured female faculty.

Shelia P. Burke, who most recently served as Chief of Staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, accepted the position of executive dean last fall, and Professors of Public Policy Jane J. Mansbridge and Katherine Newman were recent faculty recruits. Prior to the new hires, the Kennedy School in the 1996 University Report on Affirmative Action listed four women in a senior faculty totalling 32.

Earlier this month Dean Joseph S. Nye, Jr. announced that Laura Liswood, director of the Women's Leadership Project, would join the school as founder and executive director of the Council of Women World Leaders. Liswood officially begins her appointment today.

In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt will be coming to Cambridge as a fellow to the Women's Leadership Initiative, Nye announced last week.

Hunt will also be involved in ongoing faculty discussions about the possible creation of a center on women.

"I know [Nye] is committed to sustaining this interest and developing it and one form it might take is the creation of such a center," said Newman. "I hear [Hunt] is willing to lend a hand."

Burke also said the creation of a center is a possibility.

"It's something we're looking at. [Mansbridge] is going to be critical in that," she said.

"[Nye] is absolutely committed to these issues. We don't want to replicate efforts already underway so we're trying to sort out how best to do that," Burke said.

Nye said a concern with women in public policy is a logical focus for the Kennedy School.

Supporting women's leadership "seemed natural given our concerns and our domain which is government and public policy," he said.

"The number of women in the Congress is higher than it's been but still much less than it's going to be. I think we're going to see an increasing number of women in leadership positions," he said.

Mansbridge said female faculty at the KSG are focused on coordinating efforts on a national and global level.

"Women faculty at the Kennedy School were particularly concerned that any project fit usefully into ongoing projects in the United States and around the world and complement existing interests of faculty and students not only at the Kennedy School but in other schools at the University," she said.

Although faculty and administrators said interest in these issues is not new, the recent explosion in the development of gender-related programs has been self-perpetuating, particularly in the form of new initiatives which grew out of the May conference.

The Women's Leadership Conference, which brought together an international group of women working in politics, business, academia, non-governmental organizations and the grassroots, addressed a range of topics from women's leadership in the private sector to gender and conflict resolution.

The conference's findings, to be published this fall, will guide the Women's Leadership Initiative as it seeks its next move, Budson said.

"It's an exploratory moment," said Mansbridge, who participated in the conference. "We're trying to figure out the best way of spending faculty energy and alumni money."

Burke traced the growth in programs which address the role of gender to a market principle.

"It's consumer driven in some respects," she said, noting demographic trends at the Kennedy School which include an increasing number of women choosing to go into public service.

Mansbridge suggested that the Kennedy School developments reflect a larger trend.

"In academia in the United States, we may be in a moment of main-streaming a number of these issues which have sometimes previously been ghettoized in women's studies and other areas or have been called 'women and politics,'" she said. "If this is happening nationwide, the Kennedy School will fit nicely with that movement. If it's not happening nationwide, then the Kennedy School will take a leadership role.

Earlier this month Dean Joseph S. Nye, Jr. announced that Laura Liswood, director of the Women's Leadership Project, would join the school as founder and executive director of the Council of Women World Leaders. Liswood officially begins her appointment today.

In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt will be coming to Cambridge as a fellow to the Women's Leadership Initiative, Nye announced last week.

Hunt will also be involved in ongoing faculty discussions about the possible creation of a center on women.

"I know [Nye] is committed to sustaining this interest and developing it and one form it might take is the creation of such a center," said Newman. "I hear [Hunt] is willing to lend a hand."

Burke also said the creation of a center is a possibility.

"It's something we're looking at. [Mansbridge] is going to be critical in that," she said.

"[Nye] is absolutely committed to these issues. We don't want to replicate efforts already underway so we're trying to sort out how best to do that," Burke said.

Nye said a concern with women in public policy is a logical focus for the Kennedy School.

Supporting women's leadership "seemed natural given our concerns and our domain which is government and public policy," he said.

"The number of women in the Congress is higher than it's been but still much less than it's going to be. I think we're going to see an increasing number of women in leadership positions," he said.

Mansbridge said female faculty at the KSG are focused on coordinating efforts on a national and global level.

"Women faculty at the Kennedy School were particularly concerned that any project fit usefully into ongoing projects in the United States and around the world and complement existing interests of faculty and students not only at the Kennedy School but in other schools at the University," she said.

Although faculty and administrators said interest in these issues is not new, the recent explosion in the development of gender-related programs has been self-perpetuating, particularly in the form of new initiatives which grew out of the May conference.

The Women's Leadership Conference, which brought together an international group of women working in politics, business, academia, non-governmental organizations and the grassroots, addressed a range of topics from women's leadership in the private sector to gender and conflict resolution.

The conference's findings, to be published this fall, will guide the Women's Leadership Initiative as it seeks its next move, Budson said.

"It's an exploratory moment," said Mansbridge, who participated in the conference. "We're trying to figure out the best way of spending faculty energy and alumni money."

Burke traced the growth in programs which address the role of gender to a market principle.

"It's consumer driven in some respects," she said, noting demographic trends at the Kennedy School which include an increasing number of women choosing to go into public service.

Mansbridge suggested that the Kennedy School developments reflect a larger trend.

"In academia in the United States, we may be in a moment of main-streaming a number of these issues which have sometimes previously been ghettoized in women's studies and other areas or have been called 'women and politics,'" she said. "If this is happening nationwide, the Kennedy School will fit nicely with that movement. If it's not happening nationwide, then the Kennedy School will take a leadership role.

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