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The Chair says....

SLF notmyaddress at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 17 04:06:04 EST 2001

> From: Anita Vasavada (vasavada at wsu.edu)
> I would like to get your opinions on the general acceptance of the words
> “chair” vs. “chairman” (for the head of a department or program). I
> personally find the word “chairman” irritating—why the need to point out
> that the chairman is a man?—and feel “chair” is much more appropriate.
> My institution always uses the gender-neutral term chair. But
> occasionally I get mail from one of my previous institutions, or a
> national professional organization, that has a “message from the
> chairman”, or a list of chairmen of a specific type of academic program
> (some of whom happen to be women).
> I am often tempted to write in to these organizations and point this
> out. However I wonder: Am I over-reacting? Is the word “chairman”
> generally accepted to mean both men and women? Should I avoid making a
> fuss over a minor issue and pick different battles to fight (especially
> if it means irritating a “big shot” in the field)?
> I’d love to hear your opinions—it will help me decide whether to bring
> up these issues.

I  have a modest preference for " chair" but no objection to "chairman".  I think the increasing presence of women in these positions helps obviate any previously male
expectation.  (If they want to make me a chairman with a chairman's power, they can call me whatever they want).

I  think you are on the right track when you consider that you should pick more important issues to fight about right now.   I see from your  .sig that you are a  junior
faculty member--a time of great vulnerability.  This is a time to choose your battles wisely.

For these actions, you need to consider the risks involved compared to the likelihood of success.  Does the use of the word chairman versus chair really affect you and your
ability to do your work?  No.  After all, the important thing is that women are chosen to BE chair(men)!  And our society is still struggling to a consensus about the

If you write these organizations, will that change how they use the word?  Probably not.

What have you accomplished if the only result is to annoy someone with power over your future?  Worse than nothing, it could be a negative and damage you--and thus threaten
your chances to fight bigger battles.

You can't afford to be TOO idealistic just yet.  You have to get power, to change the power structure. Your primary focus has to be on achieving your goals and getting into
the system and THEN you can work to change the little things. You get in by getting appropriate recognition and resources for your work.  These are the battles you need to
fight right now.

As the saying goes, don't sweat the small stuff.

IMHO of course.

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S L Forsburg, PhD  Associate Professor
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA

Women in Biology Internet Launch Page
"These are my opinions.  I don't have
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