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March 16, 2010

Is it Time to Stop Supporting My Alma Mater?

884582_brick_building I'm angry with my college alma mater. Just when I was beginning to feel that the regional university was gaining national recognition, the president . The president of less than four years was the university's first female. It appears there were differences with the chancellor and the board of regents.

When I attended college in the seventies, the University of North Texas was a college of approximately 17,000 students. It was the perfect place for me. It was 45 minutes from home. Far enough away to live in a residence hall, but close enough to go home on the weekends.

In the state of Texas, UNT has never been in the same league with the well-known University of Texas or Texas A&M. A lot of it had to do with athletics, and some of it to research dollars. I was always miffed that local Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex vendors, selling college memorabilia, seldom sold items from UNT even though it was just down the road.

But in 2006, when the university appointed Dr. Gretchen Batialle, everything changed. Every quarter when I read the alumni magazine, I commented to my spouse how impressive the current president was. A mover and a shaker. Enrollment soared to over 35,000 students attracting more transfer students than any other college in Texas. Green buildings were constructed, new degree programs developed, scholarship funding increased, and amazing interdisciplinary programs were being created.

But of equal importance was the increased sense of pride during President Batialle's tenure. The university's image and reputation soared. For the first time since graduation, I began seeing UNT bumper stickers on cars. My degrees gained in worth. I personally experienced an increased sense of pride.

Having worked in university student affairs, I have always felt the academic setting provides a more humane work environment. One that isn't so cut throat. But I have recently begun to question that conclusion. The good ol' boys network is alive and kicking, even in the university setting.

In 2009, Texas A&M University pushed out it's first female president after just one year. Having worked there for five years in the 80s I wasn't totally surprised. Once an all-male military institution, the school didn't accept women until 1971. The current corps of cadets comprise only five percent of the total student body, but control all the school's traditions. The big bru-ha-ha, when I worked there, was women in the corps for the first time.

I had higher hopes for my alma mater. UNT wasn't strapped with all that military history to work around. But President Bataille lasted less than four years. Her resignation was announced the first week of February, accepted by the board the next week, and her bags packed by March 1. No explanation was given by Bataille or the Board of Regents. The Chancellor is in hiding.

In both the UNT and Texas A&M situation, it was suggested that both presidents were “uncooperative”. Really? I think that's code for competent women who refuse to bow to the whims of a board of regents. Boards that are 80% male while student bodies are 58% female.

I am angry and disappointed. I want the young women on that campus to protest loudly. I want the young women of that campus to understand that the firing of the university's first female president was driven by a male hierarchy threaten by Bataille's success. I want my 12-year-old daughter to not take for granted the opportunities that are available to her as a result of the battles women fought before her.

I no longer work in a setting where I can advise and encourage college co-eds, but I am an alumni who donates annually. Not a large amount of money, but over the course of 25 years, is not small change.

So what do I do? I am tempted when the annual giving department calls me this spring to say, “No thanks, give me a call when the university accepts a woman as president!”

This is an original 50-Something Moms blog post. Debbie also blogs at Diaries of an Older Mom