Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Our History

WSU women staff members met with President William Keast from 1969 to 1970, discussing inequities faced by the University’s women, and urging Keast to appoint an advisory group. In 1971 Keast established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (COSW), the second such university group in Michigan. The Commission’s creation was likely also spurred by a HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare Commission) communication requiring documentation of equal opportunity of employment for women by all universities holding federal grants and contracts from HEW agencies.

Initially, COSW comprised eighteen commissioners, who were to serve for one year focusing on four primary areas:

  • Equity and equality in policies, procedures and customs with regard to sex in employment, placement, and promotion at WSU of the faculty, non-teaching professional and administrative personnel, and non-academic staff.
  • Policies, climate, and customs used in the counseling of women students in all schools but especially where gender was known or believed to be a determining factor in recruitment and/or admission.
  • Establishment of an office for equal employment opportunity with special emphasis on the employment problems of minority groups and women.
  • Compilation of a list of principal writings and resource documents on the subject of sex-based discrimination, especially as it concerned university-related occupations and professions.

Acting President George Gullen Jr. extended the Commission’s service term to June 30, 1975. During this time COSW gathered data and investigated issues including pay equity, affirmative action, discrimination, over/underrepresentation in ranks, lack of benefits, maternity leave, and retirement inequities. COSW’s first Annual Report in August 1972 made recommendations, with WSU taking immediate measures to address the findings and inequities including salary increases for women staff and faculty as well as training. Additionally, COSW was instrumental in the fight against gender-based inequity in the TIAA-CREF retirement plan, established a Women’s Center with President Gullen, published a newsletter, sponsored events, and addressed other issues impacting women. Despite these successes, COSW became inactive in spring 1978.

In 1980, WSU President Thomas Bonner announced the reorganization of COSW, with a slightly revised focus:

  • Equity and equality in policies, procedures, and customs with regard to sex in employment, placement, and promotion at WSU among faculty, staff, and administration.
  • Policy, climate, and customs in the counseling of women students at WSU, especially in those areas where gender was believed to be a determining factor in recruiting and admission.
  • Increased communication among women about issues of special interest to them.
  • Redefining the function, staffing, and reporting relationship of WSU's Women's Center to the University generally.

Similarly, COSW’s structure was revised, ensuring the Commission reflected WSU’s diverse population. The number of commissioners rose to 20, the Commission accepted yearly self-nominations, and a committee structure was put into place. Changes also occurred at the Women’s Center as it merged with University Counseling Services (UCS). However, its autonomy as the Women’s Resource center was initially maintained, in part through the efforts of COSW. 

Throughout the 1980s COSW helped ensure the adoption of statutes, resolutions, and executive orders at WSU, specifically the 1983 WSU Sexual Harassment Statute, and Executive Order 85-2 on Position Posting, the first of its kind at WSU, preventing systemic elimination of women from applying for positions for which they believed they were qualified. Concurrently, collaboration between COSW and other women’s groups on campus grew, with COSW sponsoring events and programs including career workshops, conferences, film series, mentoring, sexual harassment training and classroom material, publications, receptions, and more.

More recently, COSW expanded to include alumni among its membership, and now maintains the Women of Wayne Incentive Scholarship. The Commission’s focus has broadened, becoming more inclusive for current students by sponsoring student organization projects and events including Take back the Night, and the Clothesline Project. These changes have assisted COSW in becoming more inclusive and remaining true to its roots, with present research centered on the WSU gender-based pay gap, which has expanded into a larger project with WIMS and the AAUP, forming the WSU Gender Equity Work Group which also looks at other (primarily) women’s issues like child care and lactation spaces. As COSW continues its advocacy for women in the WSU campus community, its commissioners seek to honor its history – both past and forthcoming by working for gender equity and equality, social justice, and intersectionality. 

Additional historical information on COSW may be found in the 30th anniversary booklet, COSW 1971-2003: Still Moving Forward and in the Wayne State University President’s Commission on the Status of Women Records housed at the Walter P. Reuther Library.