Dear Prof. (Mrs) Rita Akosua Dickson (RAD):
It’s neither disrespect nor impertinence. Neither is it impudence nor insolence that precipitated my desire to write a public letter to you. And no amount of words can explain the rationale for this letter. In fact I have a witness in my spirit (Charismatic Christian terminology) that you will not be offended with my choice of inter-personal communication. But all I can say is that “chill” for I write with tons of good wishes straight from the bottom of my proverbial bottomless heart.
I listened to your presentation of your strategic vision at the College of Science on Tuesday. It was as impressive and as it was compelling! My take-home message was pretty clear awkward truth: “that your strategic vision is our collective and individual vision.” Implication-no longer can we blame the system as we so often do with the collective shrug of our proverbial shoulders but through our active participation and energetic engagement we can surmount all real and imagined challenges that confront our beloved institution. This timely message was also packed with tons of goodwill and yet you managed to embed in it our individual obligation and our collective responsibility.
Taken together, your strategic vision is loaded with bold initiatives but it covers only the familiar terrain. I understand the security afforded you by sticking to the tried and tested formula and I appreciate from first-hand the utter frustration one experiences when he/she decides to re-invent the wheel. But my position is that whether you like it or not your leadership will and shall always be defined as “one of contrast” and so you might as well make it unconventional. Hence I suggest you make some perfectly normal deviations from the beaten track. Deviations that will lead to additional alternative routes that add essential new dimensions to your broader view.
I think it will be foolish for me to tell you that your choice as VC is not only historic but particularly energizing for women. Many women experience your choice as a personal gift. Little girls live vicariously through you, and see themselves as having “the stuff” of Vice Chancellorship of a predominant science-oriented university. But most of all, your appointment is an astute representation of the way to go in the near future. Sooner rather than later, there will be more women than men in KNUST (collectively as students, as workers, as administrators and as die-hard fans) and your appointment signifies stakeholders’ witting and/or unwitting admission of this stubborn fact. This unyielding fact is that the future of KNUST as a prestigious institution is inextricably linked to its concerted courtship of women, a historically under-represented group in the sciences. Consequently, your appointment is a welcome bridge to the future.
This futuristic bridge is designed with a three-pronged outlet that covers balance, optics and experience. Balance-a welcome break from all the testosterone-driven leadership style that has defined this university since its inception; optics-of being a successful scientist, a wife, a mother and now at the pinnacle of power in a male-dominant science-oriented institution. Ghanaian women can look to your life and argue strongly that they can have both a family and a successful career; experience-your successful co-management of one of the most consequential administrative and professional issues that happened during your tenure as Pro VC when the school was engulfed in the throes of a students’ unrest. You’re now used to being the target; you’re now familiar to the contentious terrain and you can handle the heat that emanates from the archetypical kitchen.
Hopefully, your appointment will generate a multiplier effect-provide a proportional representation of women in positions of leadership as Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Professors, Deans, Provosts, Pro-VCs and eventually as VCs. And this issue about gender equity is what I want to talk to you about. I seek to talk to you about gender equity because I am a man who has a soft spot for women (no not that kind of love, mine is agape! All my children are girls and so I have a strong vested interest in your success).
Our society is still sexist with a stubborn benign misogyny that is rooted in an out-dated patriarchal culture which is endorsed by our intense religiosity. Just like academia in most places, ours is also dominated by males. In the face of overwhelming amounts of data that document the inability of women to advance in academia, new notions of women empowerment in STEM should be developed. Please RAD, enact new policies, within your broadly stated strategic vision, that will specifically:
- Increase the number of women leaders at individual Departments, faculties and colleges as one effective intervention to reduce and eliminate gender disparities and promote gender diversity among practicing KNUST scientist. Despite their numerical advantage in the population, women have a dismal representation as Deans, Provosts, Pro VCs and VCs. Rather, women are primarily concentrated at the bottom level of the hierarchical order of academic prestige (mostly as junior lecturers and lecturers). I am sure salient committee findings on women faculty developmental career challenges are abundant and some are stored away somewhere in the administration building. Your “take-home” message to us provides context for us to challenge you NOW to mitigate factors that reduce women progress up the academic ladder at KNUST.
Along this line, I strongly recommend that you hire a lot more women and specifically develop and enhance their academic careers in a proportional representation to their total population in the university. And that proportion will be close to about 50% of your lectureship workforce.
I think you agree that the primary challenge confronting the few women in the STEM at KNUST is not intellectual but cutting-edge and state-of-the-art resource-starvation. With the provision of state-of-the-art core resources and offer of “start-up” financial support, a strong team of women scientists can emerge to mentor a cadre of students, inculcating them with relevant research knowledge and expertise on issues covering the breadth and depth of contemporary STEM research topics that are internationally recognized. A concerted focus on nationwide recruitment together with targeted recruitment of gifted talents from overseas can provide KNUST with an enormous breath of expertise to drive new advancement in science. Your provision of KNUST with a full and proportionate complement of women scientist is now an issue best described as pragmatic benevolence dictated by population dynamics.
- Help eliminate cultural biases deeply rooted in toxic assumptions about female gender–including both conscious and unconscious ones. In fact this proposition is a tough indefinable goal with no tangible or measurable criteria for success. But we know its symptoms from experience and we can pretty much tell if it abates.
As a first step towards the elimination of unfavourable cultural biases, it will be prudent, though culturally scandalous, to abolish the pattern of having female KNUST mourners greet relatives of the bereaved after men have first had their chance. Can’t we all (male and female) make the greeting rounds with females interspersed with males? Who will be offended if we greet as a cohesive group? The gods or its die-hard custodians? These and many other practices of gender segregation at cultural events are vestiges of our ancestral patriarchal culture that has outlived its usefulness and have no counterpart anywhere outside Africa. As the nation’s premier university dedicated to addressing issues of the mind, we should question and challenge such notions until it is gratefully swept into the dustbin of history.
Also, how about abolishing the practice of appending female official names with their marital status when the names of men have no such criteria? Isn’t Prof. RAD just enough as an unmistakeable identifier for a woman as Prof. KOD is for a man? Why the addition of Mrs for a woman if not to put them in their “rightful” place as somebody’s wife? In other words, women are incapable of independent existence. If men chose to maintain this relic of the past, then the full complement of their official names should be appended with their marital status. For example, Prof (married) KOD; Dr (single) XYZ; Prof (Divorced) ABC and so forth and so on. How would men like it?
You sit on the VC chair based on merit-qualification and competence-and not based on your gender. I will say no to all doubters that it’s not because of your beauty, your charm and your poise and all that are considered feminine that got you the job. You were the best of the pool of applicants when judged by the metrics/rubrics of the day. To emphasize-you’re the best candidate not just because you’re a woman but because of the accomplishments and the talents you bring to the table.
But I think you have to ready yourself for the particular brand of sexist attacks likely to come your way as you delve deeper into your bold new agenda. Fair or not, you will be severely criticized for mishandling issues during crises. The language of the criticisms may sometimes be vulgar (such delirious nonsense as using the vagina, an anatomical female reproductive organ as a quintessential vulgar insult), sexist and surprisingly personal (about your looks-is she pretty or not?). You will held to a different standard (in fact a higher standard because you are a woman); your personality will be shockingly evaluated on your likeability and whether or not you come across as angry, belligerent, needy, insecure and dictatorial. Fair and unfair public criticisms may leave you angry and emotionally hurt and emotionally drained. Some might nit-pick at your best management decisions (without offering any alternative-good or bad). Driven by jealousy, self-righteousness, inflated-ego and a sense of entitlement that is solely based on their masculine machismo, some men will assail you with inane diatribes. Women make easy generalizable caricatures and it suits men to define all women by the small set of women whose viewpoints and life outlook are extreme. So there is no purity test. Just be yourself and don’t see yourself as a victim and a quitter.
Please RAD, don’t sanction policies that will send us down the rat hole of grievance-nursing, ego-wars, tribal-bigotry, benign-neglect, recriminations and counter-accusation and outrageous-incompetence. KNUST’s toxic inter-personal culture is that after taking your stand in a successful endeavour you can expect sneering hostility or snorts of derision that will be particularly acute because of your gender. A thin skin will not help because your emotional antennae will then vibrate to extreme degrees at any slight (and there will be lots of purposely engineered slights down the line where misogyny will be deliberately dismissed as entertainment and snorts of derision will follow you as a posturing intellectual, administrator and opinion-leader). There will be name-calling such as that “overbearing witch” (aren’t all powerful women witches in our intensely and perversely religious patriarchal culture). Isolated Biblical verses will be quoted at you to command you to be seen and not heard and that if you have anything of value to say, just should ask your husband in the house. Rather than celebrate the life of your beautiful mind, some men will look for outward physical imperfections that make you less pretty. Toxic male/patriarchal chauvinism will slowly and visibly kill Ghanaian women before COVID-19 gets its chance! Check the increase in cases of domestic violence during the lockdown.
No group is a monolith. And so there will also be camaraderie, respect, love, selflessness, tolerance that will stir in the hearts of many men of goodwill who no longer overlook and undervalue women. Such men consider women not as objects God created solely for their sexual gratification but see them as sensitive humans imbued with talents, abilities and gifts that makes them equal partners in our collective national drive for success.
You will be successful! I think you will leave behind wonderful footprints. Your strengths and your resilience will come through.
Sorry if I have come across as talking down to you. Sorry for invading your privacy on such a public forum.
Endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit (Charismatic Christian Terminology). Keep hope alive!