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BYU Women's Research Institute discontinued; BYU reorganizes women's studies program

Editor's note: The original announcement appears at the bottom of this page, following two more recent updates from Academic Vice President John Tanner.

November 23, 2009

Below are responses to the most frequent questions that I have received or that are circulating regarding the decision to reorganize the women’s studies program at BYU. While no doubt most of the questions are sincere and well-meaning, some concerns are based on misinformation, inaccuracies, and rumors. While some people may disagree with the decision, I remain convinced that the changes will increase support for research on women, broaden scholarship on women’s issues across campus, and reinvigorate the Women’s Studies minor.

BYU’s commitment to women’s issues has been, is and will remain deeper and broader than one institute. The actions we have taken to increase women’s research resources across campus and reinvigorate the Women’s Studies minor demonstrate this commitment.

Question 1: Does removing the WRI cripple interdisciplinary research on women?

Response: No. Faculty members affiliated with the Women’s Research Institute were never assigned to the WRI. The WRI functioned as an administrative unit, not as a department. Faculty doing research on women’s issues have been and will continue to be housed in their respective academic departments and can continue to collaborate across their disciplines as they have in the past.

In fact, as a result of these administrative changes BYU will dramatically increase discretionary funds for research in women’s issues across campus. The reorganization will enable BYU to offer 10-15 new grants per year of up to $5,000 each for research pertaining to women. In addition, the new Emmeline B. Wells grant will award $25,000 annually for women’s research to an investigator chosen by an interdisciplinary committee. These new funds more than triple the amount of funding available across campus for research into women’s issues.

I believe that this rearrangement will encourage more faculty members to produce high quality women’s studies scholarship and will facilitate discussion and visibility of this research.

Question 2: How will the university use the endowments associated with the Women’s Research Institute?

Response: All the funding earmarked for women’s research and scholarships will remain devoted to these purposes. There are three endowments associated with the WRI:

  • The first endowment has been and will continue to be restricted to funding scholarships for female graduate students in the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, as stipulated by its original donor.
  • The second endowment has been and will continue to be restricted to funding scholarships for single parents who study the behavioral sciences.
  • The third endowment, known as the Women’s Research Institute endowment, will be used to support the Women’s Studies minor. Its modest annual pay-out in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 will be supplemented by other funding for the minor.

Also associated with the WRI are several modest gift accounts, which are not endowed. These also will be used to support women’s studies. None of these funds or the interest they generate will be diverted elsewhere.
Question 3: Will this reorganization lead to the weakening or demise of the Women’s Studies minor?

Response: No. All classes associated with the minor are continuing to be offered. In addition, an interdisciplinary faculty committee is being formed to reinvigorate the minor. The reorganization is intended to engage full-time faculty in the minor more than they have been in the past. Dr. Renata Forste, the new coordinator of the minor, has also invited students to become more engaged. Professor Forste will facilitate discussion and dialogue with faculty and students regarding research on women’s issues.

I trust these answers convey my sincere commitment to women’s studies at BYU.


John S. Tanner


November 6, 2009

Thank you for your thoughts regarding the Women’s Studies program at BYU. Last week the university posted information about the reorganization and the new research grants on its web site. This information also was included in last week’s faculty and staff online newsletter.

As this information explained, restructuring Women’s Studies at BYU maintains the Women’s Studies minor and provides significantly expanded resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women. In fact, the reorganization more than triples the amount of discretionary money available across campus for women’s research. Through a new university-wide Emmeline B. Wells Grant, faculty from across campus can apply for research support up to $25,000 on an annual basis. Additionally, multiple grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to foster research focusing on women.

I can understand the concern of those who perceive the Women’s Research Institute as a symbol of the university’s commitment to women’s studies. Actually, BYU’s commitment to this vital topic has always been much broader than one institute and will now be even more extensive. This reorganization acknowledges the fact that women’s studies at BYU and elsewhere is mainstreamed into the academic disciplines.

The reorganization also will direct funding more broadly across campus and target it toward full-time faculty. Furthermore, all commitments previously made by the Women’s Research Institute will be fulfilled.

The university also will continue to support a minor in Women’s Studies under the direction of Renata Forste, chair of BYU’s Sociology Department. In the same way this reorganization will strengthen research, our intent is that it will strengthen the Women’s Studies minor, which in 2008-09 had five graduates and in 2007-08 had six graduates. It will do so using a model successfully employed in interdisciplinary programs on campus. Students will continue to receive the same advisement, take the same courses, and receive the same scholarships.

The reorganization was based upon recommendations by an interdisciplinary faculty committee. This committee was involved in a year-long review that included a survey of constituents and other interested parties, many interviews and meetings, an exhaustive self-study, and equally detailed committee report.

I hope this information has provided you with greater insight into the university’s decision. I cannot state strongly enough how much we believe this restructuring will not only strengthen our Women’s Studies program but also foster greater participation across campus in research on women.


John S. Tanner

BYU Academic Vice President

P.S. In order to clarify any misinformation, all the funding associated with the WRI will continue to be used to support the Women Studies Minor, women studies research, or scholarships as stipulated in the award.


BYU reorganizes women's studies program

October 29, 2009

Based upon recommendations by an interdisciplinary faculty committee, Brigham Young University has reorganized its programs in women’s studies. This reorganization will result in significantly expanded resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women.

Through a new university-wide Emmeline B. Wells Grant, faculty from across campus can apply for research support up to $25,000 on an annual basis. Additional grants also will be awarded to foster research focusing on women.

As part of the reorganization, the Women’s Research Institute will be discontinued, with the current director joining the faculty of the Psychology Department. Additionally, the Women’s Studies minor, which had been administered by the institute, will now be administered by the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. Professor Renata Forste, chair of the Sociology Department, will chair the Women’s Studies Minor Committee of the Whole. This is in line with the university’s goal to streamline and strengthen its programs wherever possible.

These changes will take place January 2010.

The committee noted that since the inception of the Women’s Research Institute, several additional campus entities have been formed to address women’s concerns, including the Women’s Resource Center and the Faculty Women’s Association.

The university will continue these programs, as well as sponsoring visitors to campus who can foster greater awareness in and support of research on women.

In discussing these changes, Academic Vice President John Tanner praised Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, director of the Women’s Research Institute. “I express appreciation to Bonnie for her able leadership of WRI over many years,” he said.

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