Professor Denise Witzig Honored as 2018 Professor of the Year

Professor Denise Witzig poses with President James DonahueOn Wednesday evening, April 11, students and faculty gathered in Claeys Lounge to honor Denise Witzig, a professor of women’s and gender studies, as Saint Mary’s 2018 Professor of the Year. The event centered around Witzig’s lecture titled “She Works Hard for the Money: Women, Labor, and the Liberal Arts.”

Provost Margaret Kasimatis introduced Witzig, who began her career at SMC in 1989 as a lecturer. In 2010, she became an associate professor, and earned tenure in 2011. Witzig’s nominators, Kasimatis said, called her “a transformational leader, mentor, scholar, colleague, and teacher on the Saint Mary’s campus,” and noted that “she has passionately served the college community in and beyond her department.”

Several students in the College’s women’s and gender studies program echoed the nominating committee’s sentiments. “The amount you grow under her professorship is incomparable to any other professor,“ said Em Gisler ’19. “I’ve never experienced anyone else with more dedication to students.”

Added Madison Hamzy ’18:  “She’s a force to be reckoned with. She challenges you really hard to think intersectionally about your own feminism. She’s easily the most influential person in the trajectory of my personhood and as a student in college.”

Witzig began her presentation with a story about labor in which she described her first jobs—getting coffee for teachers, babysitting, and mentoring Brownies in cookie-selling. “Those jobs created in me a desire for service, commitment to community, and a connection to others,” Witzig said. “They were also jobs that were very specifically gendered.”  

Witzig went on to discuss her long career at Saint Mary’s, which she described as “tremendously fulfilling, allowing me to participate in the creation of new programs, to develop my research in dynamic fields, and most of all, to challenge myself and grow every day that I’m in a classroom.”

“But,” Witzig noted, “I was also an adjunct for 20 years. I had little control over what I taught and when I taught…it felt like a precarious way to make a living.”

“This is just one story of job,” she continued, “but it’s a familiar account for many women in higher ed…who continue to be challenged in the academic workforce by the demands of highly gendered expectations and incomes and uneven alignment with their own professional goals. We hustle every day just to get the job done.”

Finally, Witzig highlighted what she sees as four key concerns for women faculty and staff at Saint Mary’s. The first was lack of transparency as to the requirements for various job roles and the possibilities for advancement. “Lack of transparency at the College contributes to feelings of precarity and that invisible political structures govern promotion, pay, and assessment of success,” Witzig said.

A second concern was autonomy. Fewer than one in 10 female faculty members are full professors, Witzig said. Even tenure-track women faculty tend to get “stuck at associate level, as they experience more and more institutional demands on their time,” she said. And women faculty of color, she noted, tend to take on even more institutional demands, as they are expected to be the face of diversity on campus.

Witzig’s third concern was gender inequities in service. Service is often framed as a “labor of love,” Witzig said, rather than paying work. “Informal, invisible, emotional work rarely shows up in departmental reviews.” Finally, Witzig discussed her concerns about the representation of women at the College, stating that the College is losing female faculty of color at "an alarming rate."

Witzig acknowledged that efforts have been made to address these concerns through groups like the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence, the faculty women’s group, and the contingent faculty union. However, she said, “We need similar institutional committees for female staff and for faculty of color.” And, she warned, “We won’t succeed to address [these issues] if we don’t take into account stories about work that women workers tell.”

Witzig received a standing ovation after her remarks, underscoring her thoughtful observations and cementing her role as SMC’s 2018 Professor of the Year.