CFA Mourns the Passing of UIUC Union Pioneer Betty Hembrough

CFA notes with sadness the passing of BETTY HEMBROUGH. October 11, 1929 – January 9, 2012.   Betty was a member of the Executive Committee of CFA’s forerunner, the Union of Professional Employees, from the mid- 1980s and early 90s.  She was a pioneer in gender activism on the UIUC campus. In the 1990s, the University established an annual Betty Hembrough Award, given to the person who contributed the most to the advance of women in the University.

Hembrough’s  major contribution emerged from her job as director of the then Office of Women’s Resources and Services  where she began receiving word of instances of sexual harassment of women employed at UIUC. Her efforts to call attention to this issue went unheeded by her superiors in the administration. Based on her reports at UPE ExComm meetings, the organization planned a survey to assess the extent of this problem.

A survey instrument was prepared, field tested, and then sent to 1500 plus women in faculty and academic professional positions campus wide. Several hundred were returned. Joan Erickson, of Speech and Hearing Sciences and others scored and summarized the responses and wrote a report. The returned surveys contained a few outrageous occurrences and numerous instances of gender related on-the-job salary disparities. The study was widely distributed, received considerable press coverage, and was even publicly cited by then UIUC Chancellor Morton Weir.  The buzz caused by the study set off a series of official committee and task force activities in the late 1990s and led to the adoption of a comprehensive campus policy to address occurrences, raise awareness, and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Betty was the prime mover of the report, and remains an unsung heroine of the campus. (Her UPE activities were not mentioned in her obituary.) This is just another example of how what we do today in CFA can have a positive impact on the work life of those who follow us,  and why our fight for fair treatment for all in public higher education is worth it .

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