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Shirley Gilham Domer

Year Inducted: 
  • KU graduate
  • Created KU Office of Affirmative Action and KU Information Center

Shirley Gilham Domer was born in Missouri and first came to KU in 1966 to pursue a master’s degree in speech communication. She finished that degree in 1967 and completed her Ph.D. in Speech Communications and Human Relations in 1975. Domer created and led two incredibly important offices at KU in the 1970s: the KU Information Center and the Office of Affirmative Action. In addition, she served as Director of Admissions for the School of Law, Assistant to the Chancellor, and as a Research Associate for the Energy Resource Center and Higuchi Biosciences Center. She also played a key role in stabilizing the Office of Affirmative Action at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City. She retired from KU in 1996, after more than a quarter-century of service, and has pursued her work as an artist.

The negative climate for women employees, faculty members, staff, and students, in 1972 is one hard to comprehend today. The February Sisters actions in 1972 highlighted these issues in dramatic fashion: among their demands were the completion of the federally mandated affirmative action plan. To implement KU’s Affirmative Action Plan that was finally adopted on February 27, 1973, Domer established “advisory units” in four areas: faculty, other unclassified staff, classified staff and students. Domer always showed a special commitment to classified employees; in fact, her dissertation was a study of job satisfaction among clerical workers at KU. The work Domer, the Affirmative Action Board, and these advisory units did was crucial and essential for KU women’s, as well as all underrepresented groups’, equity and upward mobility.

In addition, her office provided support to women employees in other ways: they published the “Her Directory” a list of resources for KU women that included a list of all women administrators and faculty members; affirmative action laws and complaint procedures; child care resources; health care, athletics, etc. They also published KU’s first Handbook of Affirmative Action Employment policies and practices, including all-important grievance procedures. Also, she facilitated the inclusion of women students in the marching band for the first time in 1972 and better facilities for women student athletes. Domer’s leadership led to lasting change in how women and women’s work was valued at KU.

Domer persisted and established policies and procedures, and more importantly, an environment, where gender equity was expected and pursued. We are still fighting these battles today, but without Domer’s leadership our program would not have had the solid foundation needed for progress. In addition, her steady leadership as the first Director of the KU Information Center was during a time of campus turmoil, community unrest, and rampant rumors.

Nominators said of Domer, “Her commitment to providing accurate information and helpful guidance to KU students was invaluable, and again, was an important starting place for a crucial and unique service that continues today. As a University, we need to recognize these early leaders who played instrumental roles in our first fights for justice and equity.”

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