The Law School Magazine  ·  Winter 2009 : Alumni Profiles

Ballam ’77 advocating for women’s rights

By - Winter 2009
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Since Deborah Ballam graduated from Moritz in 1977, the College has made overwhelming strides that make it a gender equality role model for other Colleges within Ohio State and in other universities across the country. And she would be the one to know.

Deborah was in one of the College’s first few graduating classes with a significant number of women enrolled, and she found the climate was not always the most welcoming. Some professors made off-the-cuff, sometimes crude criticisms of women. The situation was sometimes uncomfortable for her and her female classmates.

Fast forward 30 years and much has changed. In 2007 women represented 47.6 of all law school graduates nationwide, and Ballam is now the associate provost for women’s policy initiatives at Ohio State. She is also the director for The Women’s Place, an OSU organization designed to expand opportunities for women’s growth.

Ballam, who also is a faculty member at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, said that the Moritz College of Law was featured as a “success story” by The Women’s Place annual report a few years ago. In 1977 when Ballam graduated from Moritz there were three full-time female faculty members, compared to 18 today.

“We decided to try and figure out what happened to make this change,” she said. “It became clear that it mostly was spurred by sincere commitment by Moritz leadership.  The College became friendlier for women, and, as a result, became a friendlier place for everybody.”

The Women’s Place is dedicated to advocating for a variety of policy changes and practices that will address barriers for and impact the progress of women.

Since joining the organization, Ballam has led several changes at the university.  Because women often take time off for maternity, the Women’s Place headed efforts to extend the faculty tenure deadline to up to three years for the birth or adoption of children. She also led efforts to encourage the university to better clarify its policy on sexual relationships between graduate students and professors.

To improve the number of women who stay on faculty, Ballam encouraged the creation of a leadership training program that is designed to prepare faculty and staff for future leadership roles in the university.

“The idea is that if these people are already prepared to be leaders they will be better equipped when they do eventually take on leadership roles in the university,” she said.

Ballam’s desire to improve Ohio State stems partially from her close connection to it. She has received four degrees from the university and worked here for more than 28 years.

She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Ohio State prior to going to law school. She later earned her Ph.D. in history.

While in law school, Ballam first began advocating on behalf of women. She and some of her other law classmates created an award presented by the Law Association for Women. The annual award was given to professors who treated women fairly in and outside the classroom.

One of her favorite stories from law school involved an on-campus interview process, which used to be completed on a first-to-sign-up basis. Attorneys from one Columbus law firm told women they interviewed that they could not hire them for trial work because they believed the women would be too likely to break down and cry in court. The following year, Ballam and 20 other female law students made sure to flood the firm’s interview schedule entirely with women.

“I think that was the last year they allowed students to sign up for interviews that way,” she said. “But we certainly made our point.”

Ballam practiced law for eight years after graduating from Moritz. She worked for Legal Aid in Zanesville, Ohio, where she helped clients with a variety of legal matters. She continued her practice at the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

But Ballam’s long-time desire to teach finally drew her to OSU in 1982. Ballam was hired to a faculty position teaching law at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. She regularly taught for the college until starting at the Women’s Place.

“I completely anticipate returning to Fisher when I’m done here,” said Ballam, who taught several business law courses such as contracts, marketing law, and others to undergraduate and graduate business students.

At Fisher, Ballam also ran the undergraduate business administration honors program for seven years.

In 2005, Ballam was given the honor to speak at Ohio State’s commencement, an opportunity she said she will never forget.

“I told the students how wonderful I think they are,” she said. “And that’s the truth; that’s what makes working here at Ohio State so great – the students.”