Friday, November 28, 2003

The Academic Artist

Crooked Timber, the Invisible Adjunct, Dan Drezner, and myself have been discussing the recent Academe article which highlights the difficulty that women with kids face when getting tenure.

Dan asks whether there are other professions that have similar obstacles to success. Lawyers and doctors also have to attend professional schools with several years of menial apprenships before attaining job security. But they are far more likely to get high paying careers that compensate for their years of toil.

The AMA has done a far better job protecting doctors from flooding the markets. Paul Starr's book Social Transformation of American Medicine relates how the AMA purposely regulates the numbers entering medical school in order to keep the demand for doctors high and thus guarenteeing them higher salaries. Academics should learn from their example.

Also, the medical profession is better about giving time off for women doctors. It's possible to take five or seven years off, and still find work because a medical license doesn't expire. For women with children who choose to work, a doctor's salary more than covers the costs of childcare.

Actually I think a better comparison is to a professional musician. My cousin, Jeff, is a classical cellist. He practices six to eight hours a day, works low paying gigs around the city, and has a small chance of getting a full time job in an orchestra. This is all complicated by the fact that he is marrying another cellist.

Jeff knew what he was getting into. Life after school and job prospects are openly discussed in his program and amongst other students. He decided that his love of music was more important that a family or stability. That openness should also exist in academia. I think every freshman entering graduate school should have full disclosure about their chances of finishing and finding work.

On Wednesday, I put forward some solutions for women academics and the biological clock. Arlie Hochschild argued in a book chapter entitled "Inside the Clockwork of Male Careers" for a part time tenure tack position. Any tenure-track faculty member with caregiving responsibilities for children, elderly or ill family members, or partners could, with sufficient notice, request that he or she be placed on half-time status for a period of from one to 12 years. Workload, including teaching, research, advising, and committee work, would also decline by one half. Benefits and advancement would be reduced proportionally during the period of half-time status, and the tenure clock would run at half-speed as well.

Yet another solution comes from a lovely e-mail from Allison Kaplan Sommers. Allison points to a couple of women academics who are supported by at home husbands, including mamamusings. Allison wonders how many high status women marry guys who want to stay at home. (Stay at home dads is a huge topic, which I'll tackle another day.)

Or we can just move on. Find another line of work. After a while of shaking your fist at an institution that doesn't listen, at some point you have to just say "fuck it" and do something else. Not just women with kids, but all the other good folks out there who couldn't land a tenure track job.

Several academic bloggers are working on the something else. What do you do with a PhD? Is there life after the dissertation? I think yes. (to be continued at a later date)

On this Thanksgiving weekend, it's more appropriate to count our blessings than to complain and gripe. Though my career plans may have hit some speed bumps in recent years, in all other areas of my life, I've been very fortunate. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

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