Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Toddlers and Academia, Part Two

Almost two years ago, I interviewed for a tenure track position in political science. It was my dream job: right in my subject area, three-three course schedule, not excessive tenure demands, and in NYC, teaching smart, first generation college students. I wanted it.

On the day of the interview, I was eight months pregnant and at that stage when the bellybutton pops out and you waddle, rather than walk. The interview started out fine. But as the day went on, I realized that by that fall I would have to teach three new classes and breast feed a two month old baby and worry about the three year old. The university did not have a childcare service, and would not let me have a lighter load that first semester. The more I was told about the tenure requirements, I knew there was no way I could do it all.

Instead I decided to work part-time basically for free, so I could keep putting things on the resume. I would like to work full time in a couple years, though I fear this is completely unrealistic.

Clearly I'm not alone in finding a full time position incompatible with raising kids. Keiran quotes a recent report that finds that: Twelve to fourteen years out from the Ph.D., 62 percent of tenured women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household. By contrast, only 39 percent of tenured men in social sciences and humanities and 30 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household …

I have worried privately with the Invisible Adjunct that we are the only ones out there who have been forced to adjunct because of our family responsibilities. The authors of the report write: Virtually every four-year institution is supported in part by a cadre of mothers in non-ladder-rank positions. More and more they are teaching the undergraduate classes, and their temporary name cards can be found on office doors throughout the academy. I guess we're not alone here either.

Private industry is much more accomodating of women with kids than the university. Larger companies have child care centers, allow women to work part time for several years, have paternity leave, and have flex time. Companies are ranked by their accomodation for parents by magazines like Working Women.

If you have kids in your thirties and you work for a bank, you already have years of experience and senority under your belt, which buys you a lot of flexibility. In academia, though you've been toiling for years in graduate school, you're not considered working until you get your first job in your thirties.

Suprisingly, I haven't heard this issues discussed in the university. Instead,women academics form panels about the detrimental "self-labeling" that occurs when you enter a woman's bathroom with a figure with a dress. Because the label on a women's bathroom is a much more pressing issue than raising children. Idiots.


1. One commenter at Crooked Timber suggests that those without children should compensate. While I agree, this does lead to much resentment by the childless (also me 10/28).

2. The Invisible Adjunct and others have advocated for a different line of workers at universities. (me 9/3) One with more respect and higher salaries than adjuncts, but with less responsibility and pay than a full time tenure track professor.

I would love such a position. With two kids and a husband with a career, I couldn’t handle a tenure track position right now. But I could manage a position with a little less responsibility and one that would enable me to transition into a tenure track job in a few years.

Call it a mommy track if you must, even though I hate that term.

3. The report that Kiernan cites from Academe has other solution somewhat along those lines. Adjuncts and lecturers should have full benefits, including family leave benefits. Employment should be secured by long-term contracts after an appropriate period. Non-ladder-rank faculty should be eligible to participate in departmental affairs, and should have their research and publication efforts recognized. Departments should adhere to regularized standards of appointment, review, and retention.

This is a crisis, people. Universities need women. They need women and men with children. Having kids has shifted my intellectual perspective on a range of issues, and, I believe, has made me a better scholar.

And society needs children. If the barriers to work and children are too high, women are going to just stop reproducing. What will society look like without a next generation? Just look at North Dakota or up-state New York to have a clue.

Update: Go to the Invisible Adjunct for comments or to Crooked Timber.

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