Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You're on .... whose side?

Some time ago, an external evaluator turned me down for something, and it fell to my Chair - a wonderful administrator, a compassionate person and a good feminist - to explain it. "This person is working with you," said my Chair. "There are lots of excellent suggestions for how to improve. This evaluator is on your side."

My eyebrows flew into my hairline, the universal sign for BULLSHIT.

If you caught Madeleine Li's sickening story about being awarded for teaching excellence while being denied tenure, you'll recognize the pattern. Explaining why she didn't chop her book manuscript into stand-alone articles, she writes, "I really wanted the book contract, and was felled by a supportive letter asking me to revise and resubmit. The letter was encouraging but not what I needed."

I bring this up in connection with Erin's Monday post about reading teaching evaluations in a context that recognizes systemic prejudicial assumptions about gender, race, sexual orientation, age, authority, and competence. It's not just students who evaluate professors. We evaluate each other all the time, too. The question behind this post is, how do we reconcile rigor (or quality, or excellence, or competence) with all of the gendered and raced inequities that we know structure academic work?

The answer is not obvious. On the one hand, of course we care about rigor: we are academics, nobody wants to give the nod to shoddy work. We are probably all familiar with the research on blind auditions for symphony positions. (Simply put: blind auditions resulted in more chairs for women musicians.) We want scholarship to stand on its own, and we would bristle at the suggestion that women academics be held to different standards than men.

On the other hand, we know that women, immigrants, Aboriginals, queers and visible minorities (some of us fit more than one category here, obviously) labour under differential conditions than our male, white, middle-aged, conventionally gendered colleagues. The demands to mentor and model, to lend a helping hand, whether that be to the next generation of scholars or to the community, are greater for some than for others, and these differential workloads result in women taking longer than men to be tenured and, especially, promoted. Don't take my word for it; here's a gem from the latest AAUP publication, The Ivory Ceiling of Service Work:
Men [associate professors] spent seven and a half hours more a week on their research than did women. Even if these differences in research time occurred only during semesters, not during summer or holiday breaks, this would mean that men spent in excess of two hundred more hours on their research each year than women. On the other hand, women associate professors taught an hour more each week than men, mentored an additional two hours a week, and spent nearly five hours more a week on service. This translates to women spending roughly 220 more hours on teaching, mentoring, and service over two semesters than men at that rank.
Whenever I am asked to review a file, I am uncomfortably aware of inequities like these. Uncomfortably aware - yet not at all sure what to do.

2 comments:

  1. This is further complicated by the fact that if men say no to teaching, mentoring, etc or severely limit how much they do, it is seen as normal, setting priorities, not being pushed around.

    And if women do the same? Bitchy, uncooperative, selfish...

    The same behaviour is evaluated differently. Which might be implicit and well understood by readers of this blog. But is not well understood by the people actually granting tenure, evaluating our work, etc.

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  2. Great, great post Heather, thank you.

    Like JoVE, I suspect these issues are familiar (and well understood--even lived) by many who read this blog. So how do we make change? I wonder if one starting point is at the teaching level, by which I mean changing they way upper administration values teaching. Not (obviously) at the cost of valuing research, but rather to value teaching in the same way that research is valued. After all, research money may bring attention to the university, but teaching keeps students in classrooms and departments filled/quotas met.

    How to do this? Here are a few quick thoughts: forward fellow excellent instructors for teaching awards, have them do the same for you, cultivate a PR flurry around excellence in teaching and excellent teachers, and then use that spotlight to celebrate the teacher, but also draw attention to the disconnects specific to the systematic paradoxes like those Li speaks of in her article, as well as the myriad of additional ones you speak of here (& in other ways, I was writing about too).

    Vive la révolution!

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