Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to solve the problem of women "standing still"

I sat down to key the solution to the gender inequity in promotion that Julie so eloquently blogged about yesterday - and to refresh my mind about the issues, I revisited the Modern Language Association's report "Standing Still." On rereading, I couldn't help thinking that if we implemented just some of the following, we'd be making progress.

Here are the MLA's recommendations.
  1. Colleges and universities should establish clear guidelines and paths for promotion from associate professor to professor in alignment with their institutional mission. With the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, the committee recommends that colleges and universities adopt a more expansive conception of scholarship, research, and publication; rethink the dominance of the monograph; and consider work produced and disseminated in new media. The committee also recommends public scholarship as an important avenue of research.
  2. Colleges and universities should offer substantial increases in salary when a faculty member is promoted from associate professor to professor. At institutions of higher education across the country, the increase in salary at promotion generally offers little incentive to aspire to and strive for promotion.
  3. Colleges and universities should create programs for mentoring associate professors. At its best, such mentoring inspires a sense of responsibility across ranks and a sense of intergenerational connection and reciprocity.
  4. Colleges and universities should establish leadership training explicitly for newly tenured women faculty members in the recognition that promotion to associate professor often entails appointment to leadership positions.
  5. Colleges and universities should sponsor training and development sessions for their
    department chairs on key matters:
    • the importance of the ongoing development of associate professors, with an emphasis on long-range planning over a period of at least five years and on encouraging the continued scholarly progress of faculty members at the rank of associate professor from the time they are promoted
    • the assessment of the allocation of responsibilities of faculty members to ensure that they are equitably and appropriately distributed across the ranks of probationary and tenured faculty members
    • the monitoring of how long associate professors have been in rank in relation to the mission of the institution. Nine years might be used as a metric for measuring an institution’s progress in promoting associate professors.
  6. Colleges and universities should devote specific resources, in addition to leaves for
    research, to support associate professors’ scholarship. They have the obligation not only to require and encourage but also to help underwrite the scholarship of faculty members at all ranks and across the span of their careers. Scholarship is a public good and should be supported.

    7 comments:

    1. WOW. Yes. Even one of those would make a big difference but they are all excellent recommendations.

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    2. I'm with JoVE. All are excellent ideas. Thanks for circulating these, Heather.

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    3. Aha! How interesting. These are all great ideas.

      It's funny about the pay raise thing: when I went up for tenure, my husband asked about what kind of raise went with that, and I said I was pretty sure it was none. He was surprised that there was no raise, and surprised as well that I had no idea. He made me call the dean's office to ask. I was super embarrassed to do it. And no, there's no raise.

      Of course, I was highly motivated to go up for promotion anyways (comes with tenure, apply at the same time) because, as they say, it's up or out.

      Still, the process of applying was so godawful stressful, and productive of so much self-doubt that at this point I'm hesitant to imagine ever going for promotion to full, if it means that same exercise of being judged in secret, at length, and with enormous amounts of paperwork.

      This aversion and fear and self-doubt and insecurity could be a personality quirk of mine, or it could be more general, or it could (as I imagine it does) afflict female scholars more than men.

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    4. Thanks, all, for such thoughtful comments. Missing from this list is the importance to women (especially, though not only) of a multi-faceted promotion dossier. If, as we discussed in this blog a few weeks back, women do more administrative work than men, then this work should be evaluated and counted. Ditto teaching. And I will go to my grave on the importance of high-quality graduate supervision for the future of the discipline and the health of a department, let alone a career profile.

      @Aimee: I am of a very mixed mind about the way we review careers. Like you, I find the judgment-in-secret to be godawful stressful - and I worry that it doesn't reveal the quality of our in-person work, particularly committee work. We've all been on good (functional, smoothly run, well organized) committees, and we've all served on the opposite. My point: they look the same on paper. HOWEVER, it's also true (and also discussed in this blog) that things like teaching evaluations are made in a context that disadvantage some (people who don't conform to students' gender expectations, e.g., and people of colour working in a white supremacist society, to choose another easy example). Because of this, I don't feel comfortable making a blanket condemnation of blind reviews.

      But I don't like the process much, at all!

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    5. For me, the point that resonated is that about ensuring equity of workload. I've been running myself into the ground these past two years with overload teaching AND overload administration - both things I care about, both areas in which I find I can be as if not more creative as in writing (I never wanted to be a "don't talk to me!"/door closed/monograph-authoring machine), and the latter, at least, is itself a source of "leadership training."

      But being an open-door academic, and being nice (sometimes) has gotten me into trouble. There's no getting around the fact that some people do more (sometimes vastly more) of this part of the job, at the expense not just of research time but of professional balance more broadly. It's one thing for people (ie. my chair) to tell me to "stop volunteering!," it's another to have other people volunteer in my stead.

      Being accommodating and serviceable may help the university chug along on a day-to-day basis, and it may help individual students or individual programs in the immediate timeframe, but it isn't sustainable for me personally and it's certainly not going to support an early promotion to full. Which, I confess, I kind of wanted to do in a couple of years.

      Wow - that felt really selfish to say.

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    6. This post and the previous one have been of great interest to me, as I have thought a lot recently about the whole issue of going up for promotion to full professor. I think the point that resonates with me most strongly is Heather's about a "multi-faceted promotion dossier." I can't believe that, because I haven't produced a second scholarly monograph, I have been less valuable to my department than someone who has focused primarily on getting that done, but I am convinced that the reality is, if I apply for promotion without that, I will be turned down--or else the fight will be so demoralizing and demanding that I'll be sorry I ever tried. There is talk, sure (including, as you note, from the MLA) about acknowledging everything from new kinds of scholarship and 'research dissemination' and outreach to excellence in undergraduate teaching and graduate supervision. But I don't believe any of this makes a difference to the 'bottom line' of a promotion application.

      Though some of the problems and imbalances certainly do affect women in particular ways, the undervaluing of administrative service hurts everyone. A colleague who (as an associate professor) was an absolutely exemplary chair for four years described that time as a "black hole" on his CV--that's shocking, and certainly a discouraging message to others who might be asked to serve in that way before their next promotion.

      Is the myth underwriting all of this that everyone does an equal share of teaching and administration and does it equally well (or, at least well enough), so that it's only in quantifiable research output that excellence deserving of higher promotion can really be observed and measured? Maybe one of the problems is that we are wary of acknowledging formally that in fact some of our colleagues are not good teachers, do not supervise their graduate students attentively (or don't supervise any at all), or are ineffective (or reluctant) administrators. We can probably all think of people who will never be asked or expected to take on major administrative duties because it is clear they will not do them well. These people are thus freed, by their own (real or pretended!) incompetence to focus on their research.

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    7. @Rohan: What a rich, rich comment. I agree with so much of what you say here ... and have so much to say in return that it can't fit into the comments space. Let me say I'm working, mentally, on extending this discussion. Thanks for your forthrightness.

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