Thursday, May 17, 2007

Opting In and Out of the Academy

I have a post up at Law and Letters on the Lisa Belkin NY Times articles on women opting out of and back into the workplace. I excerpt two Belkin articles; the first on the "Opt-Out Revolution" (2003), and one this week on such women trying to "opt-in" through re-training programs. I also excerpt at length an excellent critique of Belkin by Cathrine Albiston (Boalt Hall Law, JSP) from her article in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice. Here's a taste of my own thoughts on the matter:

I will note that if we accept Belkin's reporting in the latter article, then the endogenous change of workplace leave/return policies and culture is significant. My dissertation will concern organizational responses to the Family and Medical Leave Act: how management interprets, promulgates, and enforces the terms of the FMLA, which creates an entitlement to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (subject to how the statute defines who is covered). The literature in the field suggest that it's the organizations and work culture that define the scope of the right: who is "entitled" to take leave, the desire to avoid being framed as a "slacker" or "bad worker" even if this is an entitlement, what is "work" and who is a "worker." I'd be pleased to see a top-down shift in workplace culture and governance.

For MoneyLaw readers, I will note that there seems to be an encouraging attitudinal and structural shift toward extending tenure clocks for those faculty who need to take time off to care for their new children or for a sick family member. This would represent a similar type of endogenous structural change in the work culture of academic institutions to recognize the work/life balance needs of their employees.

This would also reflect a growing recognition that today's academics are not the same as yesterday's, and that both male and female faculty alike will want and require more flexible work arrangements and tenure clocks. Moreover, this would help to make academia more attractive, welcoming, and feasible to those faculty who are in the position of primary caretaker--which, for better or worse, tend to be female faculty. I just hope that the shift is serious and not merely lip-service. I'm going to have to be a skeptic and wait to hear how the tenure decisions play out--and I'm looking forward to more organizational and empirical studies on how many faculty actually use the tenure extension policies, and whether their schools really think of the clock as really stopped for the purposes of evaluating scholarly productivity and commitment.

For more on extending tenure clocks:

The Chronicle of Higher Education

As it stands, Michigan offers only two reasons for delaying the tenure clock, and neither includes research complications. Scholars can get one year off the clock for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a sick relative. Those who face research disasters have been known to appeal to the provost for extra time, and some have succeeded. Still, there is no guarantee. "If you know to ask, there are things that can be done that will allow them to weather the storm," says Ms. Pierce. "But for those who don't know to ask, they are often lost in the process."

In addition to concerns over research and productivity, Ms. Weiss's committee said more time on the tenure track would be a good thing for women. They are "particularly burdened" by family responsibilities, the report noted. It nonetheless devoted only one long paragraph to "family circumstances" at the end of its section on "Why Flexibility Matters," and few of the policy's supporters mentioned family reasons in conversations with The Chronicle.

Inside Higher Education

Higher education experts have increasingly been saying that, as baby boomers age and require more attention, and as more women flood academe, a bit of flexibility is in order.“Younger workers, male and female, are more interested in balancing work and family,” said Jeanne Miller, an information services manager at Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women. “And a lot more people are dealing with elder care.”

The options currently available for a faculty member working part time are either to stop the tenure clock completely and not receive credit for years of part-time work, or to let the clock continue as it would for a full-time worker, and risk going into tenure review with fewer years of full-time work. Duvernoy said that stopping the clock “removed the pressure,” but she has continued to publish and obtain grants, and feels that she should not be stuck in year two of her faculty career. Her only other choice would have been to let the clock
continue as normal while she worked part time.

One of the proposals recommends allowing part-time work to be counted as part-time work, so a faculty member working 70 percent of full-time could make 70 percent of a year’s progress toward tenure review.

One concern that the American Association of University Professors has about extending the tenure clock is that it would prompt institutions to string along assistant professors. That, according to Roger Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, could mean a longer wait until the academic freedom that groups like AAUP argue that only tenure can impart.

One of the most important functions of the Michigan report, according to Janet Weiss, one of the committee co-chairs and dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, is to create a culture where faculty members are not afraid to take advantage of family friendly policies. Weiss said that, in the past, many people were not aware they were entitled to leave, and others — especially women having children — were loathe to take advantage of policies for fear of being looked down on when tenure review came along. “We think making the policies fair and transparent and explicit will make it easier for people who need them to take advantage of them,” Weiss said.

Science Magazine

Two recent surveys at major research institutions point to the bind women faculty members face. Some 42% of women at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for example, didn't request to go off the tenure clock even though they had reason to do so, and two-thirds of them said it was because of fear that an extension would have an adverse impact on their careers. "Had I stopped the tenure clock, I would have been viewed as weak by my senior colleagues," one faculty member wrote in her response, says study co-author Jean Waltman.

Women will go to great lengths to avoid that label, notes Waltman. Some reported that they had delayed pregnancy until after they got tenure. The survey also found that about one-third of the 86 women who had children did not request a lighter teaching load after giving birth.

A survey this fall at the nine University of California (UC) campuses found similar attitudes toward the school's tenure- extension policies. Although 48 women reported using it, 41 did not--most out of fear that it might derail their careers. Women who put their careers on hold, says one of the authors, UC Berkeley's Marc Goulden, must battle "the cultural conception that the faster you are, the better you are, particularly in the sciences. The expectation is that all the good people come up for tenure in 5 or 6 years, so God forbid if you take 7 or 8."

There are scant data on whether stopping the clock actually hurts a faculty member's chance of receiving tenure.

Even when the departmental climate is favorable, however, many women opt to defer pregnancy until after receiving tenure for fear of losing research momentum. "Many scientists worry that grant reviewers will note the gap in productivity and go 'Oh, this person took a year's break, they aren't really serious,' " says a biologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), who requested anonymity. Her own lighthearted attempt at addressing the issue, she says, has been "to insert my child's name and birth date in the chronological order of publications."

And that's just a start, says Robert Drago, a labor economist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, who studies bias against caregiving in the workplace: "From providing affordable housing near campus to subsidizing daycare, there's a lot that institutions should be doing if they mean business."

A few universities have reexamined how they do business, restructuring the tenure process to allow part-time tenure-track positions.


Duke University's Policies

North Carolina State's Policies

University of Michigan's Policies


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