Friday, September 30, 2005

Dean Aftermath

We had a very good lunch with the new Dean. I got about 10 women to show up (many had conflicts but wanted to come). The Dean spent about an hour with us. I had planned to have a low-key, get-to-know-you kind of session, but a few attendees decided to jump right in and start voicing concerns about the tenure clock and tenure expectations. At our university, anyone (male or female) who has a baby while on the tenure track and extend the clock by one year. Whether they choose to do that depends very much on how they think that decision will be percieved by the tenure committee. Donna has chosen to take her year (and so will her husband, who is also a professor here), but she recieved a lot of conflicting advice on the subject. I don't face that choice since I was not on the tenure track when I had my two boys. Donna and I discussed it and we agree that it's not the maternity leave that gets you. It's that 6-month period that every baby goes through when s/he is sick all the time. Every day you show up to work wondering whether you're going to get the dreaded call from your daycare center and have to rush off to pick up the baby. Extending the tenure clock for one year helps, but my fear is that the Dean and many other well-meaning people will reduce all of our discussions of the barriers we face to this one issue.

We also discussed the difficulties associated with child care. The Dean set up a task force on the subject (I got myself volunteered for that one which met that very morning before the Dean lunch). I had to laugh when, at lunch, he said something like, "I'm gathering this is an important issue." Like, duh!

After the Dean rushed off to his next appointment, many of us stuck around to talk more. Mostly to just vent, but some constructive things were said. One of the women at lunch was Dana, who has a big two-body problem. Her husband is a professor at another university and they live halfway between the two schools, giving each of them a 90-minute commute. They have a 19-month old daughter. I had heard that Dana was leaving her job here, and she confirmed that at the meeting. She said she wants to have another child and just can't handle the commute any more. She is hoping to get a job at her husband's school and to work part time in a 20% hard money position. They are moving so that they will both have only a 5-minute commute. Privately she told us that one of the senior faculty in our dept told her not to have any more children. I can guess who it was, and I have to say he is kind of a nut job anyway, and I wouldn't pay too much attention to anything he says, but it's still very discouraging to be told that by anyone. We talked about the idea of having a fast tenure track and a slow tenure track. I like that idea.

On a personal note, during our conversation after the Dean left, I talked about my frustration with the fact that my husband feels that I don't spend enough time with my family when I only work 9-4:30 most days and I never take work home with me or work on weekends. Everyone at the table was shocked that I could survive working such few hours. So on the one hand I feel proud of myself that I can manage on less than 40 hrs a week. But on the other hand I feel somehow guilty that I don't work harder. Am I a great role model who is successfully balancing work and family? Or am I a traitor who gives all female profs a bad name for not working hard enough? I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, it is never right, never good enough. So I always choose to just completely ignore what everybody says and follow my gut. My gut says 40 hrs a week is enough. I haven't worked more than that since I came to this school as a post-doc 7 years ago, and I'm not going to start now. In the immortal words of Sid Vicious, "all you cowboys can kiss my a$$".

Here's what I think we need to do: blow it up. I don't think we should try to tweek the current tenure system, we need to blow it up and start over. Why? 1. Tweeking says the current system is basically okay. It's not. 2. Tweeking will never be enough. Bigger changes are needed. 3. People need to know that major changes are coming. Tweeking allows them to be complacent and not really face the issues. 4. The current system doesn't work very well for men either. They just don't know it. It sucks and it is unfair to everyone, not just women.

Blow it up. Here's what I'd like to see. A variable tenure clock for everyone of 5 to 9 years. You choose when to go up for tenure, and you don't need an excuse to take a little longer. Some people are just late bloomers. Plus, we need more hard money non-tenure track positions. In exchange for the hard money, these non-tenure track people would teach more. Plus there should be a process by which people can jump back and forth from tenure to non-tenure track positions by petitioning the university. Again, you shouldn't need an excuse (like birth of a child) to do this. All kinds of stuff happens in life that might make a person want to puts things on hold, or speed things up. Universities ought to be flexible in these days when the job market as a whole has become much more flexible.

Do I have time to agitate for these changes? Nope. Maybe after I have tenure...


Blogger ScienceWoman said...

I think your idea of choosing when you go up for tenure is a good one. I also am starting to realize that extending the tenure clock with the birth of a baby does nothing for people like you who already have children. Your idea solves that. Here's another radical idea, what if we abolish tenure completely?

1:07 PM  
Blogger crazybatlady said...

The last thing we need it more hard-money non-tenure track positions, if what you mean is more adjunct faculty who make something horrid like $2000 a term per class. According to the Chronicle, more than 50% of classes at major Us are taught by grad students and non-tenure track adjunct faculty.

They get taken advantage of, as you must know. They don't get their contracts until the last minute, so they can't anticipate their plans for the following year; they don't make enough money or get any benefits, and, perhaps most damaging to their egos, they are typically ignored by other faculty.

And abolish tenure? That's our academic freedom right there. I don't think that's such a good idea....

9:20 AM  
Blogger DrBarnes said...

Yes, let's blow it up. Really.

But I'd like to be more radical and say, let's blow it up and make a new system that recognizes grants, service, research, and teaching, and allow someone to be a superstar in one, not just research and/or grants. And why do we need an excuse to extend the clock? Other things happen besides babies and why should grown ups have to explain everything? We're not all created equal and different types of research take different amounts of time.

Blow it up and grow a new way if giving tenure. We need it.

And personally, I don't know about non-tenure teaching positions, unless they do them better. First, more people should be recognized for doing research on teaching in each field. They should get paid better and get longer contracts and get more respect in their departments. There should be concerted efforts that are rewarded to improve curricula and teaching.

My 2 cents. Thanks for inspiring me to write.

8:27 PM  

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