Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tenure clocks, stopped and otherwise

FSP has a really interesting discussion of tenure clocks and women in science over the last two days. Basically, she is responding to yet another call for allowing women to stop their tenure clock if/when they have kids on the TT, this time from a NYT article discussing recommendations released last year by researchers at Berkeley.

On day one, FSP notes:
What North American universities do not yet have this policy?

Can anyone name names? Can we make a list? I think there should be a list, easily accessible by an internet search, of universities that donot provide for tenure clock-stoppage for the birth or adoption of a child. Does such a list exist? If not, let's start one here.

As I would have expected not a single commenter listed a university where stopping the clock was not an option. As many commenters noted, there is a huge difference between what is technically "available" and what is culturally acceptable. I think that tenure clock stoppage is easy for universities to offer to look "family friendly" and not effective in retaining more women for a few reasons.

1. It's the culture, not the policies! Putting lipstick on the women-unfriendly academic culture pig won't change the pig. If people (not just women, although that might be more noticeable due to their relative underrepresentation) are leaving the TT because their daily lives are unpleasant, a stopped clock means nothing.

2. Many women in science don't want kids, so this policy has no impact on them and why they leave the TT.

3. No paid parental leave means tenure policies have little chance to help parents who can't afford to go without pay. And not just without pay--workers out on FMLA have to continue to pay their share of health insurance costs, and sometimes their employers' share too. Real (paid!) parental leave is far more helpful and "family friendly" (and also more costly to implement than tenure clock stoppage).

4. Many people are not convinced (and possibly rightly so, considering the comments here, here, and here) that their stopped tenure clock will not count against them.

As I've said before, I think many of the "pipeline" problems for underrepresented groups in science are symptomatic of professional work culture in the US in general. Discussing things like tenure clocks is easier than trying to change an ingrained academic culture where work is given priority over nearly everything else in life. I am lucky to work in a truly family friendly department, but that is local culture. I certainly am well aware that many people are not nearly so lucky.


GMP said...

Great post, Prodigal. I completely agree, especially with #3. Getting paid time off teaching is very difficult and there are no written rules, and I have been told many times that, since we are state employees, we cannot be held to any standards different than other state employees, so getting paid time off in a formalized fashion would be extremely unpopular with the state government! However, the fact that there are differences between our appointments and everybody else's (e.g. faculty are on 9 month contracts and have no vacation time during that time and are unpaid for 3 summer months) apparently doesn't bother anyone (because of course we all frolick on the beach with our kids all summer long so that's our vacation). Whenever I brought up the lack of formal leave policies with my deparment and university elders, I was given the "it would be unpopular with the state" spiel which boils down to the public regarding university scholars as some sort of lazy-ass elitist leeches. I am sure it's not the whole story, but even at my univeristy, where the clock stoppage is pretty uniformly applied, actually getting time off requires kissing up to the chair for a case-by-case solution. (I hate hate hate this, having to beg a colleague, not all of whom think women belong in academia anyways, to bestow his mercy on me and help me get time off teaching.)

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comment, GMP! When I worked as a Fed, the administration told us the same sad song about not being able to make exceptions for Federal employees. And then they wonder why so few people want to stay there long term...