In the wake of the flap over the Harvard president’s comments about women in science, the University of California Berkeley has thrown a spotlight on efforts by two of its own to explain why men still outnumber women on the tenure track of university faculties.
Crunching numbers from two large data sets, two UCB researchers, Mary Ann Mason, dean of the graduate division, and Marc Goulden, principal analyst for the division, have concluded that “women may be more successful in obtaining academic careers if they forgo or delay marriage and childbirth.”
Thus, many women who want marriages and children may get Ph.D.s (as they’re doing now in numbers about equal to men’s), but either teach part-time or not at all.
The researchers’ findings sent my thoughts scrambling back over my checkered career.
How well I remember my favorite graduate professor wagging his cigar at me and telling me to think twice before I tried to get pregnant when I was about to write a master’s thesis. I took his advice, completed my Ph.D., got a divorce, climbed onto the tenure track in Kentucky and stayed there for four years before I decided there was more to life than that and headed for California.
I spent the next dozen years writing, editing, and, when I needed money, teaching on and off in the Bay Area in what Mason and Goulden call the “second tier”—part-time or full-time but temporary jobs. Then, finally, at the age of 41, I had a baby, and, suddenly (in a reverse of their findings) tenure-track teaching looked more attractive—the best way for a single mom to pay the bills.
It isn’t easy for someone who has stepped off the tenure track to get back on, but I was lucky. The School of Journalism that hired me needed someone with recent journalism experience, and I had it.
It was a gamble, for the school and for me, but things turned out fine—I got tenure, then promotion to full professor in time to pay my daughter’s college bills. If the odds were against that happening, as Mason and Goulden’s research suggests, then I bucked the odds.
But I had a lot of help along the way, the kind of family-friendly help Mason and Goulden would like to see all professors have. I had a decent salary and a reasonable teaching load—two courses a semester, standard at research universities but not at “teaching” universities like San Jose State University, where I taught four courses a semester.
I had research support that meant I did not need to teach every summer and could meet the writing expectations of my university. I had a reduced load one semester for research. I had research funds to travel to archives. My daughter went to a good child care center provided by the university.
Not all universities provide that kind of support, though I suspect they may need to provide more of it in the future.
When I retire in a few years, so will about half of my colleagues in the School of Journalism where I teach. A similar scenario will play out across the country. We baby boomers who have occupied a disproportionate number of faculty lines for so long are about to leave the scene.
The challenge of filling that many jobs will be enormous. Universities will not be able to afford to lose either women or men who see commitment to university life as inconsistent with raising children.
Carol Polsgrove, a professor of journalism at Indiana University, Bloomington, is author of Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement and It Wasn’t Pretty, Folks, But Didn’t We Have Fun? Surviving the Sixties with Esquire’s Harold Hayes.
For more on the UCB study, see www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/2005/03/10_gap.shtml.