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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Service and Administration
January 17, 2011 - 7:25pm

Two posts on Inside Higher Ed caught my eye the other day; one, from The University of Venus, on being a “virtual chair”; the other on the gender gap in academic service. Rosalie Arcala Hall suggests an intriguing (but unworkable on many campuses) solution to the problem of balancing research — and especially travel — with service, while Scott Jaschik’s account of a new report on the gender gap in academic service at U Mass-Amherst confirms the anecdotal sense many of us have that women, especially women at the associate professor level, are both doing a disproportionate amount of academic service and are paying a price in career advancement.

Both pieces hit home, in different ways. For starters, I have to admit I was stung by Rosalie Arcala Hall’s binary distinction: “serious scholar” or “paper-pushing bureaucrat.” Are those really the only options? I’ve taken on academic service positions because they seemed to me important, interesting, valuable both to myself and the institution. While, yes, there’s certainly some paper to push, once you know what’s on the paper and how it got there it’s a lot harder to dismiss “pushing” it so derisively. I’ve learned a great deal coordinating our First-Year Seminar program (as, much earlier in my career, I got a crash course in Women’s Studies when I coordinated that program). “Paper-pushing” hardly describes the majority of academic service work I’ve participated in or observed. More surprisingly, it seems to have reinvigorated my scholarly productivity. While I’ve always stayed active in scholarship, the past two years have been particularly productive. I’ve been lucky, I suppose, that I can teach courses (including a first-year seminar course) directly related to my research; more importantly, I’ve also found that the day-to-day demands of administering a program have forced me to become more organized. I don’t think I’d risk the solution Arcala Hall is attempting, but I’m intrigued by her efforts (and curious about her teaching load!).

Scott Jaschik’s report was unsurprising, but sobering. As I watch my peers move up the ranks to promotion, for example, I wonder when it will be my turn. Despite my increased productivity of late, I’ve still got a few years, I believe, before I can produce a convincing scholarly portfolio. That’s why the comments on Jaschik’s piece were so interesting to me — there, I see the ongoing conversation I want to be having about service, teaching, and T&P requirements. If tenure protects teachers, for example, why is scholarship so often the biggest piece of the portfolio? If academic service is necessary to the smooth functioning of the institution, why isn’t it rewarded? Is there an important difference between “service” and “administration”?

I don’t have answers to these questions yet, but I’m glad to see that they’re being raised. On my own campus, a working group on women faculty and mentoring has been gathering semi-regularly, and I’ll be sure to bring these questions up with them as well. In the meantime, though, I have emails to answer, classes to prep, and an article to revise.


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