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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: The Associate Professor Survey
April 27, 2009 - 9:36pm

This week the MLA released the full version of its “Associate Professor” survey results. Data from this report has been trickling out since the convention in December, but the full report merited articles in both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education on Monday. It makes for interesting reading, particularly for this female associate professor at a private independent institution — I find myself in the group that takes the longest, overall, to achieve the level of full professor, among the groups surveyed.

Most of the time I don’t think much about promotion. I just do my job, and every year at annual review time I sum it up and wonder what’s next. I’m glad to see this recent interview with Richard Anderson, chief executive of Delta Airlines, endorses my non-strategy: “If you just focus on getting your job done and being a good colleague and a team player in an organization, and not focused [sic] about being overly ambitious and wanting pay raises and promotions and the like, and just doing your job and being a part of a team, the rest of it all takes care of itself.”

But in fact it doesn’t quite take care of itself. In academe (and, in fact, I imagine in business as well) promotions don’t just arrive unannounced; they require planning and preparation and the submission of a portfolio. External reviewers get involved as well as internal ones at both the department and school and/or university level. It’s a year-long process, and planning for it starts long before that portfolio-submitting year. In fact if I had planned to make full professor in the 9.6 years the association notes is average for women in institutions like mine, I’d have had to put my portfolio together this past fall, which would have meant having a book out the previous year.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve focused on my teaching, and on publishing articles and other kinds of writing; a scholarly monograph is not yet on my vita. The MLA report also questions — as do I — whether it should be. “With the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, the committee recommends that colleges and universities adopt a more expansive conception of scholarship, research, and publication; rethink the dominance of the monograph; and consider work produced and disseminated in new media.” But am I ready to be the guinea pig, to put forward a portfolio focused on my teaching as well as my “work produced and disseminated in new media”? The report also notes — as have I, over the years — that the financial rewards for promotion are not great. Given that my salary is unlikely to rise substantially with promotion, is it better simply to carry on as I’ve been doing, hoping for recognition when it arises?

As it happens, this is a very good time for me to be thinking about this. I’m about to finish up a major committee report, and the time I’ve spent on committee work this semester has had me wondering about administration. Is that where my talents will take me next? Do I need to be promoted in order to move up administratively? At the same time, I’ve been thinking hard about teaching all year, talking to people about faculty development, revising my courses, and exploring new courses as well as new media and new approaches for my old courses. My research has taken off this year as well, interestingly — all three arenas are feeding each other, as they often do. But soon I’ll have to choose, to focus — which will it be?


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