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Gender, Race, COVID-19 and the Case Against Tenure-Clock Stoppages

June 25, 2020

In a new article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of 17 scholars warns that COVID-19 will widen the equity gap in research for women and other underrepresented groups for years to come. The authors focus on women because there are already some data demonstrating how their research productivity has been impacted by increased caring and other gendered responsibilities during COVID-19. Yet the paper also warns that Black, Indigenous and other people of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of public health, and that all scholars from these backgrounds, and especially women of color, may therefore be more professionally disrupted than their white peers.

Even among "those with privileged positions, including many academics," the paper says, "women will likely bear a greater burden of this pandemic. The burden will be even heavier for women who face intersecting systems of oppression, such as ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender, age, economic class, dependent status, and/or ability."

In response, academe "will need to enact solutions to retain and promote women faculty who already face disparities regarding merit, tenure, and promotion," the authors urge. They caution against one popular COVID-19-era accommodation, in particular, however: tenure-clock stoppages. Instead of advantaging scholars by giving them more time to work toward tenure, the authors say, stoppages hurt scholars by decreasing their long-term earning potential, putting them out of sync with time-restricted funding mechanisms and delaying the power than comes with tenure, such as applying for large research center grants that require the principal investigator be tenured.

Rather than offering gender-neutral accommodations, the paper encourages colleges and universities to develop a strategic action plan with "metrics and accountability for dealing with changes in faculty productivity because of COVID-19."

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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