Women, Science and Interdisciplinary Ways of Working

For at least a decade, universities and federal agencies alike have been engaged in an interdisciplinary arms race, competing to expand interdisciplinary programs and opportunities at ever faster rates in the hopes of achieving that transformational breakthrough in research. At the same time, federal and local programs have been working against the clock, seeking to broaden participation of women and members of minority groups in science, mathematics, and engineering before the U.S. loses its competitive edge.

While research and policy have been concerned with each of these trends often in parallel, surprisingly few efforts have considered them together, to ask whether and how interdisciplinary science might at once not only stimulate discovery across but also attract diversity to the scientific enterprise.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence there seems to be a tacit expectation, if not widespread assumption, on the part of many policy reformers, administrators and researchers that women may have a stronger preference or predisposition for interdisciplinary over disciplinary work as compared to their male colleagues. For example, reform efforts designed to recruit and retain women to science courses and careers often direct universities to: rely more on integrative methods, provide cooperative learning and working environments, use less competitive models of teaching and more flexible models of tenure, frame science in its social context, present practical applications along with theoretical motivations from the outset, and undertake problems with a "holistic" or "global" scope.

Moreover, as researchers interested in interdisciplinarity as an object of study, we have both been asked repeatedly about gender as predictor of participation in or success with interdisciplinary practices. We have also been confronted by scientists telling us that we should not encourage junior women to conduct interdisciplinary research because "women have a hard enough time as it is, you need to keep them focused on rigorous science or they’ll never be taken seriously." After a growing store of anecdotal data to the point, we started to ask ourselves why we weren’t looking at gender and began listening to our peers and readers.

Given we could find only two empirical analyses explicitly tackling the question of gender and interdisciplinarity, we began by recoding our data to see if we had any evidence to support these broader expectations and then proceeded with reviewing different schools of thought to see what theories might best explain the observations.

Of course, over-generalizing and over-essentializing differences between women and men is a common pitfall, and one we do not wish to stumble into here by arguing for simple generic categories. Using gender as a lens, the purpose is to develop an awareness of how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and socio-structural factors may contribute to decisions about interdisciplinary research and how such actions might then affect individual careers and institutional strategies. In fact, though we focus here on women in academic research, we believe that the arguments we propose may, in some cases, also resonate with men as well as with scholars in minority groups.

Admittedly, our approach is exploratory, and our data are sparse. But, even with these limitations, we see this as an important first step toward understanding the preferences women might have for interdisciplinarity and why. We also see this as a critical point in the policy process to identify what consequences -- both intended and unintended -- might come from twinning the goals of expanding interdisciplinary science with those of increasing scientific diversity, and what they could pose for the individuals, their institutions, and the larger enterprise. Our hope is to catalyze research science practice and policy discussions about the subject of diversity and interdisciplinarity; thus, we intentionally set out to raise more questions than we answer. We want to examine the proposition, not start with an assumption.

We found only one large-scale empirical study concerned with the connection between gender and interdisciplinarity. In 1998, Evaluation Associates Ltd, a consulting firm, conducted an assessment of interdisciplinary research in higher education institutions in Britatin. The analysis of responses from 5,505 researchers in British higher education institutions indicates that greater percentages of women than men report participating in interdisciplinary research at almost every age and discipline. The differences in rates of participation for junior faculty are particularly significant as British women report spending approximately half of their time on interdisciplinary research and men spend only a third.

Another study, published in Gender and Society by Erin Leahey in 2006, used a sample of 196 sociology and 222 linguistics faculty members to examine a related issue of specialization. She found with statistical significance that those who specialize tend to produce more publications, and that women tend to specialize less than men. While researchers could theoretically specialize in an interdisciplinary area or interdiscipline, Alan Porter and colleagues found in their 2007 paper that interdisciplinary researchers also tend to be less specialized: single interdiscipline specialists are rare.

In order to examine what might be behind these differences, we broke down the concept of interdisciplinarity into four modes of practice. For each, we briefly consider theoretical arguments and empirical data related to gender-based participation in these different interdisciplinary ways of working. We start with a model of individual interdisciplinarity, and proceed through three different collaborative models which involve in step other individual researchers, other intellectual fields, and other institutional communities.

The first category of interdisciplinarity occurs when individuals make cognitive connections among disciplines, and thus "cross-fertilize." Researchers who use this approach single-handedly knit together ideas, approaches and information from different fields and/or disciplines. In the UK study, women clearly pursue independent lines of interdisciplinary inquiry more readily than men: women who operate as lone scientists (as opposed to working in formal or ad hoc teams) reported spending 44 percent of their time on interdisciplinary research, while male lone scientists only reported spending 33 percent. Although these data do not indicate definitively why women would have a greater tendency to cross-fertilize, other research suggests possible avenues of explanation. Cross-fertilization requires the processing of the languages and epistemologies of other fields as well as establishing connections among them. Recent studies in cognitive psychology have shown that whereas males tend to look for abstract and theoretical arguments, dissociating it from any distracting information, females are more apt to make connections between language, ideas and the larger context.

The second category of interdisciplinary work -- "team-collaboration" -- occurs by virtue of several individuals working together. Here researchers collaborate in formal or informal teams or networks that span across fields and/or disciplines. Evaluation Associates found that most interdisciplinary research occurred in ad hoc teams (53 percent), with lower levels conducted by formal teams (29 percent) and by lone researchers (18 percent). Beyond some preliminary findings from research by one of us (Rhoten) that suggest that females -- particularly younger females -- may have on average slightly more interdisciplinary collaborators than men, we have not found any other empirical data relating to the role of gender in the composition of interdisciplinary research teams. Potential lines of reasoning for why women might be expected to have a proclivity for teamwork come from the psychology of gender literature, which portrays females as being more inclined toward group work and males more likely to prefer independent work.

The third category -- "field creation" -- involves the bridging of existing research domains to form new disciplines, subdisciplines or “interdisciplines” at their intersections. Early data from a study by Rhoten and other colleagues of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) programs indicate that enrollment rates of female students in new interdisciplines tend to be higher than the enrollment rates of female students in cognate disciplines. For example, in 2003, female students represented 45 percent of the total graduate enrollment across all earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; 55 percent across biological sciences; and, 22 percent across engineering. By comparison, the ratio of female students averages 57 percent and climbs as high as 80 percent for this sample of IGERT programs concentrating on emerging interdisciplines in the area of environmental systems (e.g., those focused on the intersection of earth systems, ecosystem management, and environmental science and engineering). Later stage career data from the University of California at Berkeley also suggest that a great proportion of female versus male faculty may be bridging fields to build new areas of research: 26 percent of female faculty in STEM fields as opposed to 15 percent of males hold joint appointments, according to the National Research Council. Some scholars of gender and science studies proffer that female scientists may be attracted to new fields because they are less established in their status, hierarchical and competitive structure than older disciplines, allowing for greater flexibility and opportunity for intellectual exploration and knowledge revaluation.

The fourth category -- "problem orientation" -- entails interdisciplinary research that is oriented toward problem solving, especially "real world" questions that confront society. Researchers with an interdisciplinary problem-orientation engage in topics that not only draw on multiple fields but also serve multiple stakeholders and broader missions outside of academe. Literature from both psychology as well as women studies documents consistent differences in the concerns that appeal to males versus females, with the former generally tending to be more interested in things and theories one might associate with basic science and the latter in people and problems often aligned with applied research. Currently, beyond personal narratives, there is no real systematic evidence to test the relationship of gender to this category of interdisciplinarity. At best, we can glean from the aforementioned sample of IGERTs that only those programs self-classified as "problem-oriented" (versus "tool-oriented" or "vision-oriented") are majority female enrolled. Likewise, and again at a later career stage, we know that the joint appointments that STEM women hold at Berkeley tend to be in "business, biology, law, city and regional planning, economics, and environmental science" -- mostly fields that connect directly with society.

While more research is needed to reject or support the hypothesis, these preliminary observations and summary explanations point to the possibility that women might have a predilection for interdisciplinarity in each of these four categories of activity and for different reasons. However, even if the proposition were right and interdisciplinary research presents a promising angle by which to engage women and diversify the scientific enterprise, can it or will it be a rewarding career trajectory for women and other underrepresented minorities to follow in the current academic environment? Can and will interdisciplinary work lead those who choose it to find and retain productive and innovative positions? We are concerned by findings such as those reported by Leahey about the lower productivity of non-specialists, and by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where faculty who described their research as "non-mainstream" responded more negatively to all questions about the quality of their workplace than their colleagues doing "mainstream" research.

On the one hand, National Academies reports like "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future" emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary research to scientific development and national competitiveness. On the other hand, reports such as "Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research," also coming out of the National Academies, identify "promotion criteria" as the top impediment to the future of interdisciplinarity research, pointing first and foremost to the problem that the potentially unique contributions of a researcher’s interdisciplinary work may not be sufficient enough to compensate for what is likely to be his/her lower output of disciplinary research. Good interdisciplinary work requires not only depth but also breadth of knowledge across different disciplines, the pursuit of which inevitably takes time away from the (re)production of the type of narrowly focused research in subdisciplines favored by the contemporary tenure system.

We recognize that tenure prospects can be uncertain for all young professors. Yet, we also believe that, far from fully restructuring the system, there are additional steps around scientific risk, review and reward that can be (and in a few cases, have been) taken so as to move beyond interdisciplinary revolution into interdisciplinary reform, and thereby not just attract but actually retain women in the interdisciplinary programs for which they seem to demonstrate preference and our institutions report to be invested. As an example of progress in this area, one might look to the Guidance for Interdisciplinary Hiring and Career Development recently released by the Council for Environmental Deans and Directors. Despite the hype and hope for interdisciplinary research, it cannot be considered ethical or even practical to draw women into science using interdisciplinary research as the lure, if simultaneously systems of work, evaluation and promotion are not reformed to reward them for taking up the challenge.

Diana Rhoten and Stephanie Pfirman
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Diana Rhoten is founder and director of the Knowledge Institutions program at the Social Science Research Council. Her current research interests include the social and technical conditions as well as the individual and organizational implications of different approaches to knowledge production and dissemination. Rhoten is principal investigator of a National Science Foundation-sponsored study of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training programs.

Stephanie Pfirman is Alena Wels Hirschorn '58 and Martin Hirschorn Professor in Environmental and Applied Sciences Professor and chair of environmental science at Barnard College, and co-principal investigator of the NSF-sponsored Advancing Women in the Sciences initiative of the Columbia Earth Institute.

Rhoten and Pfirman are co-chairs of a workshop at Columbia next month on "Women, Minorities, and Interdisciplinarity: Transforming the Research Enterprise."

'Talking Out of School'

In Talking Out of School: Memoir of an Educated Woman (Dalkey Archive Press), Kass Fleisher reviews her education and her career in college teaching -- without holding back criticism of herself or academe. Sexual politics, class politics and academic politics all figure prominently. The following excerpt is from a section in which she recalls her years as an adjunct. Spoiler alert/warning: There is explicit language throughout the book -- including a few choice words in the excerpt that follows.

1998. I’m adjuncting, and have precisely one friend on the faculty, the guy who got me the gig. We have lunch together every week and we’ve had precisely one argument in the entire span of all our lunches, about a relationship he had with a student once. He tells it as a personal horror story. She’d been bright, talented, precocious -- and ultimately unstable. She filed harassment charges against him, he spent good money to hire a lawyer, he was forced to detail to his department chair some embarrassingly intimate details...

... and the chair let it go. When the university affirmative action officer agreed that the relationship had been consensual that the relationship made sense given consent the charges were dropped.

He comes to my office one day, disturbed. One of his older-women graduate students has written an angry letter, distributed to the chair, the vice-president and the president -- by way of demanding her tuition money back -- complaining that he swears too much in class shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits. The chair of the department does not inform him that he and the big boys have received said letter. The chair sits on the letter for a week or two and then, without conferring with the instructor, conducting a hearing, or even remembering (apparently) that grievance procedures have been established and printed in the faculty handbook, he writes my friend a formal letter of reprimand, stating that he’ll be subject to “disciplinary action” if ever another such complaint arises.

“She may, with some justification,” the chair writes, “formally bring a charge of harassment against you.

“Copies of this and the student’s letter will be placed in your personnel file.”

To sabotage your tenure review next year, the letter does not say.

Unlike the chair (apparently), my friend and I consult the faculty handbook and find that this letter indeed violates multiple personnel procedures...

... and further, that the only “disciplinary action” listed is termination.

Fuck, man. You mean you can lose your job for saying “fuck”? You call that fucking “ harassment”?


A month later, when the instructor’s student evaluations come back from the students who remained in the tech writing course after the complaining student left -- 40 percent of whom are women -- he will get a solid 5.0 on a 5-point scale—unanimous enthusiasm.

The chair will never comment on this....

1998. “I will no longer tolerate,” the chair writes in his letter to my friend, “what can only be described as your insensitive, vulgar, and obscene language in the classroom.”

The colleague’s intent in a graduate-level, academic tech writing class (i.e., not a vocational training workshop) is not just to teach students how to type memos, but rather to challenge students to consider how they know what they know as tech writers. This can be achieved while they expand their knowledge of their field, which exists right in the oily hinge, right in the fishy craw of the intersection of higher education and the corporation. Given the mess such a collision must be, he and I agree, some form of institutional critique is vital, and this sort of three-dimensional, reflexive analysis can, over time, only make students better tech writers. To know your context is to know your work.

Like many of his grad students, the complainant is his age, and already works as a tech writer. For much more than his salary.

From the first class meeting, she’s been unwilling to question herself in this manner. She’s uninterested in engaging his “message.” She pronounces the first assignment “a waste of time.” She simply wants to be told what she needs to “know” in order to cough up a master’s degree and presto! get a still higher salary.

“Withdraw me from this class, and do not charge my account.”

My “vulgar, obscene” colleague has been working with a search committee all fall. The chair calls him the week of Thanksgiving break and tells him that he’s being removed from the committee.

When my friend asks why, the chair explains that it’s political. A colleague with opposing pedagogical values has demanded to be included equal time on the committee.

The work’s almost done.

“He’s making this demand three weeks before we interview candidates at the MLA convention?” my friend says.

The chair nods.

“He just up and got pissed off at this late date?”

The chair has no real answer for this.

“At this late date?”

“It’s about fairness,” the chair says. “It’s about making sure both sides are represented.”

The only added perk for taking on all the added work of reading 300 application files is that you get reimbursed for the trip to the hiring conference, the Modern Language Association convention that meets annually between Christmas and New Year’s. So aside from losing all the work he’s put into this search so far no credit = no merit raise, teeny as that would be the instructor will have to pay his own way to MLA, where he has naturally two interviews himself.

“Is this your way of punishing me for the problem with the student who doesn’t like fucking cursewords?” the instructor asks.

“Certainly not,” the chair says.

Students will blame the discomfort of a learning transition on anything they can find. My friend’s experience illustrates clearly that in academe, it’s OK for instructors to fuck students...

... you just can’t say “fuck.”

Kass Fleisher
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Kass Fleisher is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Illinois State University.

Sexual Harassment and Group Punishment

Sexual harassment has been and continues to be a real phenomenon. The evidence is clear. The destructive effects are also clear, sometimes for all the individual parties concerned. And the adverse effects are evident for the profession as a whole.

What is much less clear is what can be done to reduce, if not eliminate altogether this phenomenon. Some institutions have adopted mandatory training about sexual harassment for all department heads and/or for all faculty members. Last year, for example, the University of Iowa instituted such a requirement in the wake of a high profile sexual harassment case.

Such required training was at the heart of a dispute between a University of California at Irvine professor, Alexander McPherson, and his university. In response to Professor McPherson’s refusal to undergo the training, the university relieved him of supervision of the employees in his lab and threatened to withhold his salary. McPherson, who was never accused of harassment, indicated that he was offended by the requirement, that it was a violation of his principles, and that such training was called for only in the event that demonstrated problems had been found in a unit. In his words, “There is no more reason that I need to take sex harassment training than I need to take training on avoiding grand theft auto or murder or any other crime. The state is imposing this based on politics and that can’t be allowed.”

Writing as a scholar of higher education, and not as the new general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (a post I assumed January 1), I would offer three observations on this issue.

First is that there are other realms of activity in which faculty members must undergo required training, without any presumption of an offense having been committed. In research universities (where professors’ work routinely involves human subjects, though even there literary and some other scholars are not required to undergo such training), perhaps the most obvious example of this is the human subjects training surrounding research grants and activity. Prior to getting grants approved by the sponsored projects division of a university, an investigator must have undergone human subjects training. Although the training varies by university, there are common patterns nationally. Typically, for example, such training is online, and is not particularly rigorous, to put it mildly. Indeed, the format involves investigators taking an exam by reading some written passages and then answering questions about them. After each section or module the person finds out whether he or she missed too many questions in a section, and proceeds. If they have missed too many questions in a section they simply backtrack, get the same questions in a different order, and retake the quiz, until they pass. A widely used set of exams (which are specified to social/behavioral and biomedical research) are those offered by the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative, which over 830 institutions and facilities (including a very large number of research universities, and indeed including the University of California at Irvine) utilize. The modules for the CITI quiz typically include three to six questions.

For the most part, although faculty complain about the inconvenience and irrelevance of the training, I do not know of anyone who would suggest that such training should be required only of investigators found to have violated the rights of human subjects. The more important questions of process and principle surround the institutional review board activities that regulate the approval of an investigator’s proposal. Here, serious questions have been raised about compromising investigators’ academic freedom to engage in certain types of research and to research certain subject matter. But the controversy is not, for the most part, about the human subjects training per se. Indeed, I would venture to say that for colleagues in the social and behavioral sciences, among the most common comments and complaints about human subjects training are that it is ineffective, that it does little by way of actually protecting human subjects and seems to be geared more to protecting the institution. The same might be said with regard to sexual harassment training, or any other “public” program of “training” that a college or university requires of its employees, including faculty members.

This leads to my second observation about the issue of institutions requiring sexual harassment training for faculty. What purpose does it serve? As Professor McPherson says of the requirement, “I have never heard the university advance a reasonable and convincing explanation.” In fact, there is no evidence that such one-time training is effective in reducing the activity in questions. Here, I would agree with Professor McPherson’s questioning of the rigor and effectiveness of such training. Thus, he notes that some of his colleagues log in to the online training, wait for a period of time, and then give random answers to questions. He also notes the regular distribution of materials to employees providing information regarding the rules and regulations surrounding sexual harassment, rendering in his view the online training unnecessary.

Whatever the nature of the online training, and the behavior of the participants, there is ample reason to question the impact of a single experience on behavior. Perhaps there is even greater reason to questions the behavioral impact of such an intervention when it is “virtual.” However, such formal training may nevertheless serve an important function for the organization, by providing legal and external “cover” for the college or university in question.

Here, it is worth noting that in 1995 the AAUP adopted a report (revised from a 1984 report that had been adopted) on this matter (“Sexual Harassment: Suggested Policy and Procedures for Handling Complaints”) that noted the incentive for institutions to adopt not only policies but also educational programs due to some Supreme Court decisions. As a scholar in the field of higher education, and as one who studies and writes about higher education organizations, I would go a step further. There is a large body of organizational research, known as institutional theory, which suggests that one of the main reasons for the emergence in organizations of such formal structures as required training programs is that it is a response to external concerns about a domain of activity and an effort to maintain or (re)establish the organization’s legitimacy in the eyes of the external world.

This need not be a cynical view, suggesting that neither institutional leaders nor the professionals engaged in developing and delivering formal training programs (whether in sexual harassment, human subjects, or in the area of teaching) are actually committed to affecting and improving behavior in the college or university. Rather, it is a view about the predominant and ultimate effects of such formal structures. It is much easier to publicly establish an office or an educational program to address some area of concern (such as sexual harassment) than it is to affect the private behaviors of professionals. Thus, when confronted with a potential challenge to an institution’s external legitimacy, because it is seen as violating some prevailing norms in the broader society, it makes sense for a president to support the creation of public, yet “virtual” structures such as online training modules in sexual harassment. It makes sense because at the very least it is a way of publicly demonstrating that the organization is trying to do something to prevent behavior that violates society’s norms and/or laws.

Given the above, and given the premise that sexual harassment has been and continues to be a phenomenon that we need to address and reduce, if not eliminate, how can such change be effected?

This question leads to my third observation, which is that the change we seek requires an exercise of political will and an excising of cultural ills. With regard to the former, the policies and laws are in place to enable supervisors to act fairly yet aggressively when sexual harassment takes place. If we provide and cultivate the mechanisms to enable the reporting of what research suggests is an underreported behavior, then the structures are in place if academic (and other) administrators at various levels will systematically and appropriately be receptive to reports of harassment, forcefully pursue those cases, and perhaps most important of all, be evaluated by their own supervisors according to whether they do so. With regard to the excising of cultural ills, we must all take responsibility to embed in our daily lives a pattern of interaction that clarifies, monitors, and maintains boundaries of appropriate behavior. Among the cultural ills we need to address head on is not only sexual harassment (and a range of hostile and chilly climate issues), but also the academic cultural norm of not confronting the bad behavior of peers. An argument could be made that as a profession academics are much better at disputing colleagues’ scholarly positions and ideas than we are at sanctioning the behaviors of peers.

Deeply embedded in the consciousness of most academics in the U.S. is a sense of the profound value of and right to due process involving review by one’s faculty peers, and to academic freedom. Both of these are not only found in the AAUP report noted above (as well as in its 1994 report on “Due Process in Sexual Harassment Complaints”), they arguably can be traced to the AAUP’s important work over the past century to establish and defend these rights. The association’s report on sexual harassment identifies harassment (based on gender, or on race/ethnicity, or other considerations, to which I would add sexual orientation) as being unethical and as “inconsistent with the maintenance of academic freedom on campus.” It is our responsibility as a profession, to embed in our consciousness and in our daily practice a vigorous commitment to and promotion of a profession free from sexual (and other forms of) harassment. Fulfilling that responsibility (which runs much deeper than public but relatively superficial, virtual steps like requiring everyone to undergo training) will better enable us as a profession to benefit and learn from increasingly diverse populations of colleagues and students, thereby more fully realizing our potential as an academy and as a society.

Gary Rhoades
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Gary Rhoades is general secretary of the American Association of University Professors.

Helping Women in 100-Hour Couples

Educated women’s relationship with work today is located at the crosscurrents of some significant demographic and societal shifts. Perhaps the most important of these changes, the stunning educational achievements of women during the past 50 years, opened doors to a wide variety of interesting and well-paid careers, including academe. Women, and married women in particular, increasingly entered fields that had long been considered male bastions. Given the opportunity to prove themselves academically and professionally, educated women marched headlong into the workforce. After a century of increasing female labor force participation, then, many were surprised when at the turn of the 21st century increases in the labor force participation of women stalled -- and in some cases, such as college-educated mothers of infants, declined dramatically.

While women have always moved in and out of the labor force, these most recent movements seemed different. The press began to identify women who, after investing considerable time and money in their educations, decided to leave prestigious and highly-paid careers. While the actual number of college-educated women who quit their jobs to tend to their children constituted a small fraction of working women, the phenomenon nevertheless fueled a heated public debate.

Arguments about the size of the phenomenon aside, the important part of this story is the valuable lessons about work and family to be learned from those who walked away from careers, high powered and otherwise. Our research on these women revealed issues faced by all mothers who seek to combine paid work and childrearing. While our sample was broad and included women from many different fields, academics were well-represented in our study, and so our findings have direct relevance for academic employers.

As women’s commitment to the workforce rose dramatically in the late 1900s, at the same time, marital patterns began to shift. Paraphrasing Gloria Steinem, these highly educated women were becoming the men they wanted to marry. Instead of the professor marrying the department secretary, who then quit work to raise the family, now the professor is likely to marry another professor, or lawyer, or financial analyst. This dynamic gave rise to something we call “the 100-hour couple,” or a couple who works extremely long hours for a combined total of more than 100 hours per week. At the same time as these highly educated women began to compete for academic, professional and managerial positions (along with their husbands), we began to see a surge in the work hours expected by employers. The expectations of employers for complete commitment to work -- with many expecting employees to be available on a 24/7 basis -- has risen substantially over the past few decades, as technology has made it increasingly possible for workers to be reached at all hours.

These changes coincided with cultural shifts in expectations for parenthood. While fathers certainly spend more time with their children than ever before, they still do not spend nearly as much time as do mothers. Today's mothers describe an intensification of motherhood that can be felt in the pressure to provide “mama time” for their kids by arranging play dates, driving them to activities, monitoring piano practice and homework, etc.

Compounded by ongoing expectations for women to manage household responsibilities, these cultural and demographic shifts came together to create a perfect storm of social forces that has led women to reevaluate their relationship with work. Aside from the trends described above, certain structural characteristics of the workplace inhibit women’s ability to excel in their careers while creating the home life they desire. By addressing some of these structural barriers, employers can help to create a workplace that will attract and retain highly qualified women. The implications of our research for academic employers are myriad.

Most jobs and workplace norms, including those in academe, were structured originally for men who had wives devoted full-time to managing the home life. Typically designed by and for men, few careers offer alternatives to combine work and motherhood, without invoking a significant penalty in terms of advancement and pay. In the case of academe, for example, those stressful years leading up to tenure coincide exactly with a woman’s prime childbearing years. Instances of a part-time tenure track are extremely rare, and if a woman gives up a tenure track job to take time to attend to family matters, it is highly unlikely that she will be able to secure another tenure track job. These constraints lead many qualified women to give up a chance at tenure in return for a lifetime of adjunct positions. Creating an alternative model in which parents can reduce their time commitment at work while still remaining on the tenure track (albeit delayed) would be a major step that colleges and universities could take to retain highly qualified women.

Pregnancy, childbirth, and adoption can present major stumbling blocks, even to women who want to continue to work full-time. Institutions can take great strides to improve the lives of their female faculty and staff by creating and legitimizing pregnancy, childbearing, and adoption leave policies. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensured that colleges offer employees at least 12 weeks within a 12 month period for unpaid leave for birth, adoption, or to care for themselves or their family members. Many institutions have expanded their parenting leave policies beyond those required by the FMLA, by providing some weeks of paid leave or a course reduction. Others provide a semester off with reduced pay. Unfortunately, the nature of academic work does not lend itself easily to taking a six-week leave, if that leave cuts into the academic calendar year. However, it can be done, especially when administrators provide support in terms of hiring replacement faculty or creatively configuring course loads.

Perhaps more important, however, is that even when these types of policies, generous as they may seem, are “on the books,” women faculty may feel that they can’t avail themselves without making it seem that they are uncommitted to their careers. Indeed many female faculty engage directly in actions to minimize even the appearance of allowing family obligations to interfere with work commitments. Typical strategies to avoid bias include returning to work too soon after childbirth, not requesting reduced teaching loads when necessary, or even missing important events in their children’s lives. Ensuring that women are not punished for taking advantage of flexible work options, then, becomes a significant step that administrators can take to retain these women.

A dearth of high quality childcare presents another significant structural barrier to mothers’ employment. High quality, affordable childcare is often unattainable for many families. In some cases the care is available, but expensive. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example, a family can expect to pay $24,000 per year to enroll an infant and a toddler in a full-time, center-based child care facility. And even when quality care is available and affordable, the inflexibility of opening and closing times, with most child care centers charging by the minute for late pick-ups, do not mesh with employer demands outside of the traditional 9 to 5 workday.

Of course, care responsibilities are not limited to children. Elder care is becoming an increasingly important drain on workers, and will only worsen as the nation’s baby boomers age. And since women are having children at increasingly older ages, we can expect to see a rise in the numbers of workers who have child and elder care responsibilities at the same time.

Studies have shown that employers who assist their workers with child care see improvements in productivity and morale. By providing and/or subsidizing child care for their employees, universities and colleges can expect to see improved worker performance and reduced turnover and absenteeism. As an added bonus, employers do not pay employment taxes on benefits, and so institutions can reduce their tax burden by casting some of an employee’s compensation as a child care subsidy.

Some believe that the women who left their jobs did so because they were not successful, didn’t like the work, or lacked ambition, all ideas contradicted by our research. Many of the women we interviewed had been phenomenally successful and loved their careers, but they also felt that workplace structures limited their capacity both to raise their families and to continue in those careers. And this was particularly true for academics. One national study of highly educated women who had left their careers, found that only doctors seemed happier in their work than professors, with lawyers and M.B.A.'s being far more likely to report job dissatisfaction as a major reason for leaving their careers. It was not job satisfaction that drove the professors to leave their careers, but rather the structure of the job. Therefore, academic employers who are interested in recruiting and retaining talented women should direct their attention to making structural changes in their institutions, such as increasing flexibility in terms of the tenure clock, allowing women (and men) to reduce teaching loads and take parenting leaves as needed, as well as improving other benefits such as child care assistance.

Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy
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Karine Moe, professor of economics, and Dianna Shandy, associate professor of anthropology, teach at Macalester College. They are the authors of Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family, scheduled for release next month by the University of Georgia Press.

Avatar Rape

Avatar harassment and sexual assault remain controversial issues because institutions hosting virtual worlds are not accustomed to dealing with — or even discussing — digital forms of these distressing behaviors.

Harassment and assault are frequent infractions in virtual environs, including those frequented by students and professors. London journalist Tim Guest, author of Second Lives: a Journey Through Virtual Worlds, estimated that "about 6.5 percent of logged-in residents" have filed one or more abuse reports in Second Life. By the end of 2006, he writes, Linden Lab, creator of Second Life, "was receiving close to 2,000 abuse reports a day."

Current statistics are unavailable. But you can monitor the types of offenses and where they occurred in Second Life by accessing its community incident report chronicling the 25 most recent infractions and resulting penalties. On Dec. 28, 2009, five of the 25 infractions concerned "indecency: broadly offensive content or conduct"; three, sexual harassment; and two, intolerance. Most penalties included warnings with four one-day suspensions and one three-day suspension. (In fairness, Linden Lab has tried to crack down on these community infractions, hosting guides such as this to inform users about abuse and how to file reports about repeat offenders.)

Educational institutions with a presence in or that introduced students to virtual worlds might want to analyze the phenomenon of avatar rape, which presents a unique challenge to traditional jurisprudence. Rape is assumed to be both physical and geographical, as in a crime scene. Both dimensions are missing on the Web. Nevertheless, avatars are symbols of the self. As such, it behooves us to investigate:

  1. How avatar rape happens in virtual worlds.
  2. What concepts and theories apply when the act is neither physical nor geographical.
  3. Why the discussion is even necessary.

Before delving into avatar rape, I should note that such a discussion could have the unintended consequence of desensitizing the topic of real rape, whose ramifications, physical and psychological, are extreme. However, silence about virtual assault also has consequences in that many colleges and universities view virtual worlds as learning environments and may not know how to resolve issues when infractions occur.

Those unfamiliar with virtual worlds may wonder how avatar rape even happens. (You can access a short bibliography of online content devoted in part or in whole to issues involving virtual assault.) Typically, users encounter the act through three scenarios: You can lure others or be lured into it yourself. You can purchase or role-play it. You can “grief” it — a term that means to cause grief — or suffer it because of a griefer.

I became interested in avatar rape after I read an account in Gawker Media, titled “Second Life: Rape for Sale.” The post noted how users could indulge in rape fantasies (options: Rape victim, Get raped, or Hold victim) "for a trifling 220 Linden dollar things." Diana Allandale (not her real name) shared her experience with avatar rape in response to an online article, “How exactly does ‘virtual rape’ even occur in Second Life?” Her incident happened on a beach — a typical landscape as avatars interact with each other on "islands" — when another avatar invited her to go skinny-dipping.

"Being the newbie I was, I didn’t understand that the word ‘love’ hovering over the top meant ‘intercourse.’ "

When the rape began, she recalled, "my first thought was — ‘Hey! I didn’t consent to this!’ " Allandale rebuffed her attacker, dressed her avatar and left, "feeling ticked off that someone would take advantage of my newbie-ness, but having learned a little about human nature."

Allandale is no prude, by the way. She’s a high school teacher and author of erotic novels under the byline of Diana Hunter.

Then there are griefers who have haunted multiuser domains for years. In 1993, Julian Dibble published “A Rape in Cyberspace” in the Village Voice, narrating the deeds of one Mr. Bungle in the text-based virtual world, LambdaMOO:

They say he raped them that night. They say he did it with a cunning little doll, fashioned in their image and imbued with the power to make them do whatever he desired. They say that by manipulating the doll he forced them to have sex with him, and with each other, and to do horrible, brutal things to their own bodies.

Like many in academe, all I knew about avatar rape was what I had read about it. Then I witnessed an online sexual assault — and had a witness, too.

Tom Beell, a journalism professor at Iowa State, asked me about Second Life, knowing I had researched and written about it. He had never heard of the virtual world, so I opted to show rather than explain it to him using my office desktop.

I logged on and teleported to a beach. Within the first few minutes, we observed one nude male avatar violently rape another clothed male avatar drinking a pixelated martini at a boardwalk bar.

"What’s going on?" Beell asked. He looked startled. Thankfully, he couldn’t read the chat in the text bar of my monitor. In 30 years in academe, I have encountered homophobia in an inappropriate joke or offhand remark about lesbians, gays or transsexuals. Now I was reading hate speech so vile that I cannot summarize it here.

The incident occurred in 2007. I was thankful that audio was not available on my desktop at the time. If a student or staff member walked into my office and heard what I read that day on the chat bar, that person would have been exposed to hate speech in addition to avatar rape.

In researching the phenomenon, I sought viewpoints from directors of information technology and women’s studies at Big XII and other peer institutions. My research assistant Sam Berbano and I spent two months working with our Institutional Review Board, seeking approval to post our survey online.

Given the sensitive nature of the topic, the IRB asked us to warn survey participants about possible harm to their reputations should their responses be published. To lessen risk, the IRB also required signed copies of consent to anyone responding to our survey. So we opted for a snail mail version with a disclaimer: “A risk of participation in this survey may arise if some may find your opinions in the free-response section at variance with their own.”

My research assistant wondered how a survey measuring opinion about avatar rape could have more potential for harm than participation in a virtual environment in which such a digital act could occur.

As it turned out, only one respondent out of 43 provided comments for this essay. Jean Van Delinder at the time was chair of the Faculty Council at Oklahoma State University, where she is an associate professor of sociology. Van Delinder believed discussions like this raise awareness. "Since as a sociologist I view rape as an act of dominance and power," she states, "virtual reality would be a setting conducive to this type of attack and students need to be made aware of it."

Van Delinder also believed that "assault, even virtual assault, has a psychological and emotional component. It is more than just physical because the victim or target continuously replays in the mind what has happened and, in a sense, experiences it over and over again."

One of the best articles citing material affirming that view is “Virtual Rape,” published by Richard MacKinnon in the March 1997 issue of Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. In one section, MacKinnon introduces a feminist definition of rape that involves damage to the self that may be physical, emotional, psychological or material. "In this way," he writes, "rape becomes an assault not against a persona, but against the person behind the persona."

Tim Guest, author of Second Lives, believes sexual assault in virtual worlds is real and imaginary. "As the saying goes, the thought is written in water, and the deed is written in stone. Events that take place in virtual worlds seem to lie somewhere in between, a kind of water with memory."

He compares rape in a virtual realm to flashing in a real one.

Second Life advocates often note that avatar assault is easily avoided; you can teleport away, they say. Linden Lab recommends muting voice during verbal assaults. "Click! Problem solved," it states.

Walking away from hate speech on campus doesn't mean damage was circumvented or an epithet excusable or that charges cannot be filed against a person making slurs. Why should virtual reality be different when users assume liability for what happens there?

Guest agrees. Verbal assaults are just that, no matter where they happen. "The only difference being again no threat of violent escalation. Being able to teleport away is of little relevance, just another way to say you can't be trapped or hurt."

In most cases, he is correct. Many assume that crossover violence from virtual to real environs is unlikely because operators of avatars are in different locales. That is not always the case when people on residential campuses meet on an island operated by their residential institution.

The Lantern, campus newspaper at the Ohio State University, reported in a 2008 crime summary that a staff member contacted police about harassing phone calls at work. The harasser purportedly "knew the staff member through the Web site Second Life, and was under the impression they had been corresponding through the site for six months. … The staff member told the caller to stop calling after the caller said she had a package for the staff member and knew her address."

Guest believes cases like this may constitute harassment and recommends that institutions transfer any existing policies in student handbooks to the virtual world. "The only danger," he warns, "is to over-legislate the territory of sexuality, which needs a kind of animalistic disregard for propriety in order to thrive.

"Universities are probably not the place for this in SL, however."

Some legal counsels have told me if institutions support or fund virtual worlds, they also have an obligation to inform learners through curriculums or workshops about virtual rape, harassment and other assaults on the psyche.

Diana Allendale aka Diana Hunter, who wrote about being lured into avatar rape, reminded me that online harassment happens daily to students in all manner of new media venues, not just virtual worlds. Text messages insult, she says. MySpace comments intimidate. Institutions not only need policies to deal with the fallout of these incidents, she says, but also have to educate students on how to handle them.

"It's not a case of ‘if you are attacked,’ " she adds, "but ‘when you are attacked.’ "

Unlike harassing text messages or intimidating chat on social networks, the concern here involves terms of service that transfer liability to users — yet another reason that educators need to raise awareness about avatar rape and other forms of harassment in virtual worlds used as learning environments.

Michael Bugeja
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Michael Bugeja is author of the Oxford University Press books Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age and Living Ethics across Media Platforms. He directs the journalism school at Iowa State University.

Female Complaints

Fiction writers were not yet using the term “stream of consciousness” when Charlotte Perkins Gilman published “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in 1892. The phrase itself first appeared in print that same year, when William James used it while preparing an abridged edition of his Principles of Psychology (1890), where he’d coined a similar expression, “stream of thought.” I do not know if Gilman ever studied James’s work. It’s clear from Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz’s Wild Unrest, published by Oxford University Press, that Gilman was as voracious and au courant a reader as any American thinker of her day. And she certainly took exception to the unflattering portrait of the suffragists drawn by the philosopher’s brother Henry in The Bostonians, which she read as it was being serialized in 1885. (By 1898, Gilman’s internationally famous book Women and Economics made her not just one of the most prominent adherents of that movement, but arguably its most tough-minded public intellectual.)

Either way, Gilman had her own reasons for wanting to convey the flow of awareness in a piece of fiction. Her narrator is a woman who, following childbirth, has been prescribed bed rest and virtual isolation by her husband, who is a physician. Her sister-in-law keeps an eye on the new baby, and she also seems charged with task of making sure the narrator stays in her room. Even jotting down a few lines in her diary feels like a violation of her husband’s commands. With nothing else to occupy her attention, the narrator stares at the ugly, crumbling wallpaper in her room. Her attention sinks into the pattern of swirls. She begins to notice the image of a woman who is trapped in the design, but who is somehow able to sneak out into the real world without others noticing. Boredom and depression give way to psychosis.

“Every definite image in the mind is steeped and dyed in the free water that flows round it,” writes William James. “With it goes the sense of its relations, near and remote, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning sense of whither it is to lead.” The image Gilman’s narrator finds in the shabby yellow wallpaper is “steeped and dyed” in the well-meaning oppressiveness of her circumstances. Trapped in domesticity and then rendered completely passive, her stream of consciousness turns brackish. But it’s the social norms that are deranged, at least as much as her mind.

The value of Horowitz’s book -- subtitled “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Making of ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ ” -- is not that it reveals an autobiographical element in the story. The author herself made that clear in an essay from 1913. Gilman indicated that she had been subjected to a similar course of treatment following a period of postpartum depression. In 1887, a doctor gave her “solemn advice to ‘live as domestic a life as far as possible,’ to ‘have but two hours' intellectual life a day,’ and ‘never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again’ as long as I lived.” For a woman who had earned a modest living by painting and writing in her 20s, this must have felt like a kind of death sentence.

But Horowitz, a professor emerita of history at Smith College, has excavated parts of the record that go far beyond Gilman’s account of patriarchal malpractice. The doctor in question was one S. Weir Mitchell, then at the height of his fame; his reputation had been secured during the Civil War when he published a book on the neurological effect of gunshot wounds. He claimed great success in treating what were thought of then as female nervous conditions – though it’s not as if Mitchell made that sharp a distinction between mental health and mental illness with women. Horowitz quotes him commenting on “how near to disorder and how close to misfortune [a woman] is brought by the very peculiarities of her nature.”

So, yes, a sexist pig, pretty much. But Horowitz determines from the available evidence that the treatment Mitchell prescribed for his female patients wasn’t quite the nightmare of sensory deprivation portrayed in “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” While known for his “rest cure,” this didn't involve putting them under the command of their husbands. Indeed, he wanted his patients to recuperate away from their families, just to get them away from influences that might be wearing them down. Mitchell believed in the therapeutic effects of exercise, and he also encouraged women to open up to him about their unhappiness – a Yankee approximation of the “talking cure” later associated with Vienna.

The feeling of being trapped and helpless evoked by “The Yellow Wall-Paper” must be traced back to other sources, then. Horowitz suggests that the story embodies “its author’s experiences of love, ambition, and depression in her 20s.” They can be reconstructed from both Gilman’s own writings and the extensive diary kept by Charles Walter Stetson, her first husband. (They divorced in the 1890s.)

“In the late 19th century,” Horowitz writes, “a time when roughly 10 percent of American women did not marry, almost half of all women with a B.A. remained single.” While Gilman was largely self-educated, her situation was comparable. She took it as a given that having a career would mean forgoing wedlock. And vice versa, as far as Stetson was concerned. A painter of some promise if no great worldly success, he seems to have thought Charlotte ought to be content with serving as his own personal Pre-Raphaelite muse. Her desire to have any other career baffled him.

The possibility that these two people might make each other happy was not great. But that’s not to say that the husband, rather than the doctor, was the real villain. This isn’t a melodrama. Stetson wasn’t brutal or vicious, just obtuse. In Gilman's autobiography, notes Horowitz, she "lavished praise on her first husband," and seems to have directed any lingering rage at the figure of Dr. Mitchell.

Someone more imaginative and less conventional than Stetson might have made her a good spouse, though New England in the 1880s was not full of such men. Reading about their courtship is like watching a tragedy. You want to intervene and warn her, but it’s too late, of course. The feeling is especially painful as you watch Gilman persuade herself to ignore her own misgivings. The most extreme case comes when, after meeting Stetson and beginning to pitch woo with him, Gilman sat down to read Herbert Spencer’s opus The Data of Ethics. It was Spencer, not Darwin, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and he remained an immensely influential thinker well into the early 20th century. (From my perspective, here in the 21st, this is quite an enigma, since Spencer's writings often seem like something Thomas Friedman might produce after being hit on the head and deciding that he was Hegel.)

“The instincts and sentiments which so overpoweringly prompt marriage,” wrote Spencer, “and those which find their gratification in the fostering of offspring, work out an immense surplus of benefit after deducting all evils.” Gilman took this to heart, and in an unpublished poem she vowed to follow the Spencerian injunction to marry and so become "a perfect woman / worth the gladness superhuman." It did not work out that way. She ended up like the narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” -- a prisoner of social expectations that left no room for argument.

But Wild Unrest, by contrast, has a happy ending. Gilman managed to escape. She reinvented herself as a writer and speaker. And then, in 1900, she married a man (her cousin George Houghton Gilman) who, Horowitz says, “relished her professional attainments and growing reputation.” I’d like to think that she found in life what Spencer had advertised: “an immense surplus of benefit after deducting all evils.”

Scott McLemee
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After an E-Mail Goes Viral

Sometime in March, an e-mail went viral among University of Southern California undergraduates. The e-mail outlined a series of guidelines for tallying and scoring sexual conquests. While engaged in the expected language of misogyny, the e-mail was also rampant with racism, suggestions to incapacitate "targets" with alcohol, and most disturbingly of all, an assertion that "Non-consent and rape are two different things." As one of a string of Internet-related sex(ism) scandals that have emerged at major universities around the world, this e-mail proved a catalyst for considering the ways that such overtly troubling language reverberates in the university and how a university community can best balance a commitment to free speech against the need to curtail hate speech and sexual violence.

I am an assistant lecturer in the Writing Program at USC as well as a student in the English Ph.D. program, and so I felt doubly frustrated with the proliferation of such language, both on behalf of my students, and perhaps selfishly, for myself. The class I am currently teaching is affiliated with a course in Studies of Women and Men in Society (SWMS), so it was pertinent to the work we'd been doing, particularly as we had been having an extended conversation about the power and effectiveness of parody. We had been interested in the critical distance between an argument as it is literally presented and as it is meant to be understood as required for ironic understanding. If this e-mail, so clearly engaged with the language of hate, was written as a parody of the cartoonishly predatory college male, at what point can the content of it be considered dangerous, particularly considering the non-consent/rape passage? Couldn’t seeing the e-mail as hate speech displace the original purpose? How much does it matter what the author’s intention was, I asked, if a reader sees it as hate speech?

These questions seemed particularly pertinent considering the fact that the Daily Trojan’s report on the e-mail included nearly a dozen comments pointing out that it had been written as a joke and that those reacting negatively were taking it far too seriously. Perhaps much of the fixation on this point of the alleged humor was due to possible connections between the e-mail and the university’s powerful and popular Greek system. The email was initially attributed to Kappa Sigma fraternity members, but Intrafraternity Council investigations have now attributed authorship to a non-fraternity member who, in turn, has identified the origin of the email as from another university entirely. Elsewhere, students claiming to have been witness to the early drafting stages of the email attribute it to a named USC student. Despite it being the primary focus of much of the response to the e-mail, the authorship and origin of the email are ultimately of little consequence.

Instead of attributing blame for the e-mail to a particular fraternity or student, we should be talking about the power and influence of such rhetoric as it reverberates within a campus and in the greater public consciousness that defines a university’s reputation. This is a conversation we’ve had before and it’s one we will have again, but in making the conversation more public and more explicit in its goals, we at least allow it to develop. Indeed, troubling scandals pop up fairly consistently in national and international media, aided by the proliferating influence of the Internet.

A very similar series of e-mails circulated through University of Oxford’s Penguin Club, an all-male drinking club, in Spring 2010, though in this case, specific female students from Hertford College were named, ranked, and again referred to as "targets." All 15 members of the Penguin Club were suspended, though the administration did not acknowledge a connection between the suspension and the emails.

Of course, these actions have not been limited to men. In October 2010, a recent Duke alumna’s faux-thesis PowerPoint called An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics” went viral. Documenting specific sexual encounters with named (and pictured) Duke athletes, the PowerPoint received somewhat celebrated notoriety and landed its author with the threat of lawsuits.

In my class discussion regarding the USC e-mail, students’ reactions were varied, though almost consistently negative. Some were colorful ("It made me vomit in my mouth"); some had been sent the e-mail a full week before I had; and some were hearing of it for the first time and clustered around their laptops to read snippets of it to each other. The conversation was lively, and students who are normally quiet chimed in, including one who noted that she was not upset at all by the e-mail because she already knew this was exactly how college students talked all the time. While it is not entirely surprising to encounter an apathetic college freshman, the fact that her apathy stemmed from desensitization to racist, misogynistic, and, most disturbingly, rape-apologetic rhetoric was disheartening.

This apathy, more than the content of the e-mail, is indicative of a larger systemic problem. Universities are not unique in their isolation, and such language certainly proliferates in other communities, but never has it been more essential to have an open dialogue about the stakes of such rhetoric. The aftermath of such publicly sexist and racist language needs to include forums more open than an Internet comment board for conversation. Panel discussions with representatives from student groups, administration, and faculty would allow a space for conversation and would celebrate the intelligence and responsibility of the students implicated by association with those perpetuating such rhetoric. When a university administration fails to respond openly and promptly to a now-public comment invalidating consent as a defining difference between consensual sex and rape, even one that was written for a private audience, it becomes complicit in a culture that refuses to examine the complexities of rape and consent and, as a result, perpetuates silence and fear. The university policies and procedures, as well as local laws and avenues for reporting and responding to sexual assault, should be reiterated publicly and frequently, not just as instigated by such an event.

Of course the weight of response cannot be expected exclusively from the administration. Not only do students need to be actively responsible for a greater community of respect and communication, but also to recognize that such language of disrespect is not limited to these well-publicized moment -- and that when they are put to public scrutiny, they reflect as much on those who are completely uninvolved as on those who directly formulated the rhetoric, as well as reflecting on the educational environment of the university. By examining the responses I’ve witnessed, I do not mean to suggest that a university is responsible for policing its students’ language or holds the exclusive responsibility for responding, but that ignoring the opportunity to perform outreach at such moments is a disservice to its students, particularly when the size of the community discourages them from organizing independently.

Samantha Carrick
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Samantha Carrick is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of English at the University of Southern California.

The AAUW's Rationale

Once again, Richard Whitmire believes that he has the inside scoop on the American Association of University Women and other groups that won't join him in crying wolf on gender discrimination in college admissions. Apparently, we're keeping mum to keep our jobs or, as Whitmire puts it, "If women dominate colleges, what's the point of having an AAUW?"

Color us unimpressed with this attempt at mind reading. AAUW would be the first organization to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and throw a rockin' party if women and girls ever achieved true equity in education and the workforce. And while we celebrate the many gains that women and girls have made in education in recent decades, we also know that not all girls and boys are well served by our schools -- a fact that drives our work. These positions are not contradictory.

But are colleges really discriminating in their admissions processes? The numbers say no. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2003 and 2008 women were admitted to college at a rate that is, on average, two percentage points higher than that for men.

These facts don't look anything like an admissions-gap crisis to us, in part because, despite the fact that women now make up roughly 50 percent of the workforce, men continue to outearn them. Of course, AAUW's ambivalence toward the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' study on gender and college admissions goes much deeper than any statistic or priority list. Whitmire notes that some have questioned the intentions of this study, calling it a possible Title IX Trojan horse. On this we can agree.

That horse is filled with assumptions about what might cause this imaginary bias in college admissions. Title IX naysayers, who supported the study proposed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, believe college men aren't given enough athletic opportunities. Their crabbed logic goes like this: the potential study's results would support changing the rules governing Title IX in athletics. Then colleges could justify having more sports programs for men, who would presumably be lining up at the gate to take calculus just so they could play basketball. And women haven't proven they like sports, so fewer of them might apply and, therefore, fewer sports opportunities would be needed. Or something like that. Confused? So are we.

Some key facts from AAUW's report "Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education" also fly in the face of Whitmire's gloom and doom. A gender gap in college attendance is quite small among those entering college right out of high school, somewhere around half a percent. Yes, women have made more rapid gains than men in earning college degrees, but the disparity in demographics comes in later, among the older cohort of students, where women outnumber men by a ratio of almost two to one.

We wouldn't be the American Association of University Women if we weren't interested in college issues. That's why we continue to fight for college students and athletes alike and the protections afforded to them by Title IX, as well as to provide women with leadership programs to help them exceed during and after college. Sexism doesn't end once women get into college, and a college degree does not guarantee a discrimination-free career. As long as campuses and workplaces fall short of equity, AAUW will be there to cry foul -- and to do something about it.

Lisa M. Maatz
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Lisa M. Maatz is director of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women.

Mothers in Higher Education

As Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself feeling thankful for the many gifts I have as a working mother in academe: two healthy daughters who teach me lessons in patience and learning on a daily basis; a wonderful partner who supports my career and takes on his share of responsibilities; and a highly coveted tenure-track job at a prestigious liberal arts institution.

You could say that I am living the dream that my own mother had for me. While I was growing up in the 1970s, she told me that, with hard work and perseverance, I could be or do anything that I wanted. As we know, this was not true for her generation of young women; they were expected to marry young, stay home, or work a traditionally “female” job, if the family needed the extra money. Employers did not offer flex time, nursing rooms or telecommuting to help women succeed as working mothers. But women then could see what would make work environments better places for women, and by extension for their families, and after decades of demands, laws passed and workplaces changed.

So, here I am -- my generation’s version of a “supermom,” complete with an employer that offers a family-friendly support structure. My academic department mentors me and works around the hours I need to be home with my family. The provost hosts dinners where families are invited and child care is provided. My tenure clock was stopped for one year when my daughter was born, and the college has an arrangement with affordable day care close to campus.

Still, throughout higher education a gender gap persists, and like the generation before me, I can see a vision for an even better work environment for all parents. As most working mothers will tell you, when we look beyond the appearance of the so-called “supermom,” there are some serious doubts about how far the feminist movement actually went. I am acutely aware that every minute I spend researching and writing is a minute away from my young children. On the other hand, I fret that every faculty and committee meeting I miss because my kids are sick is an invisible strike on my tenure packet. I dash from meeting to teaching to grading to home. And I often ask myself: Is all of this scurrying worth it? What will I tell my own daughters when I talk to them about their professional options? Can they have it all working in higher education?

I contend that the answer is yes, but only if several changes take place.

1. Eliminate the university system’s glass ceiling: Though at least 50 percent of Ph.D. recipients in the United States are female, fewer women than men are employed in the top of the academic hierarchy. A 2008 report by the American Council of Education stated that only 37 percent of chief academic officers are female.

Women are also paid less and are less likely to gain tenure. AAUP Director of Research and Public Policy John Curtis reports in his article, “Persistent Inequity: Gender and Academic Employment,that, “After four decades of efforts to fully involve women in the academic workforce, only 42% of all full-time faculty are women.” Fifty-five percent of all part-time faculty are female; fewer full-time women faculty have tenure (34.6 percent) than men (48.6 percent). What’s more, only 28 percent of full professors are female. As these women age, they will live on less and have fewer health care options than the male students with whom they studied in graduate school.

If a woman wants to have children, things will get even harder. A study that looked at a National Science Foundation survey of doctoral recipients found that women with children were 38 percent less likely than men to achieve tenure. At the same time, women with children are the majority in non-tenure-track and part-time positions, perhaps because women think the demands of raising young children preclude full-time employment. It is hardly surprising that female professors are less likely to have children than are male professors.

The reasons for these outcomes are many and complex. To understand the factors and to get at a real solution, we need to start a real and sustained conversation about discrimination, diversity and gender stereotypes in the profession. We must confront what is wrong and develop new industry guidelines for judging and tracking performance.

The benefactors of an equitable and flexible promotion system will be not only future female professors, but also future students and faculty of both genders. All will enjoy a more engaging and dynamic environment of higher learning, because the best minds — men and women alike — will have equal access to tenure and promotion.

2. Develop better family-leave policies as the standard in higher education. Whether a faculty member gives birth or adopts a child, it is a joyous but hectic occasion. It is only natural and humane for family life to come first. Yet family-leave policies vary widely among institutions of higher learning, and recent research notes that when leave policies do exist, they are often under-used. This is partly because policies can be confusing and women fear being “mommy-tracked.”

The Committee on the Status of Women in Political Science argues that parental leave should mirror any and all benefits given to people facing illness and injury and that “[t]here should be little disagreement about this leave being paid leave.” These policies would be available to both mothers and fathers, though women would perhaps benefit more as research shows that women on average bear a greater share of child rearing and household responsibilities.

In addition to extending the tenure clock, many institutions, reduce teaching loads and give a professor additional, or “modified” administrative duties such as extra student advising or conference planning, the semester after giving birth. But this particular policy — i.e., reduced teaching expectations and added service requirements — is not always effective. Anecdotal sources suggest that these policies might exist to prevent allegations that women are getting special treatment. What is less understood is that these duties can be burdensome and overwhelming during a period that is already exhausting and stressful. If they are absolutely needed, policies on modified duties need to be flexible, equitable and understood by senior administrators, as well as by deans, department chairs and faculty members to avoid mixed signals. If we want women to succeed in this profession, it is essential to continuously examine and re-examine these policies.

3. Offer on-site accessible and affordable child care. Few studies exist about child care availability to the professoriate. A 2008 report by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education states that after visiting six top universities, “One looming issue on all campuses we visited was child care — the lack of affordable, quality, on-campus child care. Many want it; few have it.” In addition, day care centers that are university supported may have long wait lists and are, therefore, not universally available to all faculty members at the institution.

I think this partly explains why many women decide to take lower-paying, more-flexible jobs in the short term. What we fail to recognize is that, in the long term, women will probably not make up those lost years in publishing and scholarship. Colleges and universities must ensure that all professors and staff in higher education know that their children are in good hands while they are working. To attract and maintain the top professors, universities must commit even more funds to high-quality and affordable day care on site.

As Mother’s Day approaches, working mothers are thankful for the progress that previous generations have made on our behalf. But we must challenge the status quo and address the gender gap in higher education. We owe it to the next generation of families.

Stephanie McNulty
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Stephanie McNulty is assistant professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College and author of Voice and Vote: Decentralization and Participation in Post-Fujimori Peru, forthcoming from Stanford University Press.

Women, Minorities and the Sciences

Smart Title: 
Study finds National Science Foundation programs have made a difference, but urges focus on community colleges.


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