In a recent study published in Academe, my collaborators Jennifer Lundquist, Elissa Holmes, and Stephanie Agiomavritis and I discussed the difficulties women faculty have in reaching full professorship. While a higher proportion of women faculty earn tenure than twenty years ago, many women have not been moving up to full professorships after receiving tenure. This has been confirmed in studies of particular disciplines (as in the 2006 report of the Modern Language Association, Standing Still: The Associate Professor Survey), as well as in national studies of all disciplines such as Laura Perna’s analysis of National Study of Postsecondary Faculty.
Our study shows that women at our university take longer to be promoted, and that women are more likely to have taken on major leadership roles in the university and department as associate professors (three-quarters of women associates, compared with half of men associates). While men faculty (and perhaps their deans and chairs) tend to protect men’s research time from such work, women faculty have been more engaged in academic leadership – which is less valued and compensated. Such work may be viewed as “caring” for the university. Developing and maintaining undergraduate programs – at least at our research-intensive university – appears to be the most devalued leadership task, and one that may take faculty away from the research that helps them win promotion. Caring work – for undergraduates – seems to disadvantage women faculty the most in regards to promotion (men who served as undergraduate director did not experience the same effect on their time to promotion).
In our interviews with faculty, both men and women faculty expressed a preference for spending time on research, as well as frustration at how service is distributed. Caring about the department, university, students, etc. – simply leads to more work, and less likelihood of promotion – creating a whole class of faculty who resent their colleagues and feel burned out. Yet, these effects are particularly gendered, with women more likely to be investing in academic leadership at lower ranks. Indeed, based on a survey of work-time we did, we find that associate women spend much more time on service than men – with associate men spending much more time on research than women. It’s no surprise, then, that women are moving more slowly toward promotion.
How do we change these processes? First, we ensure that “carework” in the form of academic leadership is counted, valued, and recognized by colleagues and upper administrators in regard to merit, tenure, and promotion. At the same time, deans and department chairs need to ensure that all faculty pull their weight, making sure that women do not disportionately carry their departments’ service burdens. Care should count in any setting.