No Exit


Although my university expects to drag out our working relationship for another 18 months, it is clear to me that I am ready, eager in fact, to wrap things up and move on.  When classes resumed last week I was still on the fence about whether or not I wanted to teach next year.  Finding myself absent-mindedly cleaning out my desk was a pretty good sign that I am ready to depart.  Another round of aggressive action from my chair pushed me off the fence.  I am ready to get out.

There are lots of little decisions associated with this: What will the kids’ school and childcare schedules look like next year?  How can we save enough to mitigate my loss of income?  How much should I be looking at jobs right now?  What things do I truly want to focus on next year during my year off?  What email should I use for work correspondence from now on?  Is it ethical to renew with the American Sociological Association as unemployed because the dues are so very expensive and I will be unemployed soon but I’m not quite now?  These are just the ones on the top of my mind.  More will occur soon; I know.

There is another decision that feels really important to me right now though.  How should I communicate my decision to my department and the University?  At the two extremes: I can either make a fuss by pointing out all the structural and cultural forces that I think inhibited me from getting tenure or I can quietly and meekly exit.  There are real merits to both approaches.

The “make a fuss” approach is not really about my tenure case.  I am not appealing the decision.  But, there are a number of structural issues starting with things the university could have done when I was hired and continuing clearly throughout my time there.  By bringing these things up by writing a formal resignation letter to my chair, deans and provost, I potentially improve the university environment for future women in similar circumstances (ie: mothers of young children).

Because, this really is a generalizable problem.  For women, having young children is associated with much lower rates of getting tenure track jobs and getting tenure.  And, there are lots of things that happened to me in the past bunch of years that ended up sinking my tenure case.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I decided to read Do Babies Matter: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower by Mary Ann Mason, Marc Goulden and Nicholas Wolfinger (Rutgers University Press 2013), it’s been both validating and heartbreaking.  The authors show how at every major turn, for women, family and career are incompatible in academia.  They found that approximately 50% of assistant professors do not get tenure (page 48) and that women are less likely to get tenure than men.  This issue is particularly a problem in the sciences (including social sciences, they note).  Specifically, they write:

 “Having young children dramatically reduces the likelihood of tenure for female faculty members in the sciences [including social sciences].  A female scientist with a preschool-age child (in other words, a child under six years old) is 27 percent less likely to get tenure compared with a man who has a small child.  If that same women does not have a young child, she is only 11 percent less likely to get tenure than is a male scientist.”  (Mason, Goulden, Wolfinger 2013:49).

Well, there you go.  I have two children.  And, everyone knows (ie: google “two kids harder than one” and watch the hits tally up!) that it is exponentially harder to have two kids than one.  That must mean that I was exponentially less likely to get tenure…  like 729% maybe 😉

Seriously though, the stories and reasons the authors list all resonated with me: the difficulty of moving to a new city with a newborn baby, the difficulty finding day care for that baby, the difficulty of travelling to conferences with kids, the lack of childcare at those conferences, discrimination, being perceived as being on the “mommy track”, resentment by colleagues for getting breaks, punishment to make up for the “breaks” I previously received.  (Have I mentioned that I’m doing my fourth new prep in four semesters right now?)

Without engaging in recriminations, this is the point that my “make a fuss” exit would address.  I would write a resignation letter that educated them about the “baby gap”.  I would tell them that:

  • “Women who have at least one child in the household early in their career are 24% less likely in the sciences and 20% less likely in the social sciences and humanities to achieve tenure than men who have early babies;”  (Mason et al. )
  • “Overall, the majority of women who achieve tenure have no children in the household at any point in time after the Ph.D.” (ibid)
  • “Women who have early babies are more likely than others to become a ‘neck problem’, i.e. part of the non-tenured academic second tier (lecturers, etc.).” (ibid).

And, I would list some of the practices that experts recommend to improve this problem, focusing heavily on what would have helped me.  For example:

  • Faculty support groups for family issues;
  • Guaranteed child-care spots for new faculty at the university day care center;
  • Information about day cares and schools distributed automatically to help us track down care right from the start;
  • Part-time track with re-entry rights;
  • Communicating with me to find out when would be good times for teaching and meeting hours so I could better accommodate childcare needs;
  • Funding to support bringing my child with me for conferences or work travel;
  • A place to store breastmilk!

Then I would say goodbye and farewell.  It would feel so good to actually speak up for myself and address these issues! Something that I have done very little of in the past few years.

The downside of this guns blazing approach?  All that blazing will certainly burn some bridges and would undermine my chances of getting a future job in academia.  My chair will definitely NOT write me a letter if I take that approach.

Sadly, it would be so much easier, safer and more peaceful to embrace a very different exit strategy.  One where I simply say that “I have decided against teaching there next year.  Thank you for everything.  Good bye.”

Easier and safer but not quite right.



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