Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Assistant Faculty Life and Kids

Readers, please welcome Anthony Garcia, a guest author for today's Communication and Higher Education blog! Anthony offers an exploration of children and life in academia in his post, "Assistant Faculty Life and Kids." Anthony, MA Literature, explores research emphasizing contemporary Native American fiction, gender studies, and American culture. We all can benefit from this much-needed exploration into families and tenure-track life. See also the earlier post: "Gen-X women in the academy."

Assistant Faculty Life and Kids

Not only is the job market at academic institutions extremely competitive, but the pressure and stress that assistant professors undergo in their push toward tenure can put their lives on hold. Although embarking on relationships like marriage and family is not out of the question, the schedule of an assistant faculty member juggling service, teaching responsibilities, and scholarly pursuits can place a lot of stress on a relationship. Women especially often find that having and raising children can be an impediment to achieving tenure.

The life of a faculty member straight out of a graduate program is full of pressures and stresses. First, tenure-track requires time-consuming research that has or will lead to multiple scholarly publications, possibly even a published book. Second, service on multiple committees and as a department representative can also demand several hours a week. Additionally, these scholarly writing and service requirements are placed on the shoulders of a fairly new assistant professor teaching a full load of classes. As a result, assistant professors can easily find themselves working at least 60 or 70 hours a week.

So how do children fit into this equation?
Gregory Semenza, author of Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century, notes that women who go directly to graduate school after college find themselves on the tenure-track between the ages of 30 and 35. Consequently, women whose ideal situation is to wait until earning tenure to have a family might feel pressure to have children before age 35, the year in which the healthcare community begins to view the pregnancy as high risk. He concludes that the pressure of having and raising children may be one reason that women make up a minority of the professoriate.

Taking this idea further, Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel indicate in their article, "Fear Factor: How Safe is it toMake Time for Family," that in the past faculty members, particularly women, chose to forgo having children in favor of their careers, but now more and more assistant professors are attempting to have both. Ward and Wolf-Wendel have found that academic institutions generally provide little support, whether in time, money, or personnel, to women endeavoring to have children. Many institutions do not offer faculty members paid leave for childbirth, and at those that do, women often feel that taking leave would hurt their careers. Some schools, aware of this issue, have provided a way for women to take a year of unpaid leave in which the tenure clock stops. And while this stop-clock offers women a pseudo-answer to the dilemma of having children while pursuing full professorship, many still struggle to balance the time and pressure of raising a family and furthering their careers.

But these pressures also extend to male assistant professors who have children. Because of the competitive nature of academia, many find it difficult to balance time with family and time spent on scholarly pursuits. Children can throw a wrench in even the most organized of schedules by falling sick, going on a field trip, or simply asking for your support at a sporting event, and parents who want to be involved in their children's lives must often sacrifice some aspect of their work. As a result, both mothers and fathers can face stress and exhaustion in their quest to further their careers while raising children.

It has been noted that those who enter academia later in life, with older children, have an easier time pursuing tenure since their children's ages do not require as much time as infants and toddlers might. On the other hand, these same professors often struggle early on to put themselves through graduate school while raising young children, and many find their job prospects diminished because their careers hold less potential than their younger PhD-holding counterparts.

More and more, academic institutions are recognizing both the gender gap of tenure-track faculty and how this gender gap represents the difficulty that having children poses for assistant professors. As more thought is being given to how universities can hire men and women as full professors without compromising their family lives, policy advancements are slowly being made. These advancements though, slow as they are to appear, still leave the majority of assistant professors struggling with the demands that their children and careers place on them.

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