Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Women in Academia

France A. Cordova, an astrophysicist, will become Purdue University's next president and the first woman in that role. In general, gender equality seems attainable in academia, given that half of the Ivy League presidents now are women. But a new article in Ms. Magazine warns us of premature congratulations about this:

Similarly, between 1986 and 2006, the percentage of women presidents has risen from 10 percent to 23 percent. Yet women continue to advance more slowly up faculty ranks and earn less salary than their male colleagues. Even though more women are tenured today, the tenure gender gap has not narrowed in the last 25 years.

Furthermore, despite high-profile appointees such as Faust, women are still disproportionately represented in lower ranks and at less prestigious institutions. Although nearly 29 percent of associate-degree-granting colleges were headed by women, less than 14 percent of doctorate-granting institutions have women presidents. And while there has been progress in closing the salary gap between men and women when new academic appointments are made, within five years of hire the equity begins to evaporate.

There have also been recent external and internal policy changes in academia that have not served women well. According to Martin Finkelstein, professor of education at Seton Hall University, only one out of four new faculty appointments in 2001 was to a full-time tenure-track position. White women, and men and women of color, are now over-represented in the new category of non-tenure-line positions and, as before, in part-time faculty positions. The constant assault on affirmative action has also erased or crippled one of the single most effective policies that increased women's access to equal opportunities.

Then there is the baby gap: The time for the most desperate struggles for getting tenured and the time for having your babies overlap almost completely. This hurts women who have "early" babies:

One of the explanations for the gender differential in academic careers may be the "Baby Gap," according to researchers Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden at the University of California, Berkeley. Their investigations have shown that having children, especially "early babies," is a disadvantage for women's professional careers—but an advantage for men's. Women with babies are 29 percent less likely than women without to enter a tenure- track position, and married women are 20 percent less likely than single women to do so.

I once read an assessment about the second wave of feminism as having been fairly successful in opening the public sector to some women, at least, but having been totally unsuccessful in affecting the gendered division of labor at home. This quote is another piece of evidence supporting that assessment.