Women in the news, women out of the news

This week I read two articles that prominently featured women. The first was published in the FedCan blog, the second was published in the National Post. Despite their vastly differing focuses and intended audiences I found myself making connections across the two articles, and friends, I find those connections worrying.

The FedCan article is entitled “Status of Women: Gender and the Ivory Ceiling of Service Work in the Academy.” Published as a part of CFHSS’s Equity Issues Portfolio on the Status of Women in the Disciplines and in the Academy the article considers reasons why tenured women are not seeking promotion to full professorship. “Service work continues to pull women associate professors away from research,” write the authors, “what can be done?” 

I won’t rehearse the article in its entirety as you can read it for yourself. Suffice to say that the authors undertook a survey of (American) associate professors and found that 

“On average, male associate professors spent 37 percent of their time on research, while women associate professors spent 25 percent of their time on research. While women associate professors spent 27 percent of their time on service, men spent 20 percent of their time on service. This dramatic difference suggests that men focus more on their research, which earns greater prestige and potential for promotion. One associate professor survey respondent reported difficulty balancing research, teaching, and service, commenting, ‘In reality, only research matters when it comes to tenure and promotion, but service and teaching require lots of time.'”

The results chimed with a brilliant paper I saw Neta Gordon give at ACCUTE this spring on a panel called “The Corporate University.” Gordon posed a direct question that–truth be told–I wish the authors of this article had asked. Might the value of service actually be devalued, she asked. In other words, and to use the statistics from the FedCan article, now that there are more women than ever earning PhDs, are ‘high visibility service roles’ actually less prestigious than they once were? 

The second article I read this week featured women in abstentia. Much of my own research is on Canadian poetry and poetics, and I’m especially interested in acts of public poetics. So I was naturally disappointed that there was no way I could manage flying across the country to attend outgoing Vancouver Poet Laureate Brad Cran and his partner Gillian Jerome‘s brilliant V125. I kept track of goings on via Twitter and was pleased to see a write up of the event in a national newspaper…until I read it. With all due respect to the very fine writers mentioned in the article I have to ask: where are the women? Some of the most innovative, socially oriented, engaged poetics in Canada are being undertaken by women. And yet. No mention of a woman in this review. Not one. Where was Sachiko Murakami? Christine Leclerc? Nikki Reimer? Sue Goyette? Larissa Lai? Sonnet L’Abbé? Oana Avasilichioaei? I could go on.

Why the myopia? Why the disproportionate representation? 

2 thoughts on “Women in the news, women out of the news

  1. Caution: Hobby horse riding is imminent.

    I'm not sure “high visibility service jobs” have ever been very valuable in the profession, at least ones normally available to associate profs. It's one thing to be Dean or VP Academic—Assoc Dean or Chair of a small department is something else.

    But you're absolutely right that this stuff should count. Why should someone who gets stuck in the Chair as an Assoc not get promoted when the colleagues hired at the same time, who are producing no better scholarship only more of it, get promoted? Being Chair should not be sufficient for promotion, but it shouldn't prevent it either.

    But Humanities and Social Sciences need to think about the criteria for full professor more generally. I think the typical applications of promotion criteria are part of what keeps both women and SSHRC disciplines out of senior ranks in the universities.

    People in STEM get their PhDs younger, and get promoted to full, on average, in fewer years than people in the SSHRC disciplines. Hence there are lots of them who are Chairs and full professors at a relatively young age, which makes them candidates for Dean jobs, etc. If you've ever been on a committee to pick a VP or a university president, it's amazing how many of the “rising star” candidates come from STEM disciplines. The ones from the other half of campus are all dismissible either as “short on serious admin experience”, or with a “took a long time to get promoted … is s/he really a serious scholar?” remark, or by asking “would s/he have the energy” (i.e., too old by the time they have the relevant experience). And … where are the women faculty on campus?

    One step forward is for senior scholars to take service (and teaching load) into account when writing letters for promotion, tenure, etc. The research still needs to be good enough, but you can't expect someone teaching five courses at Regional U to publish as though s/he had a Harvard teaching load. And we should discuss these things at Faculty Councils, and figure out what people think on such issues before we elect them to tenure and promotion committees.


  2. I completely agree with ddvd. I have also heard complaints from faculty regarding the hiring of STEM people as Deans of Humanities. I think that there should be more of an effort to promote Admin for specific branches of disciplines from within because otherwise you have someone in a position of authority over major decisions who has very little understanding of Humanities disciplines. Often they attempt to apply STEM criteria, policies, and methods of evaluation, when making decisions about funding, etc . . . I have met a few high ranking University Administrators who have been pushed out because of funding conflicts and grade redistribution schemes pushed by Admin from non-related disciplines. Sorry I can't be more specific 😦


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