change · equity · faculty evaluation · kid stuff

Income inequalities

Back at the beginning of February, my least favourite newspaper reported on UBC’s decision to give all tenure-track, female faculty members a 2 per cent raise. Part of the rationale in extending the raise to all women, and not only those identified as underpaid, was to streamline what would have been an otherwise time-consuming process of identifying individual cases of income inequity. It also, intentionally, makes a strong statement about persistent gender income inequity in academia. By applying the increase across the board, UBC effectively said that this is an issue about gender and about women, rather than reducing it to individual circumstance. 

This is an important statement to make given that the article appeared just days before a report published by the Conference Board of Canada, looking at “How Canada Performs: Society.” While Canada achieved a B grade overall, one of the key areas with only a C grade was the gender income gap. Here Canada ranked 11th out of 17 “peer countries,” and, although the gender income gap has narrowed in recent years, the C grade has remained steady since the 1980s. 

What was most striking to my eye in the Conference Board report was the chart near the bottom of the page detailing relative earnings of women and men by occupation. The data for this chart comes from 2010 and the discussion notes, “Unfortunately, the 2011 census did not gather data on income differences by gender and education.” I assume that this was a casualty of the Harper government’s decision to do away with the long-form census in 2011 but I don’t know this for certain (and I would welcome being corrected or confirmed in the comments). Such a move would be entirely consistent with the Harper government’s track record on gender and equality. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to separate out academic from other occupations, given the manner in which the information is presented. Nevertheless, I assume that professors come under the category of that includes education, placing us in a category that earns, on average, 70% of our male counterparts (again, please correct me if I’m wrong). 

Certainly, there is only so much that one can do with the data as presented here. For instance, I’m not going to assume that I’m only earning 70% of what the men in my department, at my rank, earn. That said this report does demonstrate that for as much as I would like to think that I am being paid equitably relative to my male counterparts, I might not be. More importantly, other women certainly are not. So where do the persistent gender-based income inequities come from? 

In my recent experience, it is abundantly clear to me the role that childbirth and parental leave (as they are termed here) directly affect women’s income at the U of A. I would very much welcome other examples because it doesn’t help to simply equate women’s experiences in academia with the choice of having children (women do not equal mothers). Obviously, gender inequity is not simply about this subcategory of women. 

Nevertheless, how does childbirth and parental leave translate into gender-based income inequality at the UofA? If you are a tenure-track faculty member, each year you have to submit a report detailing your research, teaching, and service work from July 1 to June 30. This annual report is then used as the basis to determine how much of a merit increase you will receive, over and above any across the board increases negotiated by our faculty association. I’m going to spare you the incredibly boring details of our increment process, suffice it to say that it’s a 3 point scale (but as far as I know, no one ever gets a 3), if you get 0s or a string of 0.5s, you’re in trouble, especially pre-tenure. So you aim for 1s or higher. 

Merit increments that you get early on in your career have the longest potential impact, therefore for women who go on childbirth leave (most of whom do so earlier in their career) if their merit increment in that year suffers, their salary over their career suffers with it. And it makes a difference when you are a woman giving birth. The period for which your pay is topped up is 15 weeks for childbirth leave, 10 weeks for parental leave. Each parent is eligible for parental leave and each parent is also eligible for additional unpaid leave (up to one year total) although in this time you only get EI, which if you have a mortgage or another child in daycare, is a recipe for financial disaster. But what all this means is that women giving birth to children, unsurprisingly, go on more leave than their partners and as a result are more likely to not teach in any given year, have limited service commitments (because much service work in a department or university is a year or longer commitment), or have less research output. Meaning they have less to report on come year-end. 

One response to this, still frequently articulated (as was seen in responses to the recent federal court decision regarding childcare) is that women and men who have children are making a choice, and if this choice means that they are not producing as much, then that is the penalty they pay for the choice that they have made. But this response fails to take into account that these people are still working, just as hard as their colleagues, for the portion of the year when they are not on leave. Yet, it becomes more difficult to quantify this work in the absence of clear service and teaching commitments. People bearing children should not be penalized for the fact that service and teaching commitments operate on a schedule that is rarely accommodating to the uncertainties of pregnancy and childbirth (e.g. premature babies, medical emergencies). I was permanently removed (without consultation) from a service position when I went on leave after the birth of my son, rather than simply having a colleague stand in for me to deal with the handful of responsibilities that had to be completed in the months I was on leave. I have colleagues who have been awarded 0 or 0.5 for work completed in a year when they were on maternity or parental leave, due in part to limited teaching or service work in the reporting years. 

There are ways in which our evaluation process attempts to accommodate this issue. If you are on leave for less than 6 months of the year, your performance for the year as a whole is extrapolated based on what you did in the time you were working. It’s crude math, but if you got x amount of work done in 6 months, that work is multiplied by 2 to provide a basis for evaluation for the year as a whole. This means of accommodating the issues created by leave does work for some women. 

But – and here’s one rub – if you’re on leave for more than 6 months in any given reporting year, there is no formula for extrapolation. In this case, you’re conceivably better off slacking off at work for the time that you are back, because there’s little to no assurance that you will be appropriately rewarded for what effort you do put in. Ultimately though, each year when you are awarded a 0 or a 0.5 translates into thousands of dollars less income then if you were awarded a 1, in the course of a 30-year career. 

And here’s the other rub: this problem has been recognized at the UofA for quite some time and a solution has even been proposed and apparently been approved by various levels of governance at the university (although not those that ultimately matter). That solution, from what I understand, is to give anyone on childbirth leave an automatic 1. Certainly, it would not solve the problem of gender-based income inequality in academia, as bearing children is not the only factor at work. But it is one factor at work. And an automatic 1 in our reporting system to recognize the inequities produced by childbirth leave is no more blunt an instrument than a 2% raise for all female faculty members.
academy · administration · change · equity

Taking care of business

Process is key to issues of equity in the academy. It should be obvious, but I nevertheless feel compelled to state the point because it is remarkable how, time and again, since I have been a graduate student and now a faculty member, process (or the lack thereof) has been a recurrent problem.

And it’s not simply process that is key to equity, but clear, well-communicated, effective, and readily adaptable processes. They are tools for change.

One example: a couple years ago, my department chair, who was new to the position and to our institution, asked if we, as a department, could draft a document that laid out some of the governance structures within the department. I piped up that I thought this was a great idea because I too was relatively new and I figured that making such a document available would help new faculty understand how things worked and how to get things done. To my surprise, a number of my senior colleagues then expressed strong opposition to this suggestion on the grounds that such a document would ossify procedures that were at that time relatively flexible and only create unnecessary bureaucracy.

This point about unnecessary bureaucracy was one that I had heard more than once before, and it twigged that there was something more at play here than keeping our work lives “simple.” I had previously been accused of trying to create unnecessary bureaucracy by seeking clearly laid out governance rules when part of an initiative that was required, as part of its larger responsibilities, to do just that, establish a governance structure. (Funny that!)

Now I get that a governance structure can essentially be a non-governing structure. That for governance you can say, for example, that everything will be at the director’s/chair’s’/board’s discretion. That is to me essentially a non-governing governance structure, or perhaps more simply a non-democratic governance structure, and therefore one that I don’t want to participate in creating or then have to be involved with after the fact.

The argument against process on the grounds that it creates “unnecessary bureaucracy” is remarkably effective in academia. Many of us, not in administrative positions, struggle to keep our service responsibilities at an appropriate level (i.e. at 20% of our work time, in the typical 40:40:20 model). Referring to process as “unnecessary bureaucracy” communicates the notion that not only are you wasting your time in constructing or setting out procedures, but that in doing so you are further burdening your colleagues with new responsibilities they neither want or need. A pretty heavy charge.

Plus, we all hate bureaucracy, don’t we? Two things I don’t like: (1) filling out long, detailed paperwork and (2) being told that something is not possible because it goes against a policy that was not obvious or clearly articulated to me.

But that said, I’m also fine with rules. Part of it is a personality thing. My dad is very much a rule person. When my sister and I were teenagers, she found out that you could use a UK 10 pence piece in parking metres and it would mistake it for a loonie. We were going out to dinner, and when my dad parked the car, she dropped the 10 pence piece into the metre, crowing how about we were saving money. My dad then got back in the car and drove to the next available metre because what my sister had done was wrong. Now, were I to find myself in that situation, I would most definitely not move the car. In fact, if that trick still worked, I would save up 10 pence pieces for parking. But, I will say that his outlook has influenced my own, and I am not averse to rules, especially thoughtful ones.

And I would argue that most of the people who I have heard under whatever circumstances express generalized opposition to rules or procedures are people who are also operating with a certain amount of privilege in these same circumstances – whether that privilege is bestowed by gender, race, class, or seniority. This is different from finding a particular process or rule arbitrary, ineffective, or otherwise problematic. This is about being opposed to creating or formalizing a process in the first place.

This is, I think, a key equity issue. Without process, getting things done becomes about who you know. If you are in a position of privilege, for instance, or have people in power who are mentoring you, then you can effectively navigate the byzantine structures in place at all stages of university careers, from entering graduate school, to promotion to full professor.

There is a lot in academia that is never explicit, that isn’t obvious, but that is really important to succeeding. And if you don’t have someone to whom you can put these questions in a casual setting, or who will advise you about things you wouldn’t have even known to ask about in the first place, your path is a lot harder.

Too often, when someone says, “bah, rules just get in the way,” what they mean is that rules only get in the way of working the system to their own advantage. Business as usual.

Clear, well-communicated, effective, and readily adaptable processes make the inner workings of academia more transparent, flexible for everyone (not just those in the know), and responsive. With such processes in play, if you see inequity, or unfairness, or ineffectiveness, you have the tools to respond and by contributing to building such processes, you can help to likewise build better universities.
collaboration · community · equity · faster feminism · women

What does it mean to be a woman and a public intellectual?

I have been noticing a trend here at Hook & Eye.  Whether we are writing about the challenges and cruelties of the turgid job market, acknowledging the difficulties as well as possibilities in service work, or reflecting on making life changing decisions the general theme this fall has centred around striking a balance between life inside and outside the academy. This has me thinking about the role we take on — wittingly or un- — when writing for a feminist academic blog. On my most positive days I imagine this space as one that is both generative and space-making. I think of it as a place for advice, for honesty, and for performing vulnerabilities in a public fashion in an attempt to acknowledge that there are in fact humans in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, and heck, the whole darned endeavour that is the Academy. On my worst days, I fear that the space I take here is merely navel-gazingLess navel-gazingly, thinking about the role of writing for a feminist academic blog has me thinking about public intellectualism and the possibilities that generating conversation both inside and outside one’s sphere might allow.  

So, what is a public intellectual? Alan Lightman describes the public intellectual as someone who has been trained in a particular discipline (he names linguistics, biology, history, economics, and literary criticism as examples) and who has decided to “write and speak  to a larger audience than their professional colleagues.” For Lightman, the move from closed to open discourse — from specialized audience to general audience — is what moves an individual into the realm of a public intellectual (you can read the rest of Lightman’s essay here). Lightman draws particular attention to Edward Said’s understanding of the intellectual’s role in society. He writes

According to Said, an intellectual’s mission in life is to advance human freedom and knowledge. This mission often means standing outside of society and its institutions and actively disturbing the status quo. At the same time, Said’s intellectual is a part of society and should address his concerns to as wide a public as possible. Thus Said’s intellectual is constantly balancing the private and the public. His or her private, personal commitment to an ideal provides necessary force. Yet, the ideal must have relevance for society.

I love this notion that the role of the public intellectual is to instigate and facilitate discourse amongst a wide public. But who gets to be a public intellectual? How are individuals selected? And, really, how egalitarian is that process? For, in addition to thinking about the definition and function of a public intellectual, I have been wondering for a while now what it means to be a woman and a public intellectual. It should come as no surprise that gender, race, ethnicity, and class affect who — and how — public intellectuals are received. While Foreign Policy‘s 2012 Top 100 Global Thinkers has far more women that even five years ago, the fact remains that the position of public intellectualism is still resoundingly male and white. The only way to diversify the voices we hear from is to demand those changes, and to make them ourselves.

Here’s a recent example of a group of extremely busy-yet-dedicated people doing just that. Remember CWILA? Well, yesterday, CWILA announced our first critic-in-residence. Montreal-based writer and scholar Sue Sinclair is taking up this important inaugural position, which means that in addition to her own creative and scholarly practice she will also be occupying a far more public role. Part of the job of the critic-in-residence is to “foster vital criticism that promotes public awareness of women’s literary and critical presence in Canadian letters” to quote the original call for applications. How exciting is this? Yet, Sue can’t, shouldn’t, and indeed is not doing this all on her own. Spaces like Lemon Hound foster a variety of emergent and established voices. Public intellectuals like the indefatigable El Jones here in Halifax continue to lead by example and never shies away from telling it like it is. So tell me, readers: who are some women public intellectuals in your sphere who we should know? How can we support them?

academy · balance · equity · ideas for change

Family affairs

It’s been a crazy two weeks. Just before Thanksgiving, I went down to a conference in Denver, Colorado with my partner and our 19-month old son and then the following Friday the three of us took a group of graduate students and faculty to Banff National Park for a 3-day environmental history field trip. I know that might not sound so bad, but factoring in a toddler’s eating, napping, sleeping, and need-to-be-entertained-by-something-other-than-a-lecture-on-history schedule makes what is otherwise a busy two weeks into a crazy two weeks. My main point though is not to say that we survived, but that both of these work trips were family affairs.

I know I’m lucky that this is even possible. My son is young enough that he’s still a free flight. I have a partner to share childcare and who is also an academic in a similar-enough field that we can attend the same conferences and collaborate in this fashion. We also work in a system that is less hostile to parenting than some.

That said, this good fortune reflects more my personal circumstances than structural advantages. The Canadian academic system is hardly a paradise for parents with young children. University jobs are not M-F, 9-5, but I’m not aware of any university with childcare provisions that acknowledge this reality. The majority of conferences I attend have no childcare on offer, which is a particular blindspot. University careers are, more than most, uprooting. You are fortunate if you have an academic job and extended family in the same town. In my case, our grandparents, aunts, and uncles are all hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away, so we can’t leave our son behind when we go to a conference. But it is virtually impossible to make such arrangements in an unfamiliar city (I’ve tried) and cost prohibitive to bring childcare along for the ride as well.

This is more than a plea for better childcare at conferences, however. It is also a question: might there be good reasons to not only accommodate but also to embrace family relationships as part of universities? And I don’t just mean children here, but families – partners, parents, siblings. 

This assumes, of course, that academia does not already embrace families. Spousal hires are the exception that proves the rule: while they aim to accommodate academic families, they are hard to come by and often perceived in a profoundly negative fashion. Spousal hires are also no use if your partner is not an academic. The academy cherishes the individual. The model humanities scholar is an isolated individual, deep in thought, surrounded by books (do a google image search for “Historian at work”). The model academy is predicated upon gatherings of single people engaged in research and teaching, supported and sustained by families who are not part of that work but who perhaps attend the occasional department party. Recognising this helps us to understand why so many family-unfriendly activities (long-distance conference travel and intensive, months-long field or archival research and writing projects) are so core to academic success.

But our families humanize us and by extension, acknowledging them can humanize our relationships with students and colleagues, acting as a counterbalance to an increasingly corporate and bureaucratic culture. By making explicit the commitments that we have to our loved ones and that can potentially disrupt our work lives, it becomes more possible to accommodate such disruptions so that they are, in fact, less disruptive. If people know that you have a sick parent or partner, they might be more able to assist before you become so overtaxed that you just have to bail on your commitments. Moreover, when family commitments are explicit then colleagues, students, and administrators are less likely to assume that your domestic responsibilities are taken care of by someone else. We are each then surrounded by a range of functional models combining work and family. Lastly, embracing family relationships within universities, however hokey it might sound, offers an opportunity for academia to be a place where social alternatives are imagined and explored, not just through research, but in our daily practice.
academic reorganization · administration · bad academics · change · community · equity · faster feminism · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · job market · job notes · solidarity

The sweet spot to be cranky

Erin’s most recent post, on the gamble that is the leap off the cliff from graduate student to … whatever … comes … after … is compelling for several reasons. The awkwardness of the situation–of being neither here nor there, one of us or one of them, or the question of how to become member of a tribe as yet undetermined, the looming unknowns of money of travel of location, of permanence and impermanence or lock-in versus flexibility–stresses the body, the soul, the wallet. It hampers the vision of the future; it colours the present, usually in greyish tones. The gamble has high stakes; it plays out over years.

But I’m struck most forcefully by the bind that Erin articulates in the comments: how can she write honestly about any of this when she’s still in between? How to be anything but positive, a good team player, before all the teams are chosen and you’re still hoping to be picked? How to talk about teaching when your experience is thin enough that generalizations don’t protect the innocent or the guilty? How to take yet more risks when standing on the knife-edge between in and out?


I don’t know. She can’t, I guess is the short answer. Nor can many of you, those of you who are contingent or temporary or contractually limited, or who are students, and thus have very little weight to throw around. Maybe Heather can’t either: she’s Vice Dean now and her words have, maybe, too much weight. Maybe she’s bigger than herself, in the ways that those of us who lift up the institutional mantle to carry it forward necessarily become first person plural.

Who’s left, then?

Me, probably. Tenured, but still young. Wising up to the way the institution and the profession works, without yet having been sucked up into actually making the machinery operate as an administrator. I’ve often heard of the particular and heavy burden that the mid-career (that is, tenured) associate professor faces: a ton of committee work, some administration, a lot of peer review and evaluation. But I think it’s less a weight right now than a power. Can you even imagine? With tenure part of my responsibility is to promote those ideas I think are the absolute best ones, damn the torpedoes. And I’ll still have a job if I do draw enemy fire. Academic freedom protects the process and products of my research from any kind of interference, but the model of collegial governance under which universities are organized extends this privileged capacity to speak–this responsibility–to more mundane and consequential questions of how the work we do gets done, and by whom, and under what conditions or circumstances.

I’m in the sweet spot. Tenured and in full possession of my academic freedom, without the weight of all the necessary balancing of interests that a chair or a dean or administrator might have to deal with. I already serve on committees where I get to advocate for graduate students, for our curriculum, for what kinds of computers the labs should get, for whom we should hire. The trick now is to expand my view, to try to take in the interests of all those members of my department, my institution, who can’t express their needs with as full-throated a job-protected, academic-freedom granted volume as I can muster. And I can muster it, believe me, effective or not.

So. The job falls to the associates now: it’s our job to call bullshit, our job to notice when the emperor has no clothes, or when those clothes have been created from skinned graduate students and sessional labourers (figuratively, of course). We’ve got the biggest, least fractured, best protected voices on campus, and we should use ’em. We must use ’em.

Are you an associate professor? How do you see your role in speaking up for those without your privileges or access? Not an associate professor? What gaps in my knowledge should I address to better serve the interests of all the members of the university?

I’m in the sweet spot. And I’m willing to be cranky on your behalf. Bring it.

community · equity · faster feminism · having it all · reflection · women

"Yes, and": Familyism, Feminism, and Full Participation

After I wrote about children at a faculty event, reader maepress wondered if this new inclusivity was “familyism” rather than feminism, if it had more to do with shifting generational values, or with dads’ greater interest in spending real time with their children and less to do with gender.

I got to thinking: is “familyism” understood this way distinct from feminism?

I don’t think so. But I thought I’d share my reasoning with you to see what you think.

First, I think today’s feminism is something different from first wave feminism (become recognized as persons) and second wave feminism (gain access to realms of public life previously only open to men, kinds of behaviours previously only open to men). If first wave feminism strategically or earnestly deployed “femininity” to soften the terrifying prospect of extending rights to women, to show it wouldn’t turn them into me, it seems to me that a lot of second wave feminism busied itself rejecting “femininity” (and oh, hell yeah, I’m using the scare quotes deliberately …) as inherently discriminatory in order to win greater autonomy for women: no bras, no babies, no makeup, no housework, so that we can be sexually and economically and psychologically empowered! Both sets of feminists have accomplished huge social good: I like having the vote, and my life would be the poorer in more ways than one if my mother’s generation of feminists hadn’t pushed so hard for pay equity legislation, for example.


As it turns out, some women want to have babies, and most children benefit from present, nurturing parents. Some women like to wear makeup. Some women have no interest in high-power jobs in male-dominated fields like politics. Of course, other women gladly chose lives without children, discard much of the culture of dress and style and feel the freer for it. Some become university presidents.

And it’s feminism that makes all of it possible.

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey outlines the rules of improv, and they’re excellent rules for life and, I think, for feminism. First, the fundamental principle is “Yes, and”–that is, you take the premise that your improv partner starts from, and you build on it, in a positive way. So if someone points a finger fun at you and yells “Stick ’em up,” you don’t say, “That’s not a gun, that’s just your finger.”You say … something like … um … “Okay okay geez you can have the last courseware package. I knew letting guns onto college campuses was a bad idea.”

That’s my feminism, I think: yes, and.

For me, feminism has as its aim the assurance that women can participate fully in the world, to have all the options open to them that they wish to pursue, without prejudice: to work, to love, to play, to travel, to be ambitious, to have leisure, to raise children, to live alone. And the world in which that is possible is one where dads are involved with their children, where women in families and women on their own created networks, where it’s socially acceptable to eat in a restaurant alone, where we all have real choice and real agency and real support. That party with the children’s craft table? I wouldn’t have brought my daughter with me unless my husband came too, because I just can’t network at the same time as I am gluing foam starts onto foam door hangers. In real ways, I can’t be the person I want to be without my husband being a different kind of man than most of our dads were. I can’t be the person I want to be without government programs supporting maternity leaves. I can’t do it without the unions and faculty associations that have taken women’s compensation issues into their purview.

Perhaps your supports are different: maybe you are not a tenured upper-middle class married white straight woman. Your feminism might include other kinds of equity considerations around race or religion or sexual orientation. But surely, as we all, we women, become ever more integrated in the full complexities of human social life, our supports become more subtle, more diffuse, the battles and hurdles no less daunting but maybe a good bit more individuated and less sweeping.

I generally resist totalizing statements and blog posts like the one I’m creating here. But a student just asked me last week if it was okay for a feminist to want to get married. I was floored, but this is not an uncommon belief. There’s a lot of stuff that still needs work, but we don’t all have to march in exactly the same direction, to the beat of exactly the same drum, to cross all those finish lines whose ribbons are still tautly strung.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total relativist. I think some kinds of choices are overdetermined and not really ‘free’, and so I’m not above judging others’ behaviours as unfeminist. I am wary of the cooptation of the idea and the ideals of feminism, nicely captured in this Saturday Night Live skit, with Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton, discussing what it means to campaign as a woman on the national stage–read the transcript, it’s fantastic.

For me, familyism is feminism. And single-ism is feminism. If it aims to increase and broaden the kinds of participants and the kinds of participation in the full range of public and private life, well, for me, that’s feminism.

How about you?

academy · appreciation · balance · change · equity · good things · having it all · ideas for change · kid stuff · making friends · reform

Something special, an ordinary party

Did you see that episode of the Simpsons, where Bart joins a football team, and Lisa makes this big dramatic entrance to the field, all suited-up, ready to fight the feminist fight against gender discrimination in sport? And there’s already some girls on the team? And she’s kinda like, “Oh, right then, okay, carry on.”

That happened to me this week.

I was invited to attend the welcoming supper for new faculty members, because I’m on the faculty association board. The invitation didn’t specify, so I wrote to ask if I could bring my husband and daughter, you know, to fight the feminist fight against the erasure of real-live-families from academic life? Well. We got there, and not only is there a nametag for my daughter (in cheery Comic Sans, no less), but a whole tablefull of kid name tags. And a giant, well-stocked craft table at the front of the hall, where a mass of small children are excitedly making glittery foam stars and flowers, collaboratively filling out colouring pages. My daughter made friends! And a pink door-hanger with unicorns on it!


I made a point of moving through the room, introducing myself to faculty families–faculty moms and faculty dads and their ‘civilian’ spouses and their toddlers, their newborns, their twins, their tweens. The spouses got nametags, too. There is nothing more heartwarming for a crusty old tenured faculty mom than to see a new professor mom, burping a name-tagged four-month old, while her husband fetches strained carrots out of the diaper bag. We talked schools and daycares, and while I was fully prepared to to staunchly defend our rights to reproduce and research in the same lifetime, no one really needed convincing.

I actually found it very moving.

As the crusty old tenured mom, I have to interrupt myself to bring you back to the olden days, when I started here. I went to the same party. There were no children, let alone a child’s play area. And I would have noticed that, because I was BABY CRAZY but feeling like I had to maybe keep a lid on it.

Things change, even at universities. They even sometimes change for the better, for the more inclusive, and the more humane.

Best. New Faculty. Orientation. Dinner. Ever.*

* full disclosure: I won a cheese tray in the draw. I NEVER win stuff in draws. This possibly colours my interpretation of events 😉

change · equity · righteous feminist anger · student engagement · women

Breaking up with Stephen: Some thoughts on voting

Today is the day. Today is the day where–I hope–people in this country who are able to vote get out and demand a new government.

I suspect that readers of this site are aware that Stephen Harper is a danger to women. According to the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights Harper and the Conservatives have cut or revoked funding to more than thirty-five Women’s Organizations. Many of these organizations are health and safety related. Take for example Sisters In Spirit, and advocacy group who among other vital work collected data on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. As citizens of the digital age we know that data is capta, so why cut funding to this group? I agree with Sarah Harrison: without information it is more difficult to criticize governmental practice.

I’ve already voted, and I suspect that for the second time in my life the person I’m voting for has a chance of winning. (This first time, if you’re at all interested, was in the 2008 US Presidential election. I have what we call in Canada dual citizenship and what they call in the States ‘incomprehensible’). I live in Metro Halifax, meaning that NDP incumbent Megan Leslie is in my riding. In addition to being thrilled to vote for a candidate I believe in, I realized that this is one of the first times I’ve had the opportunity to vote for a woman.

Politics is another place where The Count would reveal some fairly stark numbers. Consider, for example, the Elizabeth May conundrum. As one of our incredibly articulate commentators asks:

“What about Elizabeth May who is the only female party leader (yay!), yet whose party’s very existence is responsible for yet more vote-splitting that allowed several Tory candidates to beat out the Liberals or NDP in progressive ridings (particularly in southern Ontario) last time, making her very presence partly responsible for Harper’s ongoing reign (boo!)?”

What, indeed.

I’ve looked up some statistics on women in Canadian politics. Simon Fraser University has a very handy page that you can look at here. This year Equal Voice reports the following number of women candidates for each of the main parties:

  • NDP: 125/308 – 40.6%
  • GRN: 98/304 – 32.2
  • BQ: 24/75 – 32.0
  • LIB: 92/308 – 29.9
  • CON: 67/307 – 21.8


More interesting still will be seeing how things play out on the poles today. Most of all I am interested in seeing the youth–that’s YOU students–shaming all of the candidates into paying genuine attention to the growing student debt in this country. I do not believe that students and young people in Canada are apathetic. Let’s get out there and make some change!

And don’t forget, if enough women vote, Harper’s regime will fall.

equity · global academy · slow academy · turgid institution

Guest Post: Academic hierarchies

Here is a guest post from Linda Warley, associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, about her experiences abroad this term.

Academic hierarchies: women and status in different contexts

I am currently a visiting professor at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. A year before I came here, soon after the initial contact was made and I expressed interest in this position, a member of the English department—let’s call her Natasha—was “assigned” to be my contact person. I assumed that she was an Assistant Professor (I knew that she had recently defended her PhD), but it turns out that she is what we call a CLA. (Big shout out to all CLAs who read this blog!) I was somewhat surprised that a sessional instructor would be given the responsibility of looking after me—answering my million questions, arranging for the flat I live in, scheduling my course, getting me set up with a mobile phone, a transit pass, keys to my office, access to the internet, and so on. Natasha has been there for me at every moment. She picked me up at the airport; she showed me where and how to get around; she’s sitting in on my course and is invaluable if I have questions about how things are done at their university, what students need to know or what they can expect. Heck, her husband even fixed a broken cupboard door in my flat. I asked her why she had been “assigned” to me (one would have thought this was a chair’s job, or at least another member of the regular faculty’s job). The answer: because she teaches a course in my area. Ohhhhkay…? It had nothing—and everything—to do with her status.

At the University of Zagreb the department promises recent PhDs three years of sessional teaching, after which their contracts may or may not be renewed. Since there are so few faculty jobs available in a small country like Croatia, this is a lifeline for the newly PhD’d academic. However, unlike at our Canadian universities (at least those that I know), here sessional instructors do not seem to be considered peers. I don’t want to overstate the case at Canadian universities but I would say that we treat sessionals as professional, independent academics. But here it seems that the sessional instructor’s labour is still available to her former PhD supervisor. My colleague refers to her former supervisor as her “boss” (perhaps jokingly) and she tells me that the boss can get her to do all sorts of things, through assumed loyalty and through asserted power. Teach a class while the boss is away. Look up references in the library that the boss was too lazy to track down herself. Proofread the boss’s article. Set and mark an exam for the boss’s course—a course that the sessional herself has not taught. Now, we might get our graduate students to do this kind of thing (except the exam setting bit) BUT WE WOULD PAY THEM FOR THEIR WORK. Moreover, CLAs are not only expected to do administrative work it is often dumped on them. Wow. I would say no full time job means no responsibility for administration—unless I chose to involve myself, which some CLAs in Canada do.

The academic hierarchy here is very Austro-Hungarian. Formal, trenchant. The older members of the department do not have much to do with the younger ones, certainly not socially. And even professionally there is a boundary that is not easily crossed. Most troublingly, the older women professors do not seem to support the younger women in the department. Any male—professor, CLA, visiting professor—is held in higher esteem than their own female colleagues. I have been treated with respect (after all, I am a tenured professor) but also with a certain aloofness. So I’ve been hanging out with the younger women in the department. They are my kind. They are also fun. Being here has taught me a lot about my own context. It makes me realize how much status I do have. I hope that I am using that status partly to foster the careers of my younger colleagues. I was certainly lucky to have been mentored by my senior colleagues, especially the women. After all, isn’t that what women do?

Linda Warley
University of Waterloo

equity · turgid institution

Gender Pay Gap Narrows! (er….)

If you subscribe to Ken Steele’s Academica list, you will have been heartened, Monday morning, to read the following:  

Gender pay gap for academic staff narrows, CAUT study finds: According to a new report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the gender pay gap for academic staff in the country narrowed significantly. According to the data, the overall gender pay difference was just less than 11% in 2006, down from nearly 19% in 1986.


But wait a second. If you trouble to click through to the report itself, you might want to hold that buoyancy in check. While the report does say, “The male-female salary differential amongst university teachers, when adjusted for academic rank and age, has narrowed slightly in the last twenty years,” it goes on to say, “However, a persistent gap remains, one that cannot be explained by rank or age.”

[Sidebar: Academica apologized “for suggesting anything different than what was outlined in CAUT’s study. We had based our summary on the Bulletin article, not the full report. We have edited the item on our website to include further information contained in the full report. We are considering issuing a postscript in the Top Ten on the report’s conclusion.”]

Connect this to the story in last week’s New York Times about the ambivalent consequences of MIT’s about-face, or to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent anemic coverage of women in academic leadership, and it feels like we may never win: as Erin said on Monday, it’s one step forward, two steps back.

The CAUT report, available here, is worth reading in its 8-page entirety. It is significant for adjusting StatsCan data to control differences in academic rank and age. The review finds that salary differentials between men and women are smallest at the lecturer levels, highest at the full professor level, and that salary inequity grows as a cohort moves through the rank. (The study compares women to men only; there is no analysis of race, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability. There is some disciplinary and regional breakdown.)

What is most interesting, if also unsettling, is the review’s (short) discussion of why salary inequity persists: 

Overt discrimination may play a role, but it is more likely that the remaining salary differential between men and women is a by-product of university salary structures and procedures which have the effect of disadvantaging women on average. Differences in negotiated starting salaries, though small at first, accumulate over time and generate greater gaps in later years. Most university salary structures also include market supplements and merit awards. It may be that women face discrimination in decisions taken with respect to supplements and merit pay.

Women may also be disadvantaged by the traditional academic salary grid system with the numerous progress through the ranks (PTE) steps. The steep lifetime compensation curve characteristic of such systems tends to reward those with significant occupational tenure. Since women are more likely to experience career interruptions related to childbearing, their progress through the salary grid may be slower and may result in lower earnings compared to their male colleagues.

What troubles me here is the rock and the hard place: on the one hand, the corporate-university model of free-market entrepreneurship (“market supplements and merit awards”) where women apparently don’t promote themselves sufficiently as individuals; on the other, the noble tradition of faculty associations and unions (“the traditional academic salary grid system”) that leaves women disadvantaged as a group. This double bind reminds me why I am always skeptical of critiques of the corporate university (Stanley Aronowitz, Cary Nelson, Randy Martin, e.g.): agreed, the free-enterprise model is dangerous for teaching and learning, but is it really worse, as a workplace, than the old boys’ network? Just think about the actually-existing organization, work style, recent decisions and executive membership of the union or faculty association at your university, and tell me it’s unequivocally good for women. (Really: if yours is good for women, let’s hear about it.)

The CAUT report is at its weakest in suggesting what is to be done:

First, universities should provide for greater gender equity in hiring… Secondly, universities and academic staff associations must … address the fact that … the gender salary gap rises with years of experience and progress through the ranks. Further, institutions and faculty associations will need to assess how current merit awards and salary grid systems may be contributing to the gender pay gap, particularly in later years.

It concludes, “Ultimately, the academic community may need to explore alternative salary systems that will ensure greater parity.”

What would those look like?

For me, answering that question should follow some imaginative feminist thinking about what our universities should be like as a whole. How do we imagine our citizenship in the academy? What should collegial governance look like? What kind of structures do we want to build? What is the right pace for academic life: fast feminism / slow academe, as this blog purports, or something different? What do we want to reward, and how?

And then, of course, the biggest question: how do we get there from here?