So here’s a set of research findings that have caught me completely by surprise*: women’s careers in academia sometimes stall out on the road to full professorship because of heightened departmental and institutional service demands placed upon them. So reports Inside Higher Ed, in an article about Judith Glazer-Raymo’s new edited volume, Unfinished Agendas: New and Continuing Gender Challenges in Higher Education. Women, often socialized to prioritize responsibility for the functioning of groups over the demands of personal projects, are far more likely than men to find their research agendas derailed by administrative responsibilities.

This wouldn’t be such a problem, I think, if promotion and tenure processes genuinely valued such service; as it is, the high premium placed on scholarship, particularly at the moment of the review for full professorship, leaves many female faculty lagging behind their male counterparts. (The same is of course true of faculty of color, who find themselves in much higher demand service-wise than white faculty, and whose political commitments often necessitate prioritizing such service.)

The comments on the IHE article are, as one commenter points out, quite telling: a couple of (assumedly) male respondents pipe up with “quitcher whining and learn to say no,” while a number of other commenters point out the often wildly different — and gendered — levels of acceptance of that ability to say no. Men who say no to service requirements are at times seen as wisely protecting the time they need to conduct their research; women who do so are often treated as selfish and uncollegial.

A significant part of this problem rests in a vast disparity in our own internalized senses of responsibility to the collective body, of course, but I think only by starting conversations like these, by creating awareness of such disparities and the quite material effects they wind up having, can we begin to make any change.

*Irony alert!


  1. On second thought, here’s something. While all of the above is familiar to women academics, particularly those of us who are joint appointed, isn’t it true that the entire pattern is perpetuated by women, on women? I mean, I hear this from other juniors all the time: male academics get away with doing less than women, but women punish each other for not doing as much as the other. What do you think?

  2. I don’t doubt that there’s truth in that, not least as an outgrowth of the kind of hazing ritual that goes on throughout academia: when I was in grad school/on the market/up for tenure, my advisor/committee/senior colleagues forced me to walk three miles to and from campus in the snow each day, uphill, both ways! And if I had to do it, you can, too.

    But I don’t think that that’s the entire pattern, particularly as what you’re describing is a mode of hazing perpetuated on junior women by senior women who have internalized messages about what women have to do to succeed, while it’s not perpetuated on junior men in anything like the same way, nor is it only perpetuated by the women. In other words, the cycle goes much deeper than the immediate conflict, and to blame the entire thing on other women who are caught in the cycle seems to me to miss the point.

    On the other hand, yes, senior women need to examine their own assumptions about what junior women ought to be doing, no doubt.


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