chapter  23
5 Pages

The academic career pipeline: not leaking but pouring

ByKatherine Sender

At a recent meeting of faculty members from across the University of Pennsylvania, the provost spoke with concern about “the leaky pipeline,” where large numbers of women and minority faculty drop out of the career track as they move towards senior positions.1 Then followed our president, announcing that Penn was moving from a position of Excellence to Eminence – in the twenty-first-century university, even Excellence isn’t good enough anymore. I was struck by the juxtaposition: was there a relationship between the leaky pipeline and this constant push to greater levels of distinction? Penn is by no means the only university to suffer the leaky pipeline: it is a national,

even international problem.2 I will take Penn as an example, however, of how this plays out in the Ivy League. The university’s “Progress Report on Gender Equity” found that women made up 28 per cent of all faculty.3 How this plays out across rank is striking: women made up 42 per cent of assistant professors, 30 per cent of associate professors, and only 18 per cent of full professors. This is not a case of more women coming up through the ranks, because the proportion of standing women faculty had increased by only 4 per cent since 1999. The leaky pipe for racial minorities is as dramatic. The “Progress Report on Minority

Equity” found that minorities made up 17 per cent of Penn’s faculty.4 People of color made up 27 per cent of assistant professors, 17 per cent of associate professors, and only 9 per cent of full professors. We may take heart that the proportion of minority faculty has almost doubled since 1999, but of the current 17 per cent of faculty who are minorities, 11 per cent are Asian, meaning that the proportions of African American and Latino per faculty are very small indeed (3 per cent of all faculty for both groups). Penn has no career track information on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender

(GLBT) faculty, but my sense is that the tenure and promotion process isn’t especially kind to this group either. In a campus climate study at California Polytechnic State

University Pomona, 67 per cent of faculty who identified themselves as GLB in the survey said they did not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual identification to colleagues.5 Thirty per cent of Cal Poly GLB faculty reported having been discriminated against “occasionally” or “frequently” because of their sexual identification. A campus climate study at Duke suggested that “it is less common to find openly gay faculty members in the social sciences than in the arts and humanities, less common still in the hard sciences and the medical school.”6 However, the Duke study couldn’t draw conclusive evidence on GLBT faculty experience because so few respondents answered the GLBT-related questions. Data on transgender faculty experiences are even harder to locate, but campus conflicts over non-discrimination policies for transgender faculty suggest an even less welcoming climate for this group (happily, Penn has such a policy). If faculty are concerned about simply being openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual, then expressly queer faculty – politically irascible, non-heteronormative and even non-homonormative academics – are likely to have an especially hard time. I use here Penn’s figures as an example, but Penn isn’t especially bad – or good –

compared with its peers. I also know that some people are leaving academic careers for good, self-chosen, life-affirming reasons. But it is worrisome that these departures are differentially distributed across gender, race, and probably sexuality. The pipeline isn’t leaking, it’s pouring. At a recent Gender Studies conference here at Penn, the leaky pipeline was

addressed as a family issue: the tenure clock is hostile to women who want to have children. Indeed, according to Goulden et al., “Women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 per cent less likely to enter a tenure track position after receiving a Ph.D. than married men with children.”7 In another study, Mason and Goulden looked at the National Science Foundation’s longitudinal data from their Survey of Doctorate Recipients, and found that men with children were almost twice as likely to be tenured as women with children (70 per cent of tenured men versus 44 per cent of tenured women had children).8 But this is only part of the problem. If it were only a fertility and childcare issue, minority men would be doing just fine. The tenure and promotion process isn’t only inhuman for women who want and

have children; it is inhuman for everyone. Jerry Jacobs found in 2004 that both women and men faculty work on average more than 50 hours per week, irrespective of rank, and about a third of them work more than 60 hours per week.9 The expectation of increased working hours is only likely to grow. The Modern Language Association reported in 2006 that not only research universities, but all academic institutions have greatly increased their expectations of tenure-track faculty to publish articles and books towards their tenure case without reducing their teaching hours.10