Twin careers, as professor and mom: Start a family or go for tenure? Work-life policies let you do both
April 16, 2010
By Nicole Nguyen
If a baby boom among assistant professors in the School of Law is any indication, faculty members are more inclined than ever to start families while pursuing tenure. Academic work-life balance policies — time off after having children, reduced teaching workloads and tenure clock extensions — may be the reason.
“I think the law school has been progressive and supportive about faculty members having children,” said Katherine Florey, one of the new moms in the School of Law, along with Courtney Joslin and Shannon McCormack.
In fact, UC Davis as a whole has been progressive and supportive, establishing its academic work-life policies in 2003 and subsequently seeing the UC system change its policies to resemble UC Davis’.
The policies by themselves did not ease the prejudices associated with taking leave or stopping the tenure clock. “Women felt less than encouraged to utilize our program,” said Binnie Singh, director of Faculty Relations and Development. “They did not want to be seen as less competitive or less serious than their male counterparts.”
Today, the culture and climate are beginning to change, Singh said.
“As many men have utilized the program, and we believe that the use by male faculty increases the acceptability of the program and encourages more women to utilize it,” she said.
Under UC Davis’ academic work-life program, female faculty members are entitled to a quarter off after giving birth. The same goes for faculty members who adopt children: The primary parents are entitled to a quarter off.
Also, new moms are allowed one quarter of active duty modified service (two quarters for twins or triplets). New dads may also receive scaled-back teaching assignments.
A systemwide policy provides an extra year on the tenure clock for faculty members after a birth or adoption.
Thanks to such policies, the UC system and UC Davis present themselves as good places to work for prospective female faculty members. “The goal of these programs is for our campus to be as competitive as possible when recruiting and retaining top faculty,” Singh said.
Law professor Madhavi Sunder said the cultural change in the university workplace is much appreciated. “When I had my daughter in 2003, I only had the example of Diane Amann who had taken active duty, modified service, and I felt emboldened to take the same leave she had,” Sunder said.
“Male colleagues are also increasingly feeling comfortable to take leave, as well,” she said. “A policy that makes it possible for men to take an equal role in rearing children is also good for women.”
Professor Lydia Howell, who examines the effect of family-friendly policies on the career trajectories and career satisfaction of women in science, said she also is grateful for such policies. She herself had two children while serving as an assistant professor.
“More women faculty members in the School of Medicine are having their children before getting tenure, particularly because residencies are so long,” said Howell, describing residencies that last a minimum of three years, a majority that last four to five years, and surgical specialties that can last six to seven years.
Howell, acting chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UC Davis Medical Center, and Amparo Villablanca, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program, recently received a $1.27 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their research on family-friendly work policies.
In a UC Davis Health System news re-lease, Villablanca said: “Family-friendly university policies and mentor programs have helped bring more women into science, but there is a need to do more.”
Martha West, a professor emeritus of law, spent much of her career studying employment law with a special interest in the hiring of female faculty. In 1995, in a study titled “Women Faculty: Frozen in Time,” she noted the following disparities between the percentage of women receiving doctorates and the percentage of women on university faculties:
In 1993, women comprised 47 percent of U.S. doctorate recipients but only 31 percent of university faculty. By 2004, women comprised 53 percent of U.S. doctorate recipients but only 34 percent of full-time faculty at universities.
The conclusion, according to West’s report, was that having children threw a monkey wrench into the tenure clock.
West, for one, would like to get the word out to graduate student women that they no longer must choose between becoming a faculty member and having a family.
In fact, the Graduate Women’s Support Group exists for that very reason, providing a forum for new or pregnant mothers to discuss their challenges.
Brook Colley, a graduate student in Native American studies, organized the support group — and for doing so received a Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity and Community.
“I created the group because pregnant students face challenges as they continue in their education. Something as simple as a place to talk can be very helpful in giving people a community of support to face those challenges,” Colley said.
ACTIVE SERVICE MODIFIED DUTY
Number of faculty members opting for reduced teaching workloads, as a result of new babies or adoptions:
2002-03 to 2008-09: 147 (79 men, 68 women)
2007-08: 31 (16 men, 15 women)
2008-09: 24 (16 men, 8 women)
Binnie Singh of Faculty Relations and Development noted that the 15 female participants in 2007-08 represented a record high since the program’s inception. Singh also observed that more men use the program because UC Davis employs more male faculty, and, anecdotally, the program seems popular in psychology, sociology, economics, political science, mathematics, anthropology and English.
Academic Work Life: academicpersonnel.ucdavis.edu/worklife
Graduate students: Contact Brook Colley at the Women’s Resources
and Research Center: (530) 752–3372
... AND SUPPORT
UC Davis WorkLife manager Barbara Ashby says that while 75 percent of mothers start breastfeeding in the hospital, the rate falls sharply when women return to work—which is why the campus offers a breastfeeding support pro-
- 28 lactation sites equipped with hospital-grade breast pumps.
- Consultations with a board-certified lactation consultant.
- Support group meetings.
In the past academic year, 87 people have registered to use the campus’s breastfeeding resources: 49 percent staff, 34 percent students, 8 percent faculty; and 8 percent spouse or partner of an employee.
More information: hr.ucdavis.edu/worklife-wellness/Life/childcare
Nicole Nguyen is a Dateline intern.
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