Happy Earth Day! Happy March for Science Day! Today’s Earth day is a bit grim, what with the climate and science being under various forms of attack. Still, as we march and protest and fight back, we must also attend to our own internal problems. Science may not be partisan (or may not have always been partisan), but it’s always been political, which is to say it’s always been about power, who has it, who wields it, what ends it serves, and who gains. One of the more commonplace, everyday kinds of inequality produced by and through science is gender inequality within the academic workplace. For example, a recent study in Research in Higher Education (covered by Bustle here) finds that “women faculty perform significantly more service than men, controlling for rank, race/ethnicity, and field or department” and that this service burden is driven primarily by internal service (to the department or university). A reader asked if scatterplot might do a thread on possible solution to this gendered inequality:
Since this article has been making the rounds, it would be nice to hear about potential solutions above and beyond individual women faculty saying “no.” Do we force unwilling faculty members to do important service functions–even if that means it’s half-assed work that hurts students and other faculty?
I don’t have any great ideas, but I was hoping that some of you all might! My quick thoughts are below the cut, and please add your ideas in the comments.
It seems to me that there are basically three ways to attack the problem of inequality in service work: change who’s doing the work, change what work is to be done, or change the value of that work. The last seems the most implausible, at least for TT faculty at research universities. It seems very unlikely that departments and deans and provosts at those institutions are going to start valuing service work more in their hiring and promotion decisions. But, most faculty don’t work in R1s, and lots of service work is done by non-TT faculty. So one angle here might be working to more formally recognize and reward the service work done by contingent faculty, who are disproportionately women. Non-TT instructors at the University of Michigan unionized in the mid-2000s and created four tiers of lecturer positions; part of the distinctions between those ranks were the amount of kind of service work expected (planning new courses, advising students, etc.). Partly in exchange for engaging in more of this curricular planning and advising work, Lecturers III and IV earn “mini-tenure” (3 and 5 year contract guarantees).
Changing what work is to be done might help reduce the size of the problem, though not directly tackle the inequality. That is, if departments can find ways to be more efficient about service work, then the absolute gaps between men and women may be reduced. As my first year as faculty draws to a close, I am beginning to see the wisdom of Fabio Rojas’s love of the no/low-meetings department (which I thought he’d written a post about, but I can’t find it now). Departments may also be able to rethink the structure of undergraduate or graduate advising and program requirements to become more efficient – something academics seem prone not to think about, but which would likely be of special benefit to those faculty who face disproportionate service burdens now.
Finally, the most straightforward solution: change who is doing the work. Beyond women saying no, how can we increase the balance in the service workload? One route, in line with a large body of research on gender equality in organizations, would suggest standardization, formalization, and even quantification. Especially for junior faculty, it can be very difficult to tell how much work there is to be done in total, and what would count as pulling our share. Processes of formalization can help to fix this. For example, departments can keep track of graduate and undergraduate advising burdens, examine those burdens by race and gender, and at least notify those faculty who have taken on more than their share (and those who have not). Just last night, I listened as three first-year women faculty members attempted to assess how many undergrad theses they were expected to advise – there was no consensus, and no indication from on high of what was a normal burden.
This formalization could also be combined with some revaluation – if not in tenure or promotion, at least in terms of research funds or perhaps partial course credits. Partial course credits would be particularly effective currency, I think, as they would substitute one form of gendered, de-value labor with another and thus would not require convincing tenure committees to care about teaching or service. My understanding is that the economics department here at Brown has a points system of some sort for various service tasks. It would be an interesting question to see if the implementation of such a system has produced greater gender equality. At a minimum, formalization might make it easier for women to say no (and harder for men to shirk the same tasks) when armed with ammunition about their ongoing disproportionate contributions.
That’s what I’ve got! What do you all think?