Sunday, April 22, 2007

Right to Complain

Dr. DeMentor (see previous post) and I have an additional point of disagreement. He thinks that my not taking the opportunity to 'change the culture' by pursuing an opportunity to become an assistant Dean means that I give up the right to complain ("at least not too bitterly") about the somewhat dismal situation for women science faculty at my university and beyond.

Even if I were capable of giving up complaining, I do not agree that I have lost this 'right'. Refusing to become an administrator now does not mean I have to be silent. To me, that's the same as saying that all my other contributions and efforts mean nothing, and I don't think that's true, even if I could be more effective (in some ways) as an administrator.

I suppose if my research led directly to a cure for a hideous disease or resulted in an invention that revolutionized how we make toast, my choosing to pursue my research would not seem so selfish as compared to driving positive change in academic culture.

I know that at some level DDM is right. I should say that he is just one of several colleagues whom I like and respect very much who think I am making a mistake in not pursuing this administrative 'opportunity'. They all give the same reasons. It is hard to go against the advice of such well-meaning friends, but in this case, at least for now, I am.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

It seems to me that your abilities as a scientist and your abilities to mentor young women interested in science are greater if you don't take the administrative position.

It also seems that taking your voice and unique point of view out of the scientific community decreases the intellectual diversity in science.

I'm unsure how you could do similar work from a Dean's position.

Steven said...

There's something deeply disturbing to the notion that you (or any established woman) has a duty to enter administration. The critical point was made in the last thread: men aren't expected to enter administration in order to better things for women. I suppose you lose the right to make the specific complaint that no decent people enter administration. But anything more is really just a (relatively benign) form of sexism.

Mr. B. said...

Lose the opportunity to change the culture? Lord love a duck...

We have a dean at our med school who is a woman as well as an associate dean. Are things any better now for women than they used to be in bigU's Medical School? I don't think so. Family unfriendly practices are still tolerated as are, shall I say, uneven practices, both at the hiring and promotion and tenure level. And the administation is well aware that these things are going on.

As to losing the opportunity to complain about the position of women in science should you choose not to go over to the dark side, I think this is absurd on its face.

If you have the scientific chops you will do more for women in science by staying right where you are, becoming - eventually - a member of the National Academy, doing an extraordinary job teaching, having a life. Don't let the momentary frustration of some dense colleagues cause you to buy the line that only by being an administrator can you "really make a difference."

What you are doing right now is ultimately the kind of thing that inspires other women to hang in there and pursue science as a career themselves, not some magic influence that you will exert as an administrator.

Mr. Bonzo's admittedly prejudiced but strongly felt view...

ShortenedFuse said...

They are trying to push you out of the pipeline!!!

"Oh but you'd be so GOOD at that role."

"We really need someone good in that position, someone like you."

I am suspicious of their motives - they want you to do a job that they don't want to do. They want you to do less science and leave the research to the men. The latter probably not being a conscious thought of theirs. Well, SCREW them! Preferably with a section of pipeline shoved up where the sun don't shine. How DARE they try and take away a fabulous female professor from the teaching and research she loves?

Anonymous said...

noooo, don't go be a dean. as a female grad student what I really need now is role models who are actual female professors, and what i really will need later in my career is a department with more senior women professors so I'm not fighting up from the bottom on my own.

Auntie Em said...

What Mr B Said.

Dr. Lisa said...

I taught the third semester of calculus-based physics for engineers at one of the nation's largest universities last semester. The class had 48 males and 4 females, so when I walked into that room, I increased the number of women by 25%. Some of the male students looked at me in disbelief (jaws actually dropping, believe it or not) - they were not expecting me based on their previous experience with physics profs.

My hope is that they'll never be shocked to have a female professor again.

You can still do a lot of good in your department by being a senior professor and, hopefully, serving on hiring committees that are favorable to hiring junior female faculty. Unless that is happening, you still can complain all ya like.

EcoGeoFemme said...

It's silly to take a job you don't really want only to make yourself a different kind of role model than you already are. That is, you are already a fantastic mentor for women-in-science, and I only know you through your blog!

Here's a tangent that I thought would make some of you a little happy: I was skimming the prgram for a meeting I will be attending next week, paying particular attention to titles that are similar to mine. Of course these are the papers I'm most interested in, but also many of the authors are students, so I starting sizing up my future competition for jobs (I'm a 4th year grad student). THEY ARE ALL WOMEN. cool, huh?

Jocelyn said...

Oh heck no! If you focus on doing science, you lose the right to complain about the science culture? No! Why would they THINK that?

I'm a grad student. My aim is a research career. Seeing another woman succeed in that is incredibly inspiring. Seeing her go into administration may give the opportunity for other sorts of change, but then I don't see her actually doing what I want to do.

lost academic said...

I have read what you and DDM have said and thought and also what everyone else has said, and think the following:

You must acknowledge that in name and in principle a dean has more power than a tenured professor. In theory! We all know many a tenured professor that has more power than many a senior dean. It is not just the name, the responsibilities, the office, but what you do with it, and how other people see your role as you perform it in relation to your surroundings. Do you know enough about your administration to choose wisely to take the role now?

So in some ways I think DDM is right, you can only say so much if you are not willing to make the changes to improve more than just those directly attached to you, but I don't really see that being your problem, ever, nor do I ever imagine people who really know you professionally accurately making that statement. If you want to make systemic changes, you will, you don't HAVE to be a dean to do it, and being a dean does require you to give up a lot of your personal goals and time to do it RIGHT. If you don't do it RIGHT, you will be vilified in some areas for it, and when things go wrong, you will be an easy scapegoat for all sorts of reasons.

But more importantly, you don't have to make this choice now. Why must you leave your track for administration, even part time, right this instant? It can wait, you are young, surely. It will be easier to hold off on making that decision (rather than saying you never will) than to do it now and try and go back later.

prof j said...

If you don't want to be an administrator don't. The dearth of senior female science professors is in part due to a stereotype about women not being able to perform high-level research (see Summers, Lawrence). By remaining an active successful researcher you do more to fight this stereotype than you could ever do as an administrator.

Susan B. Anthony said...

The bottom line for me is that we need more women in science everywhere -- in the administration as well as in the upper levels of the professoriate. Please don't feel like you're selling out or being selfish by choosing the latter over the former. I know you'll continue to make a difference for many future female scientists no matter where you are, and doubly so if you're doing what you truly love and being successful at it.

And you always, always have the right to complain.

Ms.PhD said...

I have always gotten the impression, from reading your blog, that the kind of administrative position you covet would be the position of Chair of your department, not Dean.

Pretty sure you could be Chair and still keep your lab going.

I like that you complain, but I would like it better if you could also *do something* about the problem (besides this blog, which is great, but....).

Does your University have something like a Committee on Women's Issues? Can you start one, regardless of your job title?

I guess the main advantage of being a Dean is that as you move up the power ranks, you meet people who actually can change things at the University-wide level. But you might be able to get those same connections other ways (like via committee service).

There are plenty of ways to make a difference that don't require giving up the thing that Dr. Lisa describes so vividly: tipping the scales in the direction of making an FSP a non-surprise when she walks into the classroom.

...and I like Mr.B's suggestion to become an NAS member... at least, I like the sentiment. But really, is that the sort of thing we care about? I don't believe awards ever correlate with achievement.

Carpenter said...

it seems like there are special battles, as a female faculty member that a dean just can't fight. Working in the trenches hearing and combating all the crap that goes on that deans don't deal with.

Anonymous said...

I know you respect your mentor, but his comment about your "right to complain" is majorly short-sighted. I can't spend my days fighting poverty, malaria or racism but I can still say I think those things should get fixed. If the only people who complained were people who spent all day trying to fix the problem big issues wouldn't have any visibility. Plus I really do think you are doing more for women scientists as a scientist than you would be able to do as a dean anyway.

Anonymous said...

I work at NSF, and I have gained a new perspective in the past few months of time there. I am a PhD scientist, and I have been involved in a lot of high level meetings on various science topics.

I have observed that the administrators hold a lot more power to change the field than most professors that pass through these doors. They do so because they set the policy about how things happen. For example, Shirley Ann Jackson came through today, and she is an incredible woman who left the research track for government work. She has done a tremendous amount for science and is an incredible role model for women and particularly African-American women. She is president of a university now, and she has 'settled' into extensive policy work in addition to her administrative responsibilities. Her voice is loud, in political terms, and with that voice, she speaks with a lot of wisdom on the issues of increasing diversity in science as a means to bolster American innovation.

However, your publications and research time will definitely slow down with the dean position.

YAMP said...

I am not quite as suspicious of the motives of your various male colleagues as many of your readers.

My university has one really high powered academic admistrator who still does science. He does this by meeting with his lab in the evenings and on weekends -- a schedule many could not accept. As a member of a visible minority he went in to administration for some of the reasons being advocated to you. And, believe it or not, he has actually succeeded in being a fantastic role model for future scientists, is working to change the culture at our university and is still doing great science. He is an extreme outlier though and few could work at his punishing pace.

It can all be done but you have to be very good, very committed and very organized.

Global Girl said...

I don't think you can lose your right to complain either way. If something's wrong, something's wrong, period.

You might be glad to be reminded that your blog in itself is important - I recently attended the spring MRS meeting, and at the Women in Materials Science breakfast, your blog was mentioned as one way of connecting with other women.

Bill Silvert said...

I see no reason why anyone should be pressured to change their career track if they are doing well, and certainly not because of their sex.

d. bate said...

You are a first class idiot, no thanks see a shrink.

J said...

FSP: Nice blog. Getting a lot of attention, it seems, and rightly so.

I'm a doctoral student in ecology, close to completing my thesis. Though I'm a male (and a minority), I'm a feminist and care deeply about the various problems of the "academy" in moving beyond the white-male-model it was built on. Have you read Joan Williams' "Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict, and What to do about it?" It has an incredibly well-constructed analysis of work/family conflicts, especially as relates to women's marginalization and how the rhetoric of "choice" contributes to it (i.e. if a woman cares more about her children being cared for by a parent rather than child care than her husband, and leaves a job opportunity because of it, she's making a "choice," but it's a choice not often pushed by culture upon men in similar circumstances, with notable exceptions).

Additionally, does your school take part in the NSF ADVANCE program? My university, and my major professor, have taken part and made some huge strides in supporting women in the sciences, principally by comprehensively laying out the scientific literature on the issues and showing science faculty that a) the science backing up institutional discrimination against women is incredibly solid, and b) discrimination doesn't mean someone's a "bad actor" per se but rather is a result of institutional structures designed without women in mind.

Anyway, getting long-winded here, but it seems you're doing a lot of good where you are, and the (normatively) greater responsibility women feel to take administration/service positions is another arena where women are culturally pushed from mainline academic advancement. Best, J

Feminist Military Spouse said...

What part of the geosciences do you study? I got my MS in geology in 2004, been working in the environmental industry ever since and I hate it. I want to get my PhD and become a professor, but a lot of the people I have talked to don't seem interested in me and seem to think I am stupid, because I didn't follow the traditional academic ladder.
I am working to publish my MS thesis with my former advisor and I am trying to get back in the game and study geomicrobiology or geochemistry. I don't know if you know a professor who would be interested in a student like me, but any help would be fantastic and I would really appreciate it.
I will be out of town this week, but you can contact me, if you like at:
easternalbanianophiolite AT yahoo DOT com.