On Friday, I asked readers to name universities that do not have a policy that allows for tenure-track faculty to 'stop the (tenure) clock' for the birth or adoption of a child. There may well be such institutions that are not known to FSP readers, but so far, no one has named any university or college in North America that does not have such a policy.
If that is an accurate reflection of the situation, then it is time to stop calling for this policy as a means to increase the number of women scientists in academia. The policy is widespread, but it either hasn't had time to have a positive effect or it is not being implemented in a useful and fair way.
Universities and colleges need to make the existence of such policies widely known to faculty and administrators, make clock-stoppage easy to implement for faculty and administrators, and ensure that there is no stigma or punishment attached to stopping the clock. For example, no one should be held to a higher standard because they chose to stop the tenure clock, and no one should be made to feel awkward or guilty for taking this option.
There will likely be some abuses of the clock-stoppage option, but the good will outweigh the bad. If the policy works as intended and is a routine option, perhaps academia will be a more viable option for more women scientists (and others), and tenure will not be seen as incompatible with having kids. I don't know if this will solve the continuing disparities described in report such as the one that motivated this series of blog posts, but it might help.
I have already seen much progress on this front. I have served on committees in which tenure-clock-stoppage is seen as routine -- just a useful piece of information to explain the date of hiring relative to date of tenure review -- and has no other meaning. That's as it should be. And from what I've seen, committee members who did not stop the clock (by choice), don't hold it against those who did make this choice.
It is clear, however, from comments to this blog that some individuals, departments, and/or institutions are reluctant to let go of the traditional tenure clock, as if this is time frame that cannot possibly be altered and maintain high standards. What if less qualified people start getting tenure because they had "extra" time? (or something like that)
Those who think clock-stoppage is an assault on sacred academic practices are kindred spirits to those who still routinely ask interviewees about their personal lives (marital status, kids) in an attempt to exclude those who stray from the traditional mode of the professor undistracted by ancillary issues (children, spouse, spouse's career). There has been progress in reducing the use of marital and parental status as a consideration in hiring, but it has never entirely gone away.
As usual, the problem ends up being a bit circular. It will be easier to increase the number of tenured FSPs with families when there are (significantly) more tenured FSPs with families. Perhaps as the number of MSPs in two-career couples increases and clock-stoppage becomes more of a general issue for men and women, universities will adjust to this important new reality.
Is that last statement cynical or hopeful?
10 years ago