Monday, January 10, 2011

The Clock Stops Here

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?

32 comments:

Phillip Helbig said...

Of course, one shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that the fraction of tenured folks of each sex would be exactly 50/50 if there were no discrimination. In other words, while there are certainly problems, the lack of 50/50 distribution doesn't, in itself, prove there is a problem.

Anonymous said...

One factor that I think is important in a more widespread acceptance of tenure clock stoppage is increased usage by male professors. As a male untenured professor I have used this option and I believe that I am one of the first men on my (comparatively family friendly) campus to do so. I am just hoping the the rhetoric of my institution about tenure clock stoppage matches the reality when I come up for tenure.....

Anonymous said...

My Uni has clockless tenure for everyone. That is, one could work on year-to-year contracts for 20 years and then go up for tenure. The requirements for tenure are vague, and I have the impression that if a professor going up for tenure had done nothing recently, he or she would not get tenure.

While this is great for FSPs with kids (or anyone who must deal with a personal issue early in his/her career), there are very few women scientists here. I haven't been here long enough to know if women are leaving or if they're not coming, but it seems to argue against the claim that the tenure clock is a major reason there are so few FSPs.

Anonymous said...

So true.

I was put through the ringer before tenure, at least partially due to the fact that I dared have a family. But now that I squeaked through, my department is using me as proof that they are family friendly! And people seem to be buying it!!

Whatever works.

Sharon said...

Perhaps someone already made this point on your earlier post, but...
One way to help the situation is for universities to create policies to allow men to stop the clock after the addition of a child. Not doing so puts motherhood above fatherhood, and implies that it is more women's than men's jobs to take care of young children.

Anonymous said...

Phillip, The assumption isn't that the lack of women in science is because the ratio is < 50/50; it has more to do with looking at how many women get degrees in STEM fields but then disappear along the academic trail further on (relative to men).

Sharon, I think most, if not all, places, apply tenure clock stoppage policies to women and men. I don't know of any that single out women, but maybe there are some.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who was a new prof at a SLAC (small liberal arts college) and was told by the dept chair that she should not have a kid or she would never get tenure. And this is at a SLAC, not a hard core R1 school.

If I say it once I've said it a thousand times, changing the rules is one thing, but if the culture doesn't respect the rules, then rules won't change a thing. It's the ideal of the work-crazed 80 hour a week professor that is a scientist first and everything else in life is on the back burner that turns off the women I know who are all planning on leaving academic science after grad school. Women who are willing to put up with that are few and far between.

I think women, either through socialization or genetics or hormones or whatever, tend to want to put people first. I think you can be a great scientist and have science be just one aspect of your multi-faceted life, but the culture doesn't have much respect for that as it is. I think many smart men and women drop out because of the culture, not the rules. But how do you change the culture? That probably takes a long time.

inBetween said...

The dilemma is that from my experiences, at least, most men in academia are married with children. Mom is a either stay-at-home or works part time or some other career path that makes her the primary care-giver. Very, very few women I know in academia have children. In fact, my dept is 20% women and only one who is not emeritus has a child. I have one on the way, and I already feel a shift in attitude towards me. I get the impression that the attitude varies tremendously from dept to dept and university to university, but it will take a long time to change the old-fashioned notion in my department. The vast majority of my dept is not at all concerned about the lack of women who stay in our faculty ranks.

CrankyMathGuy said...

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.




I strongly agree with this first sentence, but not the second. You present a false choice: could one not deduce from your 'preliminary data' that tenure clocks are not a leading factor influencing the number of women scientists in academia?

Alex said...

Hypothetical for you:

Somebody stops the clock for a year, but does well in the remainder of the "regular" time, and decides to go up on the regular schedule instead of waiting a year. Is this now an "early" action? Many schools have separate rules for early tenure, usually something like "In order to get early tenure, you must walk on water, and then turn that water into wine, and then publish the chemical analysis of the wine (as well as hydrodynamic simulations of the water walk) in Nature (and both articles must make the cover)."

IMHO, the people on the tenure committee should not treat this as an "early" action unless HR lawyers require them to (which might be a legal byproduct of insisting that committees ONLY look at time on the clock in other cases). However, this may not be the way it's handled at some places.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Anon 11:40's friend has someone in the college administration who could have a talk with the chair and anyone else who thinks a woman has to choose between a child and tenure.

Anonymous said...

You present a false choice: could one not deduce from your 'preliminary data' that tenure clocks are not a leading factor influencing the number of women scientists in academia?

Dear CrankyMathGuy,

As a female Statistician, I will take you up on this. :-) Based on your data, you cannot argue that tenure clocks are or are not a leading factor in keeping women in academia.

To tell whether tenure clocks are a factor or not, as a first approximation, you would need to compare the number of women in the sciences before and after bounded tenure clocks. In fact, even this comparison would not be enough; this will only give you the correlation, and will say nothing about causation.
The only way you could find out causality is to have a perfectly controlled experiment, where some women are given extended tenure clocks, and others are not.

Until you have data from such an experiment, please do not make such injudicious comments in the name of math. :-)

Anonymous said...

My school (public flagship R1 in the southeast) has no automatic clock-stoppage policy. There is a mechanism by which any faculty member can request an extension of the clock, by petition to the relevant Dean and the Provost. I'm aware of cases under our previous Provost in which faculty who requested stoppage due to the birth of a child were denied. I expect our new Provost to be better about this.

I'd also second what Anonymous @11:40 AM says. The culture is everything. I'm aware of a case in my own department (humanities/arts, not science) where a candidate for promotion to full professor was denied mostly because he elected to take unpaid leave after the birth of his second child. Many male full professors thought this unconscionable and torpedoed the case. (Of course, none of this is in the official record; but the true source of animosity was widely known.)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

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?

The most elite institutions in the US--on average--have *longer* baseline tenure clocks than lesser institutions.

Anonymous said...

Are you willing to name the name of your university (anonymously)? This sounds like one of the worst schools mentioned so far. Why not publicize the problem, even if a new Provost may not be as bad as the previous one?

Anonymous said...

The Anon 11:40 could also name the problem SLAC and department.

GMP said...

@Alex: the situation you describe happened a few times at my university a few years before I was up (someone has stoppage paperwork on file but decided they didn't need it, and went up in year 6 as is common; somone on the university level promotions committee called this early tenure and asked for the more stringent, early promotion criteria). Luckily those who called for early promotion criteria were silenced by the reasonable majority.

Since, at my university, you can only apply for stoppage within the 1st year of birth/adoption,
I believe it is now widely accepted at all levels of the administration and recommended that one should apply for stoppage, with the understanding that the candidate does not know at application time if the extension will be needed or not. I am an example of a person who had stoppage paperwork on file, but didn't use it (went up at the beginning of my 6th year).

Stoppage is an option for male and female faculty at my university. However, I know some male faculty in my and related fields (physical sciences) who had kids on TT and stated they would never take clock stoppage, as it is a sign of weakness (one of them seemed quite disgusted at me suggesting that he could take an extension on account of having his second kid on TT). Culture is everything (I am at a big state R1).

Anonymous said...

I am very wary of the idea that male staff should be allowed to stop the clock.

The reality is that it is women who must deal with the physical exhaustion that comes with pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding (let me tell you, manufacturing enough milk to meet all the nutritional requirements of a rapidly growing human being for, say, six months following the birth, is exhausting!).

I my mind, the purpose of "stop-the clock" is to allow women to cope with these physical realities, without jepardizing their chance of tenure.

A father, no matter how involved, does not have the same set of issues.

I know of examples where a male TT faculty member was automatically granted clock-stop, despite having a stay-at-home wife who looked after the kids (i.e. the traditional model). If this becomes the norm, it will just raise the tenure bar for everyone, and women will remain at a disadvantage.

(PS. I am a tenured FSP with two kids. I didn't stop the clock, as I am at an non-US institution, where the tenure process is quite different.)

FrauTech said...

I don't know, I think CrankyMathGuy has a point. I'm not saying you can draw any conclusions here...but assuming that either tenure stoppage either hasn't had time or isn't being implemented fairly seems like the easy options. It's likely that it itself is not really a sufficient tool to keep women in the pipeline. That places where it does or doesn't work suffer from the same underlying problem. I know you're thinking, what's the point in arguing semantics? But I tire of assuming that having babies is the only reason that women are leaving science. It's such a baby-centric view on life.

Angry Mother said...

I agree with Anonymous at 5:47pm. The physical rigours of having a child and breastfeeding are huge. But, I can see a case for stopping the tenure clock for a man for a shorter amount of time. At least in our case that would be appropriate, my partner gets up often at 3:30am, 4am, 5am when the baby isn't hungry but is awake.

Anonymous said...

well in my department and field (which is in the physical sciences) most of the young faculty on the tenure track are men with stay-at-home wives. Not single men, or men who are part of dual career couples, but men who are married but whose wives chose to give up their jobs/careers entirely and be full time homemakers.

I often think that whereas my mom was a career woman (just as my dad was a 'career man'), in my generation things have shifted backwards culturally with most of my peers following traditional gender roles of the man being the breadwinner with the career and the wife being exclusively a home maker.

Not only does this make for sometimes awkward situations at faculty social functions because I have little in common with my colleagues' wives (yet I'm a woman), but it also means there are few women in my field and department and that the men who make up the majority are highly unlikely to stop their tenure clocks because their spouses are stay-at-home. I've had more than one male colleague say this was how they and their wives made the decision that she would give up her career to become a full time homemaker so that HE woudlnt' have to interrupt his career at all.

All this means that tenure clock stoppage in my department (and many departments in my field), while technically acceptable because it's in the employee handbook, is culturally considered rare and "unsound"...

Anonymous said...

http://www.redandblack.com/2009/10/06/uga-struggles-to-find-and-keep-female-faculty/

LSU and UGA do not have maternity leave beyond FMLA.

GMP said...

I wouldn't want to deny clock stoppage to men, because we really don't know what each family is like and what their division of labor is. I know families where the father is a stay-at-home dad and the woman works at a university and has never breastfed --should we not allow her clock stoppage? I know families where the woman has a very demanding non-university job and the husband is a faculty and his job gets more of a hit upon having the kid because his job has more flexibility.

Plenty of couples are dual career and I think negating the option of clock stoppage to men just because we assume families are structured a certain way (dad goes to work at univ, mom stays at home and breastfeeds) comes across as discriminatory. And what about adoptive parents? Nobody is actually recovering from childbirth in that case, but getting accustomed to a new child is always hard. I think the only fair way to address this is that any new parent should be entitled to clock stoppage. In my experience many men (and women!) won't take the stoppage out of pride or fear, so I think the danger of men w/ stay-at-home spouses taking it without needing it just to get more time is really not a widespread trend...

Anonymous said...

At my university, a faculty member can take up to one year parental leave (14-24 weeks of which is paid leave, depending on various factors). This applies to either the mother or the father (if primary caregiver). Birth and adoption are both eligible.


In terms of subsequent tenure/promotions applications, the period during which the person is on leave is not counted. (i.e. the period of leave is factored in when examining productivity).

Situations in which the clock is automatically stopped for both male and female faculty astound me. Surely this does not do anything to address the hurdle of pregnancy/childbirth/recovery which is faced ONLY by women.

Bagelsan said...

I get the impression that the attitude varies tremendously from dept to dept and university to university, but it will take a long time to change the old-fashioned notion in my department.

I wonder if the attitude varies a lot generationally, too. In my lab all of the top women (including the PI) have children, and I have genuinely "grown up" as a grad student thinking of people with children as more efficient and productive than people without. No one buckles down like the postdoc who has to get her kids to swimming lessons after work; the guy whose wife is due any day now is the second most focused worker (and even though the wife's PI, an older guy, has been giving her flack about having a baby she still beat her husband to get a Ph.D. first.)

I have no idea if other people in my generation have the same impression I do -- and I don't actually know if it would help retention either -- but I certainly see having kids as a "normal" thing for scientists to do, and not detrimental to their productivity.

Anonymous said...

To Bagelsan:
I agree with your view on the generational issue. The students in my program who have children tend to finish their PhDs faster -- there's nothing like a stipend that pays less than you pay your sitter to motivate you to hurry the hell up so you can get out and get a "real" job. And I've heard some of the newer and younger faculty say that their parent students are more efficient, because they can't waste time in lab or they won't make it home to their kids on time. Unfortunately, it's going to take a looong time before our generation is running the show in academia, assuming there are tenure track positions for this generation of scientists at all.

Anonymous said...

At my R1 university, clock stoppage is automatic for women and must be applied for for men. I don't think it's always granted for men, I think it depends on the situation. They made it this way because when you just had to ask for it the men did and the women didn't. Whatever your gender and whatever the reason you stop the clock you may go up at the usual time without being considered as going up early.

Independent of the arrival of a child in one's house, being pregnant and giving birth are huge physical commitments, which is why leave should be biased towards the mother. In Canada there is a separate childbirth leave (for the mother only, I think about 12 weeks) and parental leave (split between parents and also for adoption), which I think is the way to go.

neurowoman said...

We have clock stoppage here that you have to apply for, but in my department I don't believe it's been a major problem, we're full of babies.

I understand some of the comments regarding clock stoppage for men as somewhat unfair to women, but in the cases where I've seen males take time off after a birth, it has had the effect of allowing the scientist mom get back to work, so parental support for men indirectly assists many a female scientist. In cases where male faculty tenure stoppage was truly unnecessary, you'd better believe departmental peers know about it, so peer pressure and skepticism would probably negate much of any unfair advantage.

What seems to me is an underlying problem, is the whole idea of the 'tenure clock' is problematic. Why is a year or two here or there so critical? We should be evaluating on quality of work, and likelihood of a lifetime of future quality work. Sure, scale in terms of #papers/year, but that varies so much, does it really matter? Surely one can evaluate quality of a peer whether it's at 5 years or 8 years. What's the big deal?

Aisling said...

To add to the "culture" factor: I just attended a meeting promoting jobs requiring a PhD outside of the tenure track/PI path. Based on an empirical head count from the back of the room, at least 75% of the audience was female, while the postdoc ratio here (a large research institution) is notoriously 50/50. So it would seems that more female scientists are drawn away from tenure track careers... From discussions at this meeting, work/life balance seems to be a major reason.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"Surely one can evaluate quality of a peer whether it's at 5 years or 8 years. What's the big deal?"

The reason for a tenure clock is to keep schools from have a "tenure-track" position that never converts to tenure. Right now universities have to either admit that tenure is not possible, or get rid of people and hire again after 7 years. They can keep someone waiting for tenure forever.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see your last blog post. As far as I'm aware of, none of the small liberal arts colleges in Iowa have clock stoppage policies for either gender. My colleague is actually going to do a study on clock-stoppage policies at small colleges, but at least in Iowa, they are rare to non-existent. I will have had two kids here before I go up for tenure, and one previously in grad school. I don't think I would take the stoppage, not because of thinking there's anything wrong with it, but because I want/need the raise that comes with it and my career is going well enough that I'm not too worried about it.

Anonymous said...

In my institution, more pre-tenured men than women faculty have used the fully-paid semester's parental leave. Interestingly, men on parental leave tend to do quite a lot of writing during their leaves, whereas the women tend to do no writing at all, and in fact, are slower to get back in the swing of paper presentations and writing in the months immediately after their leaves. I do worry that rank and tenure committees may not realize that productivity during parental leave is very challenging if you are actively engaged in child care during the leave. I especially worry that they may come to expect that kind of productivity as a matter of course: "We can't understand Mary's gap in publishing; after all, Jack had a baby and he managed to write a couple of extra articles during his leave."

And yes, I know that the plural of "anecdote" isn't "data"...