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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Do female professors feel comfortable deferring tenure after maternity leave?

There has been a veritable landslide of articles this summer asking whether (working) women can "have it all," with Anne Marie Slaughter's article "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" in The Atlantic serving as the giant boulder in the middle of the rubble.  These pieces have prompted me to think about whether female assistant and associate professors actually feel comfortable deferring tenure after they take maternity leave.  Many (hopefully, most) universities now make this opportunity available.  But do many of us take it?

I get the impression that the our general attitude has been one of reluctance.  There's certainly a plethora of reasons for not putting off tenure.  There's the pay increase, the permanence, and the wonderful sense of being done with that whole process.  We may work through maternity leave, so that the time "away" has little impact upon our ability to meet tenure requirements. 

But I'm curious whether we also shy away from deferring tenure for other reasons, perhaps from a sense that doing so is somehow tacitly inappropriate or unprofessional for professional women.  Slaughter opines that many "women in leadership positions" are "reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination."  Perhaps, then, there is a sense that deferring tenure somehow reflects a lack of personal determination.

I do not mean to imply at all that schools tend to discourage women from deferring tenure.  If anything, they have an incentive to strongly encourage women to defer:  it is cheaper, and it best protects the school's investment in junior faculty by giving these individuals additional time to strengthen their tenure files.  And there is the fact that some women have to actively take advantage of the opportunity to defer tenure for it to seem like a realistic option in the culture of the academy.  Otherwise, the opportunity might acquire stigma, rendering it technically available but culturally impractical.    

Another interesting question, of course, is whether male professors feel comfortable taking paternity leave in the first place, let alone deferring tenure.  But that might be another converstaion entirely.  



Posted by Jody Madeira on August 7, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Permalink


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Regarding your paternity point. We have a generous paternity leave policy at my West Coast school (generous b/c of state law). At least it is generous on paper. It amounts to a semester off any time within 1 year of the child's birth. I would not dare to take it though. Based on comments of colleagues, it would be (these are quotes) "viewed negatively" and is "something for women." Of course I think it's discriminatory to even say that, but the message is clear -- such leave is not for men. We have a history of women getting the full semester off, and no such history for men. So when the baby is born, what are my options? Be a trail blazer and risk doing something not consistent with the school's culture that might rub the bigots the wrong way? Or cancel a bunch of classes, and limit my time in the office (dis-serving students)? Both options are suboptimal from the viewpoint of my family. What would you choose as a tenure track faculty member?

Posted by: AnonUntenuredDaddyToBe | Aug 10, 2012 2:31:56 AM

I just ran across this excerpt from a helpful article from 2006 discussing the availability of tenure deferral policies, and the wariness they can inspire...and apparently we have it better than the Brits.


From the article...

"Starting in the late-1980s, US campuses passed a raft of family-friendly measures. According to a recent University of Michigan survey, 86 per cent of research institutions count some form of tenure clock extension (typically one year per child, up to a maximum of two years). More than half offer unpaid leave beyond the 12 weeks required, while 32 per cent have enacted so-called "active service modified duty policies", which includes temporary relief from teaching duties.

But arrangements can be highly variable, the survey notes. Some institutions automatically offer tenure clock extension to parents who apply, at others it is discretionary and parents need to make a special case.

More fundamentally, experts identify the stigma attached to many of these policies, driven by a perception that signing up to initiatives such as stopping the tenure clock invite questions about dedication that can count against staff."

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 9, 2012 12:18:48 AM

Thanks, all, for the very insightful comments.

That's an excellent question, Related Q. I know that I myself have had conversations with colleagues (in law and in other disciplines) where we find that we received common advice to defer childbearing until tenure is over. Needless to say, I think that we all took that advice with a grain of salt. But I think most of the childbearing tends to go on either before the market, or after the market (for most female candidates, probably after--depending of course on age and prior work history). I haven't seen a lot of pregnant women actually on the job market, more like a handful each year.

Deferring parenthood until after tenure may also have invidious consequences--fertility, after all, declines in the mid-30s.

Another interesting question is how a school could really convey to a junior woman professor that maternity leave for childbearing or adoption is supposed to be just that--time welcoming a new addition into the family, and dealing with the transition. It could easily seem too paternalistic if senior colleagues repeatedly emphasized to her that she should not be working on research or course planning or other work activities during this time. Of course, no matter what, we ourselves actually (at least we intend to ) determine how to use this time (babies may have other plans!). So in the end it comes down to our comfort level, which is likely correlated with what we see our colleagues doing, whether they take leave and how they use it, whether they defer, etc.

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 8, 2012 11:32:17 PM

I think the more interesting question (and it is an empirical one) is how many female profs are deferring becoming pregnant until after they make tenure. Taking it a step further, how many moms are going on the market this year?

Posted by: Related Q | Aug 8, 2012 9:05:10 PM

Sorry about the weird link in the middle of that. I'm on a much needed family vacation and should get back to that!

Posted by: Jen Kreder | Aug 8, 2012 6:59:30 PM

I was surprised to learn seven years ago that most university policies are pretty stingy in terms of maternity or paternity leave. In contrast, my old firm adopted an incredibly generous six months paid leave after the firm was hit by some bad PR about the treatment of http://www.slu.edu/colleges/law/slulaw/facultyflowwomen in the firm. I believe at most AAUP institutions, a course reduction would result in a dock in pay, if it is even an option. That negates most of the goals of the FMLA six-week leave. My Dean was kind enough to work with another colleague and me when both my colleague's wife and I were pregnant. My colleague and I started on the tenure track at the same time and coincidentally expanded our families at the same time. I believe my colleague took a pay reduction to teach less. That was not an option for me as my family's sole income earner. I took on extra administrative duty, taught a summer course and traded the second half of my six-credit-hours in a first year course for a seminar, which I was able to schedule flexibly. Students were disoriented by the first-year swap out, despite a full semester's notice. So, I would recommend avoiding that if possible. I suspect many deans may be willing to be more flexible than university policies designed primarily for undergraduate faculty seem to contemplate. Our university policy did not discuss any potential to defer the tenure vote. I do not think most schools' policies do. Neither my colleague nor I were interested in that in any event. I hope this is helpful to someone out there!

Posted by: Jen Kreder | Aug 8, 2012 6:57:11 PM

I would be interested in any gleanings from other disciplines. It might be that some women (or even men) fail to extend tenure because of concerns that doing so reflects adversely on them and their cases. Or they might refrain from doing so because the bar for tenure in law schools is set so low that the lost productivity really doesn't matter for the vast majority of cases. If that is the case, query what that means for the tenure track process in general; it might mean that the solution Orin Kerr reports (lengthening it for everyone) moves things in precisely the wrong direction, absent an increase in productivity requirements (and even then, it seems like a wrongheaded means of encouraging faculty to take advantage of a benefit to which not all are entitled).

I'm probably most skeptical of the suggestion that maternity leave has little impact on productivity. Were that the case, however, it would also call into question whether law schools are doing the right thing by, in essence, giving leave from the classroom but not from scholarship, rather than vice-versa.

Posted by: Me | Aug 8, 2012 10:08:44 AM

I know of at least one school in which the tenure track was extended another year for everyone in large part in response to these concerns. I don't know if this has happened more broadly, though.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 7, 2012 12:35:13 PM

Dear Anon,

Congrats on your new little one! I think you hit the nail on your head...tenure is not just a stressful event for most of us because it's an evaluation of our work thus far, etc., but because it offers the chance of stability which of course affects not only our careers, but also our families. I think the personal determination issue is also aggravated by the fact that we might compare ourselves and our output with other colleagues and their output, whether or not these other colleagues have children.

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 7, 2012 11:46:43 AM

I recently had a baby and am highly reluctant to defer tenure, despite apparent openness from my dean and administration. Jody, you identify all of the reasons: 1) quicker to tenure means quicker to family stability; 2) others (men and women) have not done so; and 3) the perception that I lack personal determination looms large (in my mind, at least).

Posted by: Anonymous Assistant Professor | Aug 7, 2012 11:38:55 AM

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