Sunday, October 29, 2006

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It seems that at least once a year, the YDN publishes an article about gendered inequities in academia. This year's installment appeared in Friday's paper. The headline read "Female profs still paid less," and the body of the article detailed the ways in which female professors at Yale earn less money than male professors at every level from junior faculty up through tenured professor. Even more troubling, it appears that the payment gap between male and female professors at Yale is larger than the salary gaps between the genders at Stanford, Columbia, Duke and MIT. To top it all off, the number of tenured women on Yale's faculty is nowhere near the number of tenured men, a trend that runs throughout the Ivy League.

As someone with dreams of someday being a university professor, I find these statistics disheartening and extremely frustrating. I feel like I read the same thing year after year without seeing any significant changes. Yes, Yale has hired a few more women, such as the physicists mentioned in the article, but these hirings don't represent systemic changes that get to the heart of the problems facing women in academia. And I don't feel that we're on the cusp of change, either. Prof. Shankar suggests, in a somewhat patronizing manner, that the number of female undergraduates foreshadow an increase in female professors, but I'm not sure whether his timing is right. We're not in the wake of coeducation anymore; women have been attending college in large numbers for decades. Although there is an equal ratio of male to female undergraduates, this ration changes in graduate school and changes even further at the professional level. I think that some undergraduates feel daunted by the problems facing women in academia and eschew this line of work.

There is absolutely no reason I can think of why a female associate professor should make less than a male associate professor. Many argue that the pay gap simply reflects the tenure gap (a problem in and of itself), but this study seems to indicate that the inequality in men's and women's salary isn't necessarily linked to the fact that the university has fewer women on its faculty than man. Indeed, it appears that women still don't recieve equal pay for equal work, and the workplace of the university is no exception. For some reason, I find this salary discrepancy in academia almost hypocritical, since these are institutions that promote the values of equality and justice and that supposedly operate on a merit-based system.

At the same time, I don't want to push for a system that looks at "merit" alone and turns a blind eye to the complicated relations between gender, family, and work. The tenure problem is a perfect example of the need to revamp an essentially patriarchal system in light of women's rise in the academic world. Female faculty at Yale often fail to achieve tenure, partially because of the opacity of the tenure review process and the almost incestuous nature of the review committee, but also because of simple biological facts. As my advisor is fond of saying, "for women, the biological clock is the same as the tenure clock;" that is, the years that you are supposed to be writing and researching and publishing are the same years that you are getting pregnant, if you choose, and raising young children. The simultaneous responsibilities of teaching, researching, and child-rearing make it incredibly difficult to achieve tenure. I believe that universities need to take this problem into account and provide better child care, among other services, for its female faculty. Kate Ott's call for "creative solutions" is a call that Yale must heed.

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