Family-Friendly U

Family-friendly policies are no longer "just" a women's issue on campus. The stay-at-home spouses of a generation ago have gone the way of the buggy whip, and junior faculty--male and female alike--increasingly find themselves in dual-career relationships. One sign of the changing times is the quiet adoption, in November 2001, of a "Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work" by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). But it will take more than a few nice policies to make the university--any university--a family-friendly haven, according to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania.

"I was surprised by a few things," says Jerry Jacobs about his research on "Faculty Working Time and Gender Inequality." "I expected the longest hours to be at Research I universities and I was surprised by how little variation there was by institutional type. The other thing that surprised me is how old assistant professors are."

Jacobs and co-investigator Sarah Winslow examined time pressures on faculty, and on assistant professors in particular, using data from the 1998 National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF), supplemented by other surveys and census data. They found that "long hours are not restricted to faculty at elite research universities but are evident among professors working in liberal arts and other institutions as well. Faculty in research institutions report working the longest hours (an average of 55.8 for men and 54.0 for women), but ... male full-time faculty in liberal arts colleges work 54.0 hours per week, and their female counterparts put in 53.4 hours per week." The investigators did not compare the sciences to other disciplines, but did find that "the drive to be the first to discover important new findings in one's field of research does not differentiate those who work the longest hours from other faculty." They also note that average working hours for all ranks and genders have increased since the 1992 NSOPF survey.

Across all fields and institutions--including comprehensive and liberal arts colleges--Jacobs and Winslow found that the average age for male assistant professors is 42.4 and for women 43.7; more than 60% of female assistant professors are over 40. These data, which are segmented by field, seem to show a slightly younger average age--very late 30s as opposed to early 40s--for assistant professors in the sciences, but it is not clear whether the apparent difference is statistically significant.

Looking at the biological clock, it definitely isn't. For most academics it is simply not possible to get tenure before starting a family. "You can't wait until you're 45 to have kids," observes Jacobs. And once the kids arrive, 20 years of parenting follow. Jacobs and Winslow found that the pace and pressure of work do not decline, as so many devoutly hope, after tenure. "Assistant professors work long hours, but so too do tenured associate and full professors. ... For men, there is a slight post-tenure slump with the length of the work week declining by two hours, only to rise again for full professors. For women, the work week actually grows steadily as they advance from the ranks of assistant to associate to full professor."

Winslow and Jacobs conclude that family-friendly policies, even if they are widely available and fully utilized, will not solve the problems confronting young faculty: "The demands of faculty jobs make it difficult if not impossible to succeed while being responsible parents and active members of the community. ...We should place on the agenda the notion not simply of tinkering with the tenure clock but fundamentally altering the expectations of the academic calling."

Such sweeping reform is not likely to happen any time soon. In the meantime, there is some relief to be found in the emerging crop of family-friendly policies that offer a smorgasbord of options, including part-time tenure-track positions, tenure clock extensions, parental support policies that allow partial relief from teaching, family leaves, and "split" appointments, the academic version of job-sharing.

But the whiff of change is in the air, and AAUP's response has been to step up both its research and its outreach activities, activities made possible by funding from the Sloan Foundation. According to Director of Research John Curtis, the effort is a natural outgrowth of AAUP's recent Statement of Principles. The organization wants to "take our recommendations out, so that [the Statement of Principles] will not just be a policy statement that's written in a book or sits on a shelf," he explains. Curtis plans to collect information on policies and to develop a Web-based resource center, backed up with part-time staff support. He also notes that "We'd like to hear what institutions have to say about actually putting our recommended guidelines into practice."

Curtis feels that policies of various kinds are being widely adopted. Most of the larger schools already have policies in place, he thinks, although the same can't be said for many of the smaller colleges.

However, he is concerned that even when policies are in place, they are not being used. There are a number of reasons for this, but a major one, says Curtis, is stigma. "We hear a lot about a tenure committee reviewing an application for a person who took a 1-year leave and they say, 'OK, what extra work did you do during that year?' Junior faculty need to feel confident that taking a leave to care for children, for example, will not be held against them when it comes time for their tenure review." The Statement of Principles itself urges administrations to "monitor tenure decisions to ensure that different standards are not imposed in practice through the application of policies that appear neutral."

Another problem that AAUP is "getting an inkling of," according to Curtis, are family-friendly policies that no one knows about. "At some universities, it may unfortunately be the case that only a few senior administrators and human resources people know that a policy is in place."

May you live in exciting times is often quoted as a Chinese curse. The best advice for jobseekers living in such times is to ask, ask, ask. Curtis urges jobseekers to ask about a school's family policies "if they're thinking of starting a family or already have a family, or even if it's just an issue of concern to them; if they get blank stares and, 'Well, no, we don't do that sort of thing here,' does the institution have the kind of climate or sort of awareness they're looking for?" More practically, in an era when policies are in flux, all things may be possible to those who ask. A school may well have policies that can be unearthed with persistence; it may even be possible to negotiate a new arrangement that serves both the candidate and the institution.

Curtis is clear that these policies are just as important to men as they are to women, and notes, "Jacobs and Winslow's paper makes the point that this is really a quality-of-life issue. It is a gender equity issue but it's more than that." Jacobs surely agrees: "I think there are lots of men who would be interested in spending more time with their families but for the expectations of the job. My feeling is that the structure of work hasn't caught up with values of this generation."

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