Wedded to the University: The Professor and the Family

Article excerpt

I: The Resurgent Family and Faculty

In a paper published in the Modern Language Association's professional journal Profession 94, Judith Pascoe discussed her difficulty getting a teaching position while pregnant. Despite evidence to the contrary, the general assumption in hiring is that female faculty with children under-perform. Pascoe's story ends happily, but she is "still concerned about the way pregnancy affects women's job searches and, more generally, about the way family and faculty careers combine" (73). I share her concern and will examine it with regard to the more general issue she raises of how family and faculty careers combine, with consideration of the present status of the family in society to help position the issue. Three questions in particular arise: can the professor with a family, even if the spouse is not working, compete with single professors, given the split allegiance between the family and the university? How will the university respond to this divided loyalty? And how will the public view professors and the university in this conflict of loyalties?

North Americans are emphasizing family values again. United States President Bill Clinton presented the moral vision of his presidency in a November 1993 speech as founded on the virtue of the traditional family. Clinton's speech--coming from a centre-left liberal yet--can be expected to influence greatly moral agendas and popular opinion in the foreseeable future. Conservative writers on education such as Allan Bloom and Dinesh D'Souza have been calling for just such a turn. Western Canada, massively supporting the Reform Party, is in agreement.

Being single or married should not, ideally, be a determinant in either a professor's performance or the perception of it. But feminism has shown us how the personal is political, so that we cannot ignore a society increasingly turning toward what are called family values, nor will it continue to ignore us. Will such a society continue to permit direction of its tax dollars to an institution that is increasingly necessary for its children to attend, but which is the locus of what that society finds increasingly antithetical to its vision of societal health? What relation, parents will ask, can a single (female? gay?) professor have to a community that is trying to instill family (patriarchal?) values? When the larger community sees professors with families unable to compete because of divided loyalty, will itthen privilege those professors? Will "family clauses" in future be written into contracts of employment? These questions can be summarized in the two specific issues that interest me here: the current relation between the university and the academic family; and what relations could be, given the trends in society and our own desires.

There are indisputable signs of a resurgence of interest in family values. Newsweek recently devoted a special issue to the crisis of the Black family in the United States, in the process signalling what also could happen to White families if insufficient attention is paid to spousal communication, time with children, and the demands of employment. The irony of the Black experience as instructive to Whites was underscored by the recognition of a Black leader that the be@te noire of White American liberals, Dan Quayle, was right in asserting the importance of family ("Special" 20). Here, if Canada's "national newspaper" is any indication, we are also beginning to weather an assault on the liberal values that have guided cultural development since the 1960s. In two Globe and Mail articles from last spring, both the contents and the juxtaposition of headlines belied a semiotic that could not be lost on the wary reader. The first article (Fraser) was concerned with the new effort to strengthen the traditional family in the United States, an effort that is notable because it spans the political spectrum; right, left, and centre, as Clinton's speech also reveals, all agree on the need for a renaissance of the family. …