Second Response to Philipsen: Balancing Academic Work-And Clerical Work-And Personal Life

By Laird, Susan | Vitae Scholasticae, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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Second Response to Philipsen: Balancing Academic Work-And Clerical Work-And Personal Life


Laird, Susan, Vitae Scholasticae


"Balancing Personal and Professional Lives" is so good and so important I instantly wanted permission to photocopy it and pass it out to everyone in my college, including administration, faculty, staff, and students. Maike Ingrid Philipsen's own autobiographical contribution to her study is profoundly moving. It could stand alone as a short piece by itself, but her extensive research underscores her own story's broader significance and illuminates other serious difficulties academic women experience as well. Her article makes clear that the challenge of balance in higher education is gendered, complicated, and huge. I regard such social research on academic women's lives as one politically necessary genre of educational biography, a kind of collective biography, beyond the individual biography that we usually think of as biography, a way of knowing and telling the truths about academic women's lives-truths otherwise seemingly invisible and inaudible, lost to public consciousness.

Philipsen's study of women faculty's life struggles has made me think of graduate-student mothers who have organized recently an Oklahoma Mothers and Educators Collaborative (see OMEC on facebook) to address their own balancing struggles both creatively and collectively, issue by issue: to pursue family-friendly campus reforms that consider challenges facing women students no less than those facing women faculty. Philipsen's study demonstrates that, without doubt, these students can expect their struggles to continue long past completion of their graduate degrees. Clearly, too, her study shows the immense value that activism like theirs may have for both women faculty and women students.

With kudos to Philipsen for taking women faculty's lives seriously in a way that cannot fail to resonate thus with women graduate students' lives, I cannot resist responding to this article myself-by citing another complicating concern in the sexual politics of higher education's challenges to women's lives. In view of this study's apt observation of universities being organized around men with wives, I am surprised that one particular recent historical development in patriarchal academe did not surface in Philipsen's oral data, a relevant issue that may merit separate future investigation. This concern is the status of clerical support in higher education and its consequences for women's lives.

Clerical support for higher education remains predominantly female-a semiotic feature of higher education and its class structure that backgrounds the struggles of women faculty whose stories Philipsen has cited. Like the office workers in Dolly Parton's hilariously thought-provoking film Nine To Five, women providing clerical support for higher education face balance issues too, which their employers (including women faculty) have seldom acknowledged as worthy of family-friendly attention. At the same time, clerical support for faculty has diminished markedly since women began to join the professoriate in significant numbers. Even though numbers of faculty and students have grown, often numbers of clerical workers have not, for new technologies have displaced much of their former work to faculty. Sometimes I wonder what changes in higher education might be possible to relieve balance issues if academic women began to study our own challenges in light of related diverse challenges and possibilities for women of all ranks and social classes in colleges and universities. Philipsen's own study would have been rendered unwieldy by such expansion, but I think it might well spark a collective research program of such broad scope not possible in this lone study.

Perhaps I notice this issue because, following my graduation from college, I began my self-reliant working life as a full-time secretary in a college. I felt myself lucky to get my secretarial job with just a baccalaureate degree because in that college and university town countless campus secretaries were women who had completed the Ph.

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