Academic journal article College English

Academic Leadership and Advocacy: On Not Leaning In

Academic journal article College English

Academic Leadership and Advocacy: On Not Leaning In

Article excerpt

Hold still, we're going to do your portrait, so thatyou can begin looking like it right away.

- Hélène Cixous

We are all familiar with reports on the lack of women in "high places" in business, industry, and higher education. While women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, many of us find it gratifying that fields in the humanities such as English studies recruit and retain substantial numbers of women and minorities. However, recruitment in the more advanced ranks in our field are not so very different from those in STEM fields. Men still dominate full professor positions as well as administrative and leadership positions. These trends reflect patterns found in other disciplines in which women and minorities have remained "outsiders in the sacred grove" of academe, as Nadya Aisenberg and Mona Harrington first noted decades ago. At the same time, women tend to be more predominant in non-tenure ranks, especially those positions in units defined by a service mission.

In the past fifty years in higher education, women and minorities have gained influence in leadership positions largely in two-year colleges, non-tenure-track (NTT) units, or service programs (Hogan 95). Across institutions, women fill only 30 percent of chief academic officer positions at four-year colleges and 25 percent of college presidencies (Ward and Eddy). The lack of female leaders is even more notable because women have long constituted over half of college graduates, more than half of PhDs, and almost half of those entering faculty positions (Mason). Yet women constitute just 42 percent of all associate professors, and only 29 percent of those promoted to full professor (Ward and Eddy). The story is somewhat different in English and foreign language departments. According to a 2009 report from the MLA's Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession, women make up 67 percent of associate professors, but just 43 percent of full professors-the rank that is a prerequisite for many leadership positions (CSWP 3).

The reality, of course, is more complex than such numbers reveal. To understand the leadership opportunities available to women and other traditionally underrepresented groups, we need to consider the broader academic environment, including reward structures, the changing nature of faculty work, the pressures of university-community service roles, and the ways that these trends define and reward leadership. Administering programs and launching student initiatives are generally not fully recognized as leadership nor credited toward promotion because they tend to be overshadowed by traditional emphases on scholarship and even service to the profession. Wide-ranging initiatives to improve student recruitment, retention, and graduation call for expanded perspectives on leadership. Like other women serving in administrative positions in English departments and elsewhere, we have long sought models for leading in ways that align with who we are and how we want to make a difference. We trust we aren't alone in seeking more diversity in role models while feeling ambivalence toward the models of leadership that are available. We have explored popular works on women as leaders, such as Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller advising us to "lean in," to pull ourselves upward within existing structures that we want neither to enter nor accept. We suspect we are also not alone in rejecting such views of success as individual achievement rather than a collaborative advancement.

In this article, we step back to consider our ambivalence about academic leadership and lay out the possibilities of feminist rhetorical perspectives to help with transforming the structures of higher education, primarily by redefining who and what leadership entails. To begin, we offer some specifics on the rhetorical situations and material conditions of women as leaders in fields of English and beyond. …

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