Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Do Babies Matter When Charting an Academic Career? the Academy Seems to Think So. (Faculty Club)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Do Babies Matter When Charting an Academic Career? the Academy Seems to Think So. (Faculty Club)

Article excerpt

The University of California-Berkeley has just released a set of statistics that should give pause to every female academic of child-bearing age.

Women who have children early in their careers -- that is, between one and five years after receiving a doctorate -- are less likely to achieve tenure than men with children, and the margins are significant: 24 percent in the sciences and 20 percent in the social sciences and humanities, according to the study Do Babies Matter: The Effect of Family Formation on the Life Long Careers of Academic Men and Women.

The study's authors, Dr. Mary Ann Mason, dean of UC-Berkeley's Graduate Division, and Dr. Marc Goulden, the research analyst, also found that Women with early babies are far more likely than all others to join the ranks of low-paid and low-status lecturers, adjuncts and other part-timers, while men who have babies early in their careers are somewhat more likely than all others to achieve tenure.

The study went on to say that the majority of women who achieve tenure appear to sacrifice child-bearing to do so. Sixty-two percent of women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent from the sciences report no children in their households 14 years after obtaining a doctorate, compared with only 39 percent of tenured men in the humanities and social sciences and 30 percent of tenured men in the sciences.

The pattern seems clear: For women who choose academia as a life path, there are hidden social costs that men just don't have to pay.

And what's most unfortunate about the findings is the fact that "this is not a new issue," says Dr. Yolanda Moses, president of the American Association for Higher Education. "When I wrote a piece back in 1989, this was the information that we uncovered. So 15 years later, we're still talking about the same issue."

Dr. Dolores E. Cross certainly agrees. Cross, the outgoing president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, was part of that initial wave of Black women to enter the academy buoyed by the promises of the civil rights movement.

"People say to me, `Dolores, you're a role model.' They have no idea," says Cross, who was also the first Black female vice chancellor at City University of New York and president of Chicago State University. "If young people really knew what it was like, if they could have watched my life all the way through, they might just say, `I don't want to do that.'"

Cross has detailed her struggles in her autobiography, Breaking Through the Wall: A Marathoner's Story. And she believes those struggles were pretty typical for her time: marrying and having children young; then delaying her education to put her family's needs first; earning her doctorate, then struggling to balance career and family without much support from her department; moving frequently to suit her husband's career demands and finding herself in progressively "Whiter" settings bereft of family and community support; eventually outstripping her husband professionally and bearing the brunt of criticism when they divorced.

But the great irony of Cross' story is that, with just a few script changes, it could easily have been written today.

Dr. Kim Blockett, an assistant professor of English at Pennsylvania State University's Delaware County campus, has written about the struggles of women teaching English and the modern languages. She served on the MLA's Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, which released a hard-hitting report that mirrored the UC-Berkeley findings in key areas in 2000. She also knows firsthand the perils of mixing children with a graduate education.

Blockett married young and had her children young -- she's 35 and the oldest of her three children is 16 -- so she had had plenty of experience juggling family with work responsibilities when she entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But when she found herself pregnant during her first year of graduate school, right after she and her husband had decided to divorce, she was "scared to death," she says. …

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