Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Article excerpt

Female professors discuss the trials of family life on the tenure track.

Numerous articles and studies have been released suggesting that having a family is a career-killer for women - in academia and in any field. For this reason, many women either put off starting a family until after they have attained tenure, drop out of the tenure race because they have children or shy away from it altogether since they don't believe it's feasible to have a family and attain tenure.

Female professors on the road to tenure and full professorship say they face tremendous pressure to not start a family - pressure that their male colleagues do not face.

"I have been strongly encouraged to [wait until after getting tenure before having children]," says Dr. Marjorie Shavers, assistant professor in the education department at Morehead State University, who is "definitely" waiting until after she has received tenure to try to have children. Shavers, who has done a lot of research on women in doctoral programs, says she has found it is "no big deal if a male [has a family], but it is stigmatized for women."

Shavers has been on a tenure track two of her three years of marriage and says the demands of the position put a strain on her new marriage, even without children. She says she knew it would be difficult but did not anticipate the magnitude of difficulties she would face.

"Feeling like I should always be working was an issue when I first got married," Shavers says. "I typically teach at night. ... The time you would normally have to decompress with your spouse isn't there, and if it is there, you are expected to do other things" to meet the requirements of the job, such as research.

There is also concern over how colleagues would view things like a need to be out for an extended period of time, shuttling an infant to frequent doctors' appointments, needing accommodations to pump milk, if one were breast feeding - things that, if a male professor needed to do the same, some assume he would be able to do it without hassle.

"In general, women are sometimes scrutinized a little more ..." says Shavers, "so I think those things are heightened. Even if you're [on campus] just as much, they're looking at you a little more."

A balancing act

Dr. Tia Tyree, assistant professor and interim chair of Howard University's Department of Strategic, Legal and Management Communications, started a second career in academia expressly because she was ready to start a family and the demands of corporate public relations were not ideal for motherhood.

"I literally went to get my Ph.D. to start my career in academia," she says. "I wanted to do something that would allow me the flexibility to [advance my family], so it was all perfect."

But "perfect" is relative, it turned out.

When Tyree interviewed for her position, she was eight months pregnant.

"I literally delivered my son two weeks after I started my job," she says. "My second son literally got out of NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] the week school started."

At that time, when she was dealing with two trying deliveries that landed each of her sons in the NICU, Howard did not allow maternity leave, explains Tyree, adding that policies have changed in the three years since her youngest son was born.

But, Tyree says, the support she received from her colleagues has been tremendous. "I got my Ph.D. from Howard ... my peers had been my professors, and they automatically became my mentors. They were genuinely concerned about me getting tenure, which I think is the HBCU culture. …

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