Mothers in Academia

By Dodson, Angela P. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Mothers in Academia


Dodson, Angela P., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


While women in academe have made progress over the past few decades, it is not news that those who want to have children while navigating the rocky path to tenure and advancement face tremendous obstacles.

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"Although many academic institutions have made considerable progress in accommodating academic parents' pragmatic concerns, there is still a systematic failure to recognize the ways that motherhood can alter a female academic's career in profound ways," editors Mari Castaneda and Kirsten Isgro say. "This anthology confronts these biases and reveals the strategies we as mothers may engage in so as to not jeopardize our academic lives."

Women compose almost 50 percent of the workforce in academia in this country, and an estimated 65 percent of those women are working mothers, according to the authors of Mothers in Academia (Columbia University Press).

Other authors have researched and documented issues related to motherhood in academia, but this book allows mothers to tell their own stories, while providing scholarly analysis of the status quo. This anthology of essays or "testimonios" presents a variety of experiences with a diversity of voices.

Castaneda, who conceived the project, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and the director of diversity advancement for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Isgro is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh.

While male professors, fathers and women in other fields may argue that they too have to labor and parent under difficult circumstances, this book makes the case that some of the expectations in higher education create peculiar dilemmas for academic mothers. Tenure clocks that coincide with the fertile years, inflexible course loads, research demands, school calendars, service commitments, faculty committees, office hours and other pressures force many women to choose between keeping their jobs and having children.

Various studies cited in the book indicate, as the authors say, that "women in academe are also far less likely to become biological or adoptive parents than other professional women or their male counterparts and are more likely to remain single for the purpose of achieving career success."

That is a high price to pay, not only for the women individually, but also for colleges and universities, where the perspectives of mothers will be missing in the classroom and from discussions on how best to help all students succeed. …

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