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Academia not family friendly to women

When it comes to academia, women still have to choose between family and career. Last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that academia is one of the less friendly professions for women with children.

In a 2006-07 study of 8,400 graduate students on nine University of California campuses, only 29 percent of women and 46 percent of men said that research universities were family-friendly places for tenure-track professors to work.

Even compared to other work-intensive, competitive professions, academia is not family friendly. A study produced by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Utah reported academic women are 27 percent less likely than doctors and 17 percent less likely than lawyers to have babies.

‘Kids aren’t like computer programs that run predictably. With more than two, there is always going to be someone who is sick or needy, and so something at work is going to have to give,’ a female associate dean of academic affairs told the Chronicle. ‘If anyone told me they wanted three kids, I would be thinking, ‘What, are you nuts?” She asked to remain anonymous because she did not want to be publicly critical of women with children.

Women are underrepresented in faculty across the nation, but particularly at the University of Texas. Women faculty members at UT hold fewer leadership positions and receive lower salaries than their male counterparts. In 2008, only 36 percent of faculty members were women, according to UT’s Office of Information Management and Analysis. That is a problem in itself. But even this small percentage is not proportionally represented in University leadership. Women only hold 19 percent of full professorships at UT. The women who have managed to get hired by UT and worked their way into leadership get paid significantly less, an average of $9,028 per year less, than their male counterparts. The American Association of University Professors data for 2006 show UT ranked 11th out of 12 peer institutions in the percentage of women ranked as full professors.

The Gender Equity Task Force Report, released last year, addressed these facts and explained that women at UT fare worse not only than their male counterparts but also than female professors at other universities. When it was released, many people expressed disappointment. But it is no surprise that women are choosing not to work at UT.

Working Mother Magazine’s 2007 list of the top 100 places to work for women notes dozens of institutions that provide significant paid maternity leave, ranging in length from six to 16 weeks.

But female faculty members at UT do not receive a day of paid maternity leave. They are permitted to use any sick (or disability) leave they have accrued, but University policy stipulates that they may use that sick leave only while they are physically impaired or in recovery from pregnancy. The total time a female professor can be on unpaid leave is eight weeks.

Child care for graduate students and faculty at the University is unreasonably expensive, too. A family with an income between $55,000 and $99,999 must pay $875 dollars per month, and there are a limited number of spots available at a lower cost for families with lower incomes.

This lack of consideration for family obligations is the primary cause of the inequity evident at UT. According to the American Association of University Professors, childbirth disrupts women’s careers more frequently than any other form of ‘disability’ or family obligation, as eighty-seven percent of women become parents during their working lives.

Childbirth also occurs most commonly during the same years that college faculty are seeking tenure in their jobs. In order to achieve tenure, many faculty put off or abstain from having children. In fact, nearly one half of the few women who remain professors choose to be either single or childless, according to the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

Childbirth and child care must not be seen as disabilities for faculty. Instead, higher education needs to shift its focus to encourage balance in the lives of professors.

The University’s predictable response to the Gender Equity Task Force Report has been to actively recruit female faculty. But it will not be successful in increasing the number of female professors on campus until it creates family-friendly policies. Rather than intensifying recruitment, the University should focus on creating a professional atmosphere that welcomes working mothers. As long as the University ignores the family obligations of faculty and treats the employees who ignore their own family obligations with deference, women will never be adequately represented at UT.

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