Friday, May 3, 2013

being a mother on the non-tenure track

I was headed to the library yesterday to do some academic research, and thought I might get a book for myself. So I searched the lib catalog on motherhood and academia because I really could use some comfort and maybe some tips on how to maintain this tricky balance of working and mommying. I found two books, both of which focus solely on the challenges of being a tenure-track mother. One of them explains that yes, there are mothers on the non-tenure track, but for the purposes of their book, they're excluding those women because the issues are different. Ugh.

My first thought: I should try to collect some experiences of full time (or part time--no need to be exclusionary here) mothers who are in academia and publish my own damn book (or edited collection of essays). We're here, too, you know, and we could use the same kind of support that the tenure track mommies need!

My second thought: why is it that non-tenure track experiences seem (especially to the tenured people) so different and alien from the tenured ones? Yes, tenure is a huge deal. I have several friends who've been through it and I see the immense stress and frustration that results from a process that demands tons of work and time and political acumen. But you know what? Being on the non-tenure track has plenty of stresses, too, but they're different ones. And at least in my department, the non-tenure track has grown exponentially (esp. the full time one) while the tenure-track has stagnated. That means that the non-tenure track stresses have essentially multiplied and the tenured ones have more or less stayed the same. Why no love?

I haven't had a chance to read those two books on (tenured) academia and motherhood, but I will. I'll see if there is anything useful to report back in case another non-tenured mommy wanders onto my blog.

I wonder if there are any writings in the medical community about different tracks and women's experiences? I ask because at my institution, it seems that the med and pharmacy schools have a much more accepting and progressive attitude toward teaching faculty. I worked on a committee with a teaching-track (non-tenure track) pharmacy professor who seemed to think that he was treated well and that his practicing pharmacy professor colleagues did not look down on him in any way. He was just seen as doing a different thing than they were doing. This is just not the case in my field, in the humanities. Teaching track (non-tenure track) professors get paid significantly less than tenure-track professors and their work is seen as far less valuable (and far more replaceable) than those on the tenure-track.  Am I mistaken about the medical academic community? Are there different castes, in a sense?

I don't mean to turn this post into a rant about tenure, which I do think is an outdated and unworkable system in many ways. I'm all for maintaining academic freedom (which is really what tenure protects, or should protect), but I would argue that there should simply be two tracks of tenured (or non-tenured) faculty at an institution like mine (R1, major urban university): teaching faculty and research faculty. We should have the same level of respect and the same pay and retirement.

And if that were the case, there would probably be many more books about academia and motherhood and they wouldn't feel so exclusionary.

Anyone want to write an essay about academia and motherhood that isn't exclusively for women on the tenure track? I'm halfway serious about approaching a publisher and seeing what we could do. I'd even include essays on tenured women or tenure-track women to be fully inclusive of the academic experience. I absolutely get that tenure-track motherhood is hard. But so is non-tenure track motherhood (and adjunct instructor motherhood, and grad student TA motherhood, and so on...).

1 comment:

  1. My world is a bit different (no real "tenure" for physicians, the school of medicine is consistently up or out---lord I lost my voice and my mind trying to explain this to a young humanities prof at a "mixer" last year.) I'm not on the "tenure track" that is offered to us, because without the possibility of real "tenure", I didn't really get the point, since the expectations were a bit higher than on the track I'm on. Prestige? Saying you're on tenure track?
    That is really unfortunate that there is that dichotomy in your area, though. Teaching is obviously a valuable occupation---who would look down their noses at professors? Maybe its just this particular place (your place sounds very very similar to my place..).
    I say GO FOR IT with the book!