Female academics in the STEM fields, who already face a host of career obstacles, have found those challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, on women in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine, covers issues of productivity, colleges’ responses, and managing boundaries between work and home. (One respondent to a 2020 survey cited in the report put that quite clearly: “There are no boundaries,” she said.)
Here are two major takeaways from the report:
1. There are challenges to the approach of extending tenure clocks.
Campus leaders last year paused tenure clocks, but some fear such a policy could delay professional advancement.
Also, most faculty members are not on the tenure track, so such a pause does not ease the pressure across the board. (Women, the report says, are disproportionately represented in non-tenure-track roles.)
Respondents to the survey, of more than 900 faculty members conducted in October 2020, said they’d prefer colleges to reduce research expectations during the pandemic. Junior faculty members could get credit for other types of research, including inquiries related to Covid-19.
2. Men largely are making decisions on campus personnel issues that have wide implications for female academics.
Who hold the board seats and top administrative posts at colleges? Largely, the report says, men. And in an era of top-down decision making at colleges, that means women lower in the ranks will have less of a say as academic programs contract and virus precautions are instituted.
When campus leaders “make decisions in a gender-neutral way,” existing inequities are exacerbated, the report says.
One example of that pattern, highlighted in another recent study, was at Auburn University. Instructors with lower academic ranks were more likely to teach courses deemed “very risky” due to the capacity of the classrooms in which they taught: Nearly half of “risky” or “very risky” classes were taught by graduate teaching assistants, contract instructors, or lecturers. Women — especially women of color — taught more “risky” or “very risky” classes than men did, according to the study.