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The Baby Gamble
Do changing diapers and helping with homework leave time for world-class scholarship?

Amy Hungerford was holed up in the bathroom of a plane heading nowhere she wanted to go. It was January 2004, and she was in her fifth year as an assistant professor in Yale’s English department. Her advisers had suggested that she go on the job market to improve her chances of tenure, and though Hungerford didn’t welcome the prospect of time away from her six-month-old son, she obliged. A quick 48-hour trip to the University of Kentucky in Lexington was doable, or so she thought.

She didn’t anticipate flying into an ice storm that bounced her to Detroit and grounded her plane, along with all its passengers. By the time they took off again, seven hours had passed since she had nursed her son, and she was in pain. She begged batteries off her fellow passengers, locked herself in the tiny lavatory, and set to work with her breast pump. The rest of the trip was a blur of interviews scheduled around pump times.

In the end, Hungerford was offered the position at Kentucky and declined it. She doesn’t believe the offer will help her chances at Yale. Now, looking back at the month she spent preparing for the visit, she says: “I could have written another chapter.”

Time is measured in simple increments when you’re an assistant professor at Yale.

Time is measured in simple increments when you’re an assistant professor at Yale. Hours become not days, but pages toward an article or a book that might persuade a Tenure Appointments Committee that you are among the leading scholars in your field in the world, and therefore deserving of one of the most elite positions in academia. Yale did not decide until 1959 that a woman in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had met this exacting standard. By the early 1990s, women still made up less than ten percent of tenured professors. Since then, Yale has made progress. The most recent figures show that, in every category but the social sciences, women assistant professors hired between 1985 and 1994 achieved tenure at a slightly higher rate than their male counterparts. And the American Association of University Professors says Yale’s overall proportion of women, tenured and untenured, on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—25 percent—is equal to or better than its peers’.

Nevertheless, only 18.7 percent of tenured Arts and Sciences faculty at Yale today are women. In part, that’s because there are fewer women than men in the pool of young faculty candidates at Yale and elsewhere. Yet U.S. universities, this one included, are increasingly conferring comparable numbers of PhDs on men and women. So why hasn’t that initial parity traveled up and over into the professorial ranks?

Theories abound, from gender discrimination and unwelcoming work environments to hard-wired neurological differences. But one solid hypothesis is motherhood. In their project “Do Babies Matter?” Mary Ann Mason, a dean at the University of California–Berkeley, and statistician Marc Goulden documented that women leak out of the “pipeline” at every level of academia. Worried that an academic career is incompatible with parenting, many women don’t seek academic jobs after graduate school. Those who do, Mason adds, are often derailed if they have children; they may work part-time to cope with the demands of child rearing and then find it difficult to get back on a full-time professorial track.

Mason and Goulden drew on data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, a federally sponsored study that is following the careers of more than 160,000 PhD recipients. They found that men who had children within five years of earning their PhD were 38 percent more likely to achieve tenure than their female counterparts.

Yale doesn’t collect the data that would reveal how motherhood affects its own young scholars.

Yale doesn’t collect the data that would reveal how motherhood affects its own young scholars. But in 2002, the Women Faculty Forum, a group working for gender equity throughout Yale, reported that 88 percent of the junior faculty it surveyed felt “their child care responsibilities had definitely or somewhat affected their tenure prospects at Yale.” That disturbing finding helped prompt the university to craft a plan for increasing access to child care; the details of the 2005 plan, which include building a new day care center, are now being worked out. And in 2005, Yale set a specific gender goal: it plans to raise the proportion of women in all Arts and Sciences professorial ranks from 25 percent to 30 percent by 2012 (and also of minority professors from 14 to 19 percent).

Even the most progressive policies, however, may not help tenure committees to evaluate an academic’s work in light of her work as a mother. “The notion that a faculty member’s scholarly productivity is, say, slow in the years when she is raising small children has endangered the chances for tenure of some women,” says Jill Campbell, a tenured English professor. Campbell—who is a mother herself—adds that it can be hard, even disrespectful, to talk about an academic’s personal choices in the context of a tenure evaluation. “There really isn’t an acceptable, appropriate way to take motherhood into account in the discussion of someone’s performance and eligibility.”

Amy Hungerford has a four-year-old girl in addition to her son, who is now two. She credits her department with trying to accommodate her decision to have children. She took a term off from teaching for each child and was given what she terms “workable” committee assignments. When she had her son, for example, she served on the junior appointments committee, which meant that the bulk of her work fell at the end of the term, a few months after he was born. And if she turned up at meetings with infant and carrier in tow, no one looked at her askance. Still, she says, what that goodwill can’t change is the drain on her time in the long term: “Those kids don’t go away.”

Hungerford produced her first book at the same time she gave birth to her daughter. She’s now in the middle stages of her second book. But her schedule is more flexible than that of her husband, who works in admissions. If the kids get sick or school closes because of snow, she’s usually the one who takes time off. “The constant interruption of your work is quite dramatic,” she says. “Having children does slow you down. It just does.”

Yale makes it clear that its internal candidates will compete against a wider external field.

The race for a tenured post at Yale is much more demanding than at many other universities, and Yale makes it clear that its internal candidates will compete against a wider external field. As Charles Long, the deputy provost, who started out as an assistant professor of English in the 1960s, explains: “We ask our [junior] faculty to think that all you get is the right to compete with everyone in the world for your position.”

The numbers bear out just how tough that competition is. Of assistant professors hired by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences between 1985 and 1994, 19.5 percent won tenure. The humanities had the lowest rate, 11 percent, and the biological sciences had the highest, 56 percent. In a comparable period, Stanford tenured 40 percent, the University of Missouri about 45 percent, and Berkeley about 75 percent of their respective junior faculty.

Mindful of the dilemma, Yale has adjusted its leave and tenure policies, most recently in January 2005. Its leave policy had been tied to the act of giving birth, allowing a new mother a semester’s paid leave from teaching. The revised policy shifted the emphasis from childbearing to child-rearing: it extends the leave offer to any full-time faculty member who bears or adopts a child under the age of six or whose spouse or same-sex partner does the same. A faculty member who has taken a child-rearing leave can also extend the tenure clock by a year per child for up to two years.

Yale already allows entering faculty an unusually long time (ten years compared with the customary six or seven) before they must either earn tenure or leave. With the two optional years for children, the deadline can be as long as twelve years. And a tenure review committee is currently considering reforms that may make the schedule and process more transparent for junior faculty. But the fundamental standard—that the candidate must be a leading scholar—will not change.

The young feel the pressure and, as the tenure clock ticks down, worry that raising children will eat away too many hours. The fear of interruption has driven many women academics to put off having a family; one professor at Yale said she delayed having children until she got tenure, and by then was too old to have more than one child. Women professors are faced with a choice that often feels like no choice at all: should they risk their academic or their biological productivity?

"Put the children to bed by nine, and then you have four or five hours to write.”

“I arrived at yale six years ago with a new PhD in one hand and an infant in the other, and like many junior faculty women I think I believed this was a juggling act I could sustain,” said Vilashini Cooppan '88, standing at the lectern of a wood-paneled auditorium at Yale. In her speech at a conference hosted by the Women Faculty Forum in April 2004, Cooppan proceeded to detail how that early optimism gave way to the conviction that an academic in her shoes was “simply not the ideal worker … perhaps not of any academy, but certainly not of this one.”

There were nods of recognition in the audience. Cooppan recalled a male colleague who had no concept of the “second- and third-shift work women academics do” to raise children—in the early morning hours, in the early evening, and “when you’re breast-feeding, which feels like all the time.” (His advice: “Put the children to bed by nine, and then you have four or five hours to write.”) She had come to “loathe the fiction of flexibility: the notion that somehow it’s all easier for academics because we can just move the hours around.” Women, Cooppan charged, were further hampered because they were asked to spend more time than their male colleagues on Yale’s “housework”: audio-visual arrangements, drafting paper topics, and other administrative tasks. Cooppan’s speech was the last talk she ever gave at Yale; she now has a position in comparative literature at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Katie Trumpener, who co-taught a lecture course with Cooppan, took a different path. She waited until she got tenure at the University of Chicago before having her son. “The first six months, I drove myself crazy trying to go at the same pace as before,” she recalls. “I had to let go of that, because I couldn’t do it.” She had to unlearn the workaholic habits that had been ingrained in her since graduate school, and to forgive herself the time she spent with her son.

Academics like Trumpener and Cooppan play multiple roles. They give lectures, do research, pick up the children after school, and supervise homework. In its report on child care in 2003, the Women Faculty Forum noted that the “dominant image of the eminent university professor was that of a man who sported not only a rumpled tweed jacket, but a wife who typed.” Few women academics have spouses dedicated to that support function. They must rely on day care to narrow the gap between the academic image and their reality.

A survey the forum conducted in 2002 documented the difficulties faculty parents have in finding and paying for care. Yale has five high-quality affiliated day care centers, but they are small, with limited openings and long waiting lists. Nearly a third of the parents who didn’t use a Yale-affiliated center reported that it was because they couldn’t get a spot. Some faculty members pay to hold spots before their children are old enough to enter, or sign up on multiple waiting lists even before conceiving.

A spot at one of the Yale-affiliated day care centers averages $1,000 a month.

Many professors, particularly at the junior level, struggle to pay for day care. A spot at one of the Yale-affiliated centers averages $1,000 a month. Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, who oversaw the study, says that she spent two-thirds of her take-home salary on child care, even though she and her husband enrolled their younger daughter in a less-expensive co-op to save money. “All of our time and all of our money were going towards paying day care bills and cleaning day care floors,” she says. She began writing tests for the Educational Testing Service to make more money; other junior faculty parents sign up for summer teaching. Dillon argues that it’s counterproductive for Yale to hire scholars who can’t spend their time on scholarship because they have to earn money for child care.

“The number one piece of advice i give to young women is: you have to marry the right guy,” says Meg Urry, the first and only tenured woman in the physics department at Yale. “You have to find a guy who believes in halfsies.” When their two girls were younger, her husband, also a physicist, picked them up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Urry handled the other two days.

Urry began a tenure-track position at the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins in 1990. She thought that getting pregnant right away would give her more time to recover from the hit to her productivity, so she had her first daughter the next year, her second two years after that. Pregnancy slowed down her research and made her “one of those people who got stupid and tired all the time.” But she kept up a frenetic pace at work, because she was terrified of doing anything else. Her male colleagues spent a lot of time talking and going out to lunch, she says. “I ruthlessly cut everything because there was no time to waste.” She ate lunch at her desk while pumping breast milk and talking to her students. Four and a half years after starting work, she got tenure.

The notion that mothers can’t make it at the highest levels of academia is “a big fake,” Urry says. “Seventy percent of women with children under the age of two work. Most work in inflexible jobs where they don’t make much money and can’t use compensation to ease their lives. If anyone can do it better, it’s women in academia.”

"The social reality is that women are expected to do more than half of the child care.”

Although Urry’s “stupid” may look like brilliance to the rest of us, she doesn’t mean to intimidate. She wants women scientists to follow in her wake and to be skeptical of suggestions that they can’t pursue their intellectual interests and also have a family. But “halfsies” can be hard to find. Pericles Lewis, an associate professor in comparative literature and English who has two children, says that he keeps up his half of the chores, but that most women do more than their share. “You can say that they shouldn’t do it, and ‘If only their husbands were more supportive …’ But the social reality is that women are expected to do more than half of the child care, and that’s going to affect their productivity.”

When Mason and Goulden surveyed the Berkeley faculty, they found that women between 30 and 50 reported spending more than 50 hours a week on child care and housework. Male professors with children said they spent 31 hours on those tasks.

“It’s hard for women to bargain tough with their husbands if social norms are going in the other direction,” says Frances Rosenbluth, a Yale political scientist who studies labor market conditions for women. She believes academic mothers deserve “some breaks” to help offset those social norms. But she emphasizes how hard it is for a university to figure out just what the breaks should be: “it’s tricky, because it doesn’t want to incentivize people to have children.” The children of faculty are necessarily “costly to the university.”

How far should universities go to help mothers?

How far should universities go to help mothers? Linda Hirshman, a retired visiting professor of philosophy and women’s studies at Brandeis, offered a “modest proposal” in the online journal Inside Higher Ed: “Since young faculty fathers spend two-thirds the time on family care that mothers do, why not simply require faculty fathers to produce half again as much (teaching, scholarship, whatever) at each step of the way that the faculty mothers do?”

It’s safe to say no university will ever do that. But what about the more realistic proposals? Harvard subsidizes child care by as much as $5,000 a year (the amount is based on financial need). But Yale, while it plans to build a new child care center, is unlikely to provide direct subsidies to faculty.

In 1998, Berkeley instituted a number of the reforms that Yale put into place seven years later, such as full-term leave for new parents and an option to extend the tenure clock. Mason and Goulden have proposed additional changes—including a guarantee of high-quality day care slots and, most controversially, a part-time tenure-track option. The odds that Yale’s tenure review committee will institute a part-time tenure track—now or 15 years down the road—are slim.

Yale faculty parents themselves disagree about how to make tenure more compatible with parenting—in part, perhaps, because their experiences differ greatly across different ranks and departments. Michael Loewenberg, a tenured professor in engineering and a full-time father, suggests that because the tenure system interferes with parenting, scholars “shouldn’t have to meet the standard of being world-famous to get tenure. Tenure decisions could perhaps be made earlier without great risk to the institution”—not a lower standard, in other words, but an earlier one. Elizabeth Dillon, on the other hand, suggests rethinking the shape of an academic career and changing the expectation that requires “academic stars to show themselves through an abundance of production in their 30s.” Vilashini Cooppan is open to the possibility of differential clocks, but warns, “it’s too risky to wait until your early 40s to make your next move.” Pericles Lewis, who also favors extending the tenure clock, agrees that “you can’t have a tenure clock that’s 20 years long.”

When Chicago’s Katie Trumpener feels trapped by the conflicting demands of motherhood and scholarship, she envisions a future when “we’ll look back on this and laugh.” Her own childhood—her mother keeping house, her father, a professor of history, spending the day at the office—now feels outdated. It would never have occurred to her father to leave work to care for his children if they got sick, she says. When he came home, “there was always a sense that he’s had a hard time, he’s cooling off.” She adds, “And yet I am he.” And then she stops and corrects herself: “I am both my mother and father simultaneously.” the end






Social Sciences

Men with tenure: 78
Women with tenure: 4

Men with tenure: 75
Women with tenure: 15

Physical Sciences

Men with tenure: 103
Women with tenure: 0

Men with tenure: 108
Women with tenure: 9


Men with tenure: 116
Women with tenure: 11

Men with tenure: 94
Women with tenure: 40

Biological Sciences

Men with tenure: 33
Women with tenure: 3

Men with tenure: 33
Women with tenure: 7

Total Faculty of Arts & Sciences

Men with tenure: 330
Women with tenure: 18

Men with tenure: 310
Women with tenure: 71




Getting Tenure First

Frances Rosenbluth wrote three books, knew tenure was within reach, and then had three children. At the time, she was a professor in political science at, first, the University of California–San Diego, and then UCLA. No one advised her to hold off on having kids, but she noticed the higher attrition rate of females than males and saw for herself that the academics who seemed the most “strung out” were mothers who’d stayed up all night.

Now a professor at Yale, Rosenbluth analyzes the interplay of labor markets and fertility. She believes children are the “human capital of tomorrow,” but knows full well that they come at a high price. She breast-fed her kids, let them sleep in her bed, and went through ten years of what she describes as “very much a slow period” for her work. She wrote articles and has just completed her fourth book. As a senior professor and survivor of three sets of terrible twos, she’s willing to take an academic’s child-rearing duties into account when deciding tenure.




The Full-Time Dad

Michael Loewenberg, a tenured engineering professor, regularly gets “disproportionate praise” for raising his ten-year-old daughter, Zoe. “People can’t get over the fact that I’m the primary caregiver,” he says. “It’s amazing how people’s view of these things is so sex-related.” Paternity leave didn’t exist at Yale when he became a father.

Loewenberg, who is now divorced, has taken a lead role in nurturing Zoe since she was a toddler. He picks her up at school, helps her with homework while cooking dinner, and takes her to her extracurriculars. “I can’t just work on things whenever I feel like it,” he says, although “it’s hard to be inspired on a schedule.” Loewenberg has missed his share of afternoon meetings and dinners with guest speakers, which he doesn’t regret; he embraces the choices he’s made. He adds, with a trace of sadness: “at some point, she’ll be in college and I’ll have my career back full-time.”




Just One

Jill Campbell ’88PhD and her husband, Langdon Hammer ’80, ’89PhD, were hired in Yale’s English department within a year of each other. They didn’t consider deferring a family; too many of their friends had waited too long and had difficulties conceiving. They tried to split the duties evenly and hired a 30-hour-a-week nanny for the early years. In retrospect, Campbell believes childbearing created a greater emotional, as well as physical, demand on her in the early years. “Being an academic and being a parent are traditionally so different for a man and a woman,” she said. “Women have to struggle to make their own peace with that relationship in a way that a lot of men don’t.”

She and her husband had just one son, a decision Campbell describes as a compromise. “The cost of child care and some of those other conflicts would have escalated greatly with two or more,” she said. It was a choice that she believes academics shouldn’t have to make, but in some ways it worked. She and Hammer got tenure in their eighth year at Yale. Her husband started crying when he got the phone call announcing that Campbell had achieved tenure, but their son, then four, didn’t understand all the excitement. “What’s so great about that?” he asked.




Having Children First

Sarah Weiss has worried at times about mentioning her kids. Over the years, some of her colleagues have been “completely sympathetic,” but others have the attitude “‘you shouldn’t have so many kids”—or at least that I shouldn’t spend so much time with them.” Weiss, an ethnomusicologist, joined the music department last fall. It was a risky decision: at age 43, with a family to consider, she can’t wait ten years for tenure.

She knows her publications list is shorter than it might have been without her son and the stepson she raised. “There are moments when you simply can ’t sit down and type out the thought you have.“ Still, she believes the multitasking of motherhood—writing, diaper-changing, thinking, burping—has a scholarly upside: “once you get into the pattern, you’re much more generative.” Her son is now in second grade, and the diapers are gone. There are still crises, like the night before her 9 a.m. seminar when he got sick and was vomiting until dawn. But overall, she feels freer. “That mental space just opens up” as kids mature, she says. This year, for the first time since her son was born, she’s been able to stay at work and feel that “everything is going to be just fine.”


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