virginia-tech

Are Universities Not Female Friendly Enough?

Well, at least for those seeking full-time research posts.  Let’s be real, women have made great strides in recent years in terms of catching up with men at college.  Women now receive almost half of all Ph.D.s and their grades are usually equal to men.  There is no doubt that in previous generations, women made up a much smaller percentage of college graduates.  But in today’s world, women have almost eliminated the statistical difference.  Yet it seems to some people, that still more needs to be done structurally to help ensure the statistical shortfall is eliminated entirely.

virginia-tech

Burress Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia– my Alma Mater.

Published on theAtlantic.com, Nicholas Wolfinger writes that the system of academia (every time I hear that word, I start thinking Macadamia nuts, hmm… so good, but I digress) is in great need of reform to make it more fair to women.  The argument in short is that because women take leave to have children, it stunts their career and makes it so that the tenure track is unattainable for many women.  To be fair, women only make up approximately 20-30 percent of professors at universities.

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/07/for-female-scientists-theres-no-good-time-to-have-children/278165/

Of course, being a man, I’ll admit that I was never cognizant of any challenges that women may face.  After all, I’m in a profession that is so heavily dominated by men, it makes universities look like the WNBA.  Female architects make up approximately 15% of the total licensed professionals in the field.  Very few make it to the ranks of senior management.  So I can understand why many may question whether or not there are gender barriers in any particular field.  Especially when many of these professions where gender gaps appear are by no means  anything that gender would have any natural effect on the capabilities of the individual.  It’s not like architects are lifting heaving steel beams into place like construction workers are.  I mean, for me, the heaviest thing I lift is a roll of plotter paper when changing the roll.  It’s not exactly a tough job physically.

But even then, there are female firefighters.  There is no reason why if they can pass the physical tests that they should be barred. At least in architecture, the gap seems more do to preferences.  For some reason, fewer women desire to become architects than men.  This is evidenced by architecture school attendance at universities, where only forty percent of students are women.  Universities often try to encourage more female students in architecture programs, but still, the gender gap remains.

With professorships, however, women often make really great researchers and lecturers.  Often, it is  field that is very appealing to women.  So is there an institutional bias that justifies modifying the current tenure system?  To answer that, I think it bears repeating the question of children.  It is cited in Wolfinger’s article that the culprit for women not equaling men in the number of professorships is because women choose to have children.  When this happens, they choose to spend more time at home and less at work.  This is especially true when they are married to a successful husband and it affords them that freedom to not work. Wolfinger’s answer seems to be that women have to remain childless in order to be successful in academia.  His proposal is that universities need to modify their systems to allow women to have children but still be equal to men in their pursuits.  He even cites Sweden as a great example where the government actually requires men to also take paternity leave at the time of children’s births.

While I don’t think we need to modify our laws to have men staying home, I do think parents in general should be accommodated more in university settings.  Both husband and wife should be given more opportunities to include their children on campus with daycare and play areas.  It’s good for children to be around universities.  The atmosphere encourages a love of learning.  But the system by which professors are chosen and put on tenure track needs to be changed too, just not for the purposes of gender equality.

The current system is still steeped in medieval traditions.  This has many inherent flaws for both men and women.  Being that we are in the 21st century, universities should try harder to re-imagine how they select and promote their faculty.  In fact, all institutions and corporations should be re-imagining themselves.  I’m not the one to tell universities how to do it.  Again, I’m an architect.  I know the business of architect, not education.  My plan is to redesign the architecture profession to work better for architects and for their clients.  Universities need to do the same.  They need to redesign their business models and figure out how to provide the best service to their customers (the students) while achieving their research goals.  There is much to admire in American academia.  We have in my opinion the best university system in the world.  But that does not mean there is no room for improvement.

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