Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Woman's Work in Higher Ed.

A recent blog post on http://educationceo.wordpress.com/ was provocatively titled "Women Have No Place in Education." The writer is a dedicated and tireless advocate for school choice, and is putting her proverbial money where her mouth is by starting a charter school for underprivileged kids. But what she write, I think, applies to women in higher ed:

"Women really do have a place in education, but I can’t help but wonder if working as a classroom teacher in some ways limits our opportunities to assume leadership roles, e.g., administration, superintendency, charter school developer, etc. Now I know there are some very dedicated, qualified, and damned good classroom teachers who have absolutely no desire to transition into a leadership role. I can and do respect that. But what about those who do? At what cost? What must she/they exchange in order to exercise their dynamic and visionary leadership skills and leading their staff in transforming a school that ensures the success of every child."

Now, this isn't exactly the same as the situation in higher ed, but the majority of adjunct teachers (contingent, underpaid, responsible for the majority of the foundational courses in the humanities) are women. We are essentially hitting a "glass ceiling" in higher ed. It is impossible to transition to leadership roles without that ever-elusive tenure-track job. So women are limited in their career development, deprived of their chance to choose to shape the direction of higher education.

But what other options are there? This is the way we have allowed ourselves to be limited, the way higher ed has convinced us to limit ourselves: We believe that if we have a PhD, we are a failure unless we get that tenure-track position. So we scratch and claw and keep coming back, keep putting off having families, paying off debt, buying a house, getting married, etc. And we keep complaining (quietly, as rocking the boat too much is career suicide) but we can't see our way out of it.

So what do we have to sacrifice in order to take matters into our own hands and take charge of our careers but also to work to improve conditions for students and other teachers? How can we change the university when we aren't allowed in?

From without.

We need to start using the skills we have acquired over the years, not in unrelated areas, but in the name of education. Use our research skills to grow our knowledge and power in the name of ourselves and our careers as we chose to define them. Use our teaching skills to teach other in new ways. What are we sacrificing? The dream of the tenure-track job and all that that includes. What might we gain? Independence, power and a voice to change higher ed for the better. And to change lives.

My next blog, someplace to start.

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