Random thoughts on gender and professorships

I was recently privy to a discussion among some new faculty about what to have students call you, where “you” is a young, relatively freshly minted Ph.D. and new professor. There were lots of varying viewpoints, many of which I’ve heard before, ranging from “women just can’t have their students call them by first names and maintain distance and respect” to “I felt so much more comfortable when my professors let me call them by their first name and I went to office hours, so I let my students call me by my first name,” to “I like the ego trip that comes with being called professor so-and-so.” The gender issue is one that is particularly sticky and I’ve discussed it with many female colleagues at every stage of their careers. I come down on the side of staying Professor Fletcher until a student graduates. Having been subject to lovely gender- and age-based attacks such as “my male professor in another course says everything you’re teaching is crap,” and “you’re unprofessional” has only heightened this resolve.

During this discussion, one colleague framed the answer to this question in a way that I thought was incredibly insightful and a great use of his privilege, as a male in the classroom, to even the playing field. He said that a female member of his doctoral dissertation committee had told him under no circumstances to allow students to use his first name. The reason, she said, was that she couldn’t, and so he shouldn’t.

It seems rather simple, but I’d honestly never thought of it. Given the differential treatment women often face in academia, male professors exercising the privilege of letting students use their first names and subsequently seeming “more accessible” is actually a detriment to women’s careers. Another female colleague, who is up for tenure this year, told me that she felt that being hard on her students early in her career had hurt her student evaluations, and thus her chances for tenure. Though she doesn’t like to make such distinctions and would never say it, that’s a conversation I’ve never had with a man.

I do think it’s getting better, but until it’s actually better, we should all do our part. And having everyone be addressed the same way is a good way to level the playing field.

As a side note, the New Faculty Program through the Center for the Integration of Learning, Teaching and Scholarship at Lafayette College is pretty great.

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Wow, just wow

Another paper for my to-read list. From Christina Lindblad at Business Week:

The writers, Steven Rhoads of the University of Virginia and his son, Christopher Rhoads, of the University of Connecticut, studied a sample of 181 married, heterosexual, tenure-track professors all of whom had children under two and taught at schools with parental-leave policies. While 69 percent of the women in the sample took post-birth parental leave, only 12 percent of the men took advantage of the available leave—even though it was paid. They also learned that the male professors who did so performed significantly less child care relative to their spouses. Worse yet, they report that male tenure-track professors may be abusing paternity leave by using the time to complete research or publish papers, an activity that enhances their careers while putting their female colleagues at a disadvantage. One female participant quoted in the study put it this way: “If women and men are both granted parental leaves and women recover/nurse/do primary care and men do some care and finish articles, there’s a problem.”

Without reading, I’d really like to know how big this effect is. If so few men are taking paternity leave, how big is the problem (not that is lessens the problem for those affected, I’m just wondering if we can quantify it). In addition, is there a way to change the parenting men do without getting rid of paternity leave, i.e., can we shame men into doing it differently?

Boycotts are all around us

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about boycotts, in the academic world, in the foreign policy world, and in the consumer world.

Academics are signing on in rather large numbers to a boycott of the journal publisher Elsevier, for practices they view as stifling to creative and innovative thought, and access. The original call to boycott is here, the Chronicle article is here, and if you Google the thing, you’ll find dozens of blogs and articles talking about it. It doesn’t seem to have hit economists too hard yet, but I imagine it’s going that way.

In foreign policy, all the talk is about boycotting oil from Iran in order to ensure that they don’t get the bomb.

Finally comes the Apple boycott, rocking the consumer world. The NYT came out with a an article last week exposing exploitation of workers and unsafe working conditions in China by Apple. Combined with the conflict minerals stuff, some people are hoping to end their iAddictions. Others, of course, want to point out that the whole thing is ridiculous.

Of these, Iran is definitely the silliest. Oil is a fungible commodity. If we don’t buy it from Iran, we have to get it from someone else, say Norway. Thus, another country who formerly bought from Norway, will now buy it from Iran. Iran will sell it to someone else, perhaps at slightly higher transportation costs, but they still will sell it. (Update: Off the wire blog goes into this in a bit more detail here.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Elsevier boycott. I am all for voting with my dollars, and my time, but I guess this feels big because it is inextricably linked to my profession and my sense of self. As graduate students, we are shown over and over again that the path to success is publish, publish, publish, get tenure, and be satisfied. But I can’t help but think that all of this is changing. It’s like the rug is being pulled out from underneath me. It’s not the end of the world surely, but I’m not sure what an open-access academic content world is going to look like. I’m sure that functionally, it won’t change much for most people. But for academics, it’s likely to change a lot. And that’s scary on some level, even if it’s also exciting and desirable.

I’m going to mull over my thoughts on the Apple boycott a bit more, but they certainly seem to be all around us, don’t they?

Update on Fun Wednesday Reading: I’m in the midst of Innes, Rob. “A Theory of Consumer Boycotts Under Symmetric Information and Imperfect Competition.” The Economic Journal, 116 (April) 355-381.

h/t @mflbellemare