As hinted at in yesterday’s post, “Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part I,” Historiann has had her run-ins with this phenomenon, patriarchal equilibrium, and with the interference of administrators in the advancement of women faculty. Still, it came to me as a surprise, since I’m such an easygoing cowgirl who looks for the best in people and who does my darndest to get along with everyone. (All y’all who know me can attest to that!) Well, being super-friendly and determined to get along is no defense against a phenomenon with the force and strength of several millennia of history, not to mention awesome institutionalized power across world cultures!
Anyhoo, here are the true facts: When I came up for tenure at Baa Ram U., I sailed through the department with a unanimous vote, won strong recommendations from my Department Chair and Dean, and then. . .was telephoned by my Chair one morning in January and informed that the (new that year) Provost and (new that year) Dean requested that I withdraw my case because I had “only” a book under contract plus five articles, and they were concerned that my case wouldn’t pass muster at the Council of Deans (the Provost’s advisory board that reviews and makes recommendations on tenure cases.) Mind you, the tenure standards at the time required only four articles or a book contract, so I was clearly an overachiever, with more than twice the required scholarship!
I told the Chair of my department that I would not withdraw my case, and instructed her to tell the Dean and the Provost that I would instead consult an attorney. And I did. The Chair of my department also convened a meeting with the Tenure and Promotion committee, and together they wrote a detailed memo to the Dean and Provost protesting this interference with the judgment of the department and explaining once again how I had not only met but clearly exceeded the tenure standards. (I am very fortunate to have such right-minded and generous colleagues, and I’m sure that their memo was much more persuasive than my personal refusal to withdraw my case.) Fortunately for me and my department, my case went before the Council of Deans where it was blandly approved without comment, and where it was then approved by the Provost, the President, and the Board of Governors of Baa Ram U.
What a disappointment it must have been for the Dean and the Provost that my case in the end was utterly uncontroversial! (It was in fact a huge disappointment for Dr. Mister Historiann, who was looking forward to getting “a house in Maine, and an oceangoing craft of some kind” out of a lawsuit or settlement!) Perhaps the Dean and the Provost were whingy because they were new in their jobs that year. (They both quickly moved on to other jobs, thank goodness, and I hope for the sake of the faculty they work with now that they’ve learned a thing or two in the past five years.) But, I assume that a large part of their insistence that I present more than twice as much published scholarship than people in my department have been expected to present for tenure (before or since) has a lot to do with the fact of my sex, and with the fact that I publish articles and books that are clearly feminist women’s and gender history. Just a hunch. Oh, and by the way–I was only the third woman tenured in my department (of about 24 faculty!), and was the leading edge of a tiny wedge of 3 more women who would be tenured a few years later. (Somehow, institutions find a way to resist change.)
The lessons I learned–aside from the pervasiveness of that ol’ patriarchal equilibrium–is that 1) institutions count on junior faculty women to be poor and scared, and that 2) administrators can do whatever they want, no matter what the written standards, rules, or procedures are. Why else would the then-Dean and then-Provost have assumed that their strange instructions, conveyed second-hand and most definitely not in writing (and yes, after the Dean herself had recommended me for tenure) would be followed obediently, if they didn’t think I was poor and scared, and if they didn’t think they could mess with people’s careers with impunity? The then-Dean and then-Provost didn’t know I was married, let alone married to a feminist man who makes a good living and who was getting sick and tired of seeing his wife pushed around in two different academic jobs. What a position of privilege I was in to be able to say to my Chair, “Tell the Dean and the Provost that I won’t withdraw my case, and that I’m consulting a lawyer!” when most other women would probably have felt pressured to do whatever the Provost and the Dean told them to do–and reasonably so, especially if they were single, or if they were the primary income in their families, or if they had children to think about or educational debt to pay off still. Because the truth is that institutions have infinitely more money and (perhaps more importantly) infinitely more time to fight us in court than individuals have.
What have you seen or heard of in the course of your careers?