August
14th 2009
Why not start at the top?

Posted under: Gender, happy endings, jobs, women's history

womanonladderThe College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin has decided that it’s not enough to hire junior women faculty and wait for them to progress through the “leaky pipeline“–it has a specific strategy for hiring women as full professors (h/t Inside Higher Ed).  (Although if you read down into the story, you’ll see that they’re also hiring these women’s husbands/partners who are also scholars, presumably as senior faculty, too.)

“What they did is very unusual, because there are more issues with recruiting full professors, who have more complicated lives and who may be very happy where they are,” said Philippa Levine, a British historian who will be moving to Austin from the University of Southern California. Levine said she wasn’t looking to move, but was swayed by the “dynamism” she found at Texas. And at a time when public universities are complaining that they can’t outbid private universities in putting together packages, Texas did so.

Texas “absolutely” offered her more. “It’s an entirely appropriate and extremely generous package,” she said. “My sense was that UT was very shrewd in understanding the way these politics operate.” She added that while she is pleased to see Texas and other institutions hiring more women in the junior ranks, “you don’t change the structures” unless you also expand the number of women in the senior ranks.

UT focused on identifying people who were “moveable,” and worked at recruiting them!  What an unusual strategy for women job candidates–regular readers will recall Associate Professor Alice’s Adventures at Blunderland U. on a misbegotten interview. 

Because these are women who have successful careers at their former institutions and no immediate need to move, Diehl said that the efforts succeeded in part because faculty members at Texas were keeping their ears open. “We seize opportunities where they arise, and when we have a shot at recruiting a distinguished scholar who is a woman, we try to make that happen,” he said. “We’re looking out there and asking who is movable.”

[Anthropologist Jennifer] Johnson-Hanks, one of those who was, said that she had great students and colleagues at Berkeley, and wasn’t so much looking as “willing to listen” when she and her husband were approached. On the whole, she said she was drawn by “an intellectual vision for where the university was going,” and she said that the prime factor in moving was related to scholarship and the sense of vitality she found.

But to the extent money was a role, UT held the upper hand (and the decision was made prior to the most recent round of cuts at the University of California). She said Texas offered more money, and that while Berkeley matched the offer, other financial factors favored Texas. “We could buy a gorgeous house for what we got selling a tiny house in California,” she said. “We will be living where there are great public schools, but in California, we couldn’t afford a home in the areas with great public schools.”

UT has a pretty weak hand to play (in my view) in terms of location.  (It’s a great location for Texas, but it’s in east Texas nonetheless–and Historiann just simply couldn’t handle the heat and humidity for most of the year.  Plus, it’s in Texas.  People move from Texas to Colorado–not the other way around!  Not that anyone has asked me to move, yet.)  But focusing on the amenities offered versus the cost of living overall seems like a good strategy for recruiting people who by definition are going to be established scholars in their 40s and 50s.  But, here’s another important factor in this strategy:

Texas officials said that they could not have made the progress they did at the senior levels without a commitment from the senior administration and a willingness to spend real time on the process. Identifying, recruiting and moving senior faculty members takes longer. “Most of these efforts started two years ago. This is not a one-year thing,” said Richard Flores, senior associate dean.

(Emphasis mine.)  What do you think?  (Check out the first few comments on the article:  ZOMG discrimination!!!!111!!!!  ZOMG someone should sue111!!!!! because for the first time ever, more women than men were hired as full professors.  Someone call the Whaaaaaambulance!  Funny how sensitivities about “discrimination” are so highly attuned whenever anyone but white men come out on top.)

16 Comments »

16 Responses to “Why not start at the top?”

  1. Flabbergasted Full Professor on 14 Aug 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Yes, it’s interesting that these people never thought discrimination was in play when more men were hired. I wonder what the response would have been if the story were “Three new UT hires bring wives with them”.

  2. Rad Readr on 14 Aug 2009 at 8:32 am #

    UT Austin is on the move! One of my friends was recruited in just this way…a big loss for us. Your post notes the important part of this type of recruitment — support from administrators, two years to convince people, offering money AND vision. But then I agree with you on the Republic of Texas factor.

    Re: discrimination charges. Right-wingers have figured out that they can be loud, obnoxious and anonymous on article response boards.

  3. Historiann on 14 Aug 2009 at 8:36 am #

    Susan and Rad: yes, it’s amazing that bias is so much more of a problem when it appears to be against men, especially white men! Never mind that the commenters have NO IDEA what the search criteria were, and what the available pool of recruits/applicants looked like. They KNOW that it was illegal! How else to explain the different results at UT this year, because we all know that white men are sooooooo much more qualified than anyone else, in every discipline and subfield that has ever existed.

  4. GayProf on 14 Aug 2009 at 9:06 am #

    More evidence that the administration really has some profound power to shape a campus (but I would discourage most people from moving to Texas. Yes, even Austin (which is really just “less conservative,” not “liberal.”)).

  5. Historiann on 14 Aug 2009 at 9:29 am #

    I knew you’d probably back me up on Texas, GayProf. But I will say: the people I know who have lived in Austin really miss it when they leave, and have a great deal of affection for the community there. And, I do know someone who’s moving from Potterville, Colorado to Austin, as it happens, and she’s very excited about it.

  6. Lance on 14 Aug 2009 at 10:12 am #

    I’m impressed, even jealous. To really make this work, and in such a short timeframe, you need something clicking at every level – departments to pull alone and pull together, Deans and Provosts to commit extra funds for spousal appointments. My own institution (which we might call “Crimson and Cream Dreams of Michigan University”) lacks the capacity for this synchronized effort.

    H-ann? After reading through the links to those disastrous searches, can we pool our wisdom here positively? Can we have an accounting of the better touches, where searches worked?

  7. Historiann on 14 Aug 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Lance, that’s a good idea. Towards the end of next month, when people are busy applying for jobs (if there are any jobs to apply to), I’ll post a compilation of links about job searches and advice for both candidates and interviewing departments.

    GayProf at Center of Gravitas had a couple of great posts on just those last two topics in the past year.

  8. Janice on 14 Aug 2009 at 11:29 am #

    Wow! Philippa Levine? They’re getting some really amazing scholars with this recruitment. Way to go, UT-Austin!

    I am amused at the comments over at IHE. Being a faculty brat, I grew up watching high-flying engineering profs being recruited to my dad’s faculty. Everyone was thrilled when this or that noteworthy scholar was recruited. That’s the way the game is played in the big leagues (and that’s why we’re all told to publish and network so that we can take advantage of these opportunities should they come our way). However, when it comes to the IHE commenters, when women are recruited, even high-profile women such as those mentioned in the article, it’s all about discrimination.

  9. Lance on 14 Aug 2009 at 11:39 am #

    Cool. I will remain attentive.

    And as for Austin’s charms: people I know love the town. I think maybe it wears better on people who like the alt-rock, alt-country, indie film scene. And, of course, you have to like the heat.

    They sure do have some good people there.

  10. Historiann on 14 Aug 2009 at 1:29 pm #

    Lance–I meant to say earlier that I think you’re right on to say “To really make this work, and in such a short timeframe, you need something clicking at every level – departments to pull alone and pull together, Deans and Provosts to commit extra funds for spousal appointments.”

    Yes, everything has to fire on all cylinders. It sure did for so many generations of entitled white men, when thumbs were put on the scale for them through the exclusion of most other races and sexes of people from grad school and discriminatory practices in hiring, as Janice suggests. AS IF UT-Austin wouldn’t have made sure that they were hiring superstars! Those first comments over at IHE remind me of my little brother when I played board games with him: when I started winning, he’d take the board and flip all of the pieces and cards and dice in the air so that the game was over.

    Fortunately, some sensible people appear later in the comment thread. I especially appreciate the comments from “Madge the Academic Manicurist,” and from “Lance,” who I assume is our Lance here. Check them both out–scroll all the way down–but I’ll copy some of Lance’s comment here:

    Since gains like this can be ephemeral, let us hope the administration and faculty maintain a commitment to a diverse faculty. The free and fair exchange of new and old ideas is a critical element of knowledge production, but it is hard to create the circumstances for it in a world with only one set of experiences represented.

    As for the boys club here, go watch District 9, grab a bourbon, read some Coetzee, and think about the changing world around you. You – we – have all the advantages, and everything to lose. But these things (better and more plentiful job opportunities, higher wages, a system of social benefits impossible to measure) weren’t ever really ours. And we look mean when we cling to them. Do you want all the jobs? All of them? Forever? Really? How pathetic.

    But but but Lance: they DO want all of the jobs forever, because no one else is truly qualified!

  11. Tanya on 14 Aug 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    Sounds like a great idea. One glitch, however, that comes to mind is that just hiring accomplished senior women faculty and promising female junior faculty does not necessarily lead to greater retention of the junior women. This is primarily because not everyone, no matter how well-published, is a good mentor. I think that mentoring is a skill some people develop that can, at times, be quite apart from the ability to be a prolific scholar. In that vein, I hope UT is simultaneously implementing other strategies.

  12. Lance on 14 Aug 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    I know, H-ann. I know.

    These problems get exponentially worse, of course, when you try to hire a senior woman of color.

    For the old guard (old in the head and the heart), the intertwined expectations are always that (a) all candidates should have the networking, publishing profile, and research trajectory of establishment norms, (b) service (such as mentoring, community work, or campus work with student organizations, all of which is absolutely priceless) is a waste of time and looks “weird” on the record, and (c) any reference to race, gender or sexuality in research cheapens the already cheapened candidate, perhaps in part because it raises the prospect of closer scrutiny to departmental gender politics. The old guard lives in fear of the last.

    But, of course, when you are transforming a departmental/unit culture, you desperately want to find people who can do a, b, and c in some kind of balance. They can do what Tanya wants. They can cement change.

    It is a veritable Kobayashi Maru scenario.

    Now I need the bourbon….

  13. Dani on 15 Aug 2009 at 11:30 am #

    It doesn’t mean Texas is a bad town like some people commented above ..Its a nice city to be in ..

  14. Liz2 on 15 Aug 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Can I just say how thrilled I am that UT-Austin felt a senior woman in African studies was a valuable hire! African studies so often gets shunted aside, although UT-Austin has been making a greater move into that area of late. Congrats to UT on getting Johnson-Hanks, her work is terrific.

  15. Moria on 16 Aug 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Wow. I usually don’t do this – makes me more grumpy than it’s worth – but I just read through the comments on IHE.

    Wow. Really dismal. And just as dismal as the sexism is the clear evidence that people with (presumably) terminal degrees lack any critical reasoning skills whatsoever. Forget sensitivity training: a cultural studies class should be required by HR at every university. I mean, really: wow.

  16. susurro on 18 Aug 2009 at 8:15 pm #

    I’m coming in late to this conversation and pessimistically, which I suppose is worse. I’ve always respected the strategy in TX (forget which campus) that decided to hire more fac of color, including woc, by doing a cluster hire or equal parts juniors and seniors. I’ve brought this plan up in discussions of diversity recruitment I have done for colleges with “diversity issues” and in my own program. My biggest concern w/the model here is that while it attempts to address the discrimination in the evaluation process of tenure it does so by bypassing it all together (ie the structural problems go unchallenged). Also by seeking out senior lines over junior lines, it rewards people who already have jobs in a dwindling market, when the vast majority of ppl currently getting their degrees are women and people of color. So that it runs the risk of both shutting out new blood, for lack of a better phrase, and ultimately creating a similar shrinking of available options for women and poc faculty by simply circulating the same already tenured ppl in the system.

    Our national mentor program has seen a huge increase in the number of students who have lost jobs to seniors (for advertised junior positions) or who have been unable to find work in their subfield b/c the majority of positions open were for Seniors. Many of our most gifted students are actively looking outside of academe after being shut out of the market in this way . . .

    So while we applaud the push to get women, and others, into higher positions in hire ed, I think we really have to ask how these efforts are actually benefiting a goal of diversifying the ranks in both the short and long term? whether systemic change is actually going on? and what do any policies, this one or the one I championed, mean at the weakest links in the process?