Preparing for future faculty needs to begin now
Mentoring important for recruitment and retention
|Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement (standing), works with Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen at a workshop last year on broadening faculty searches.
By Anne Bromley
“When, on the eve of the third-year review, I announced that I was expecting my first child, a colleague quipped, ‘Your career
is over.’ Indeed, in some ways he was right. ...
Yet, if the narrowly focused career I had enjoyed up to that point was quickly turned upside down, the hybrid and diffuse job of ‘profmom’
— as my children soon named it — yielded many rewards, while bountifully bestowing challenges, adding responsibilities and demanding choices.”
This is how Cristina Della Coletta, associate professor of Italian, begins an essay for the Teaching Resource Center’s booklet on “Balancing Life and Work.”
As vice provost for faculty advancement, Gertrude Fraser often hears stories like this one about the struggle to balance personal and professional life.
The number of women pursuing higher education has been rising but another group of women also is growing in size — those who opt out of faculty careers. In her role, Fraser is leading initiatives to make U.Va. a more family-friendly place for all faculty, female and male.
“Academia hasn’t been helpful to women balancing family and work obligations,” Fraser said. The way the academic career ladder is structured overlaps with the time when most women — and men — want to have families, she said. For most of the 20th century, it wasn’t a problem for the married white men who populated the faculty, with wives staying home to raise the children, but that has changed.
The mission to improve the gender climate in academia also intersects with a new phase in the professorial job market: the need to replace retiring faculty in the coming decades.
Fraser reported to the Board of Visitors last month that U.Va. will need to hire almost 400 new professors over the next 10 years. This comes at a time when the number of doctorates awarded to American students dropped by 4 percent from 1999 to 2004. The percentage of women earning doctorates rose, however, to 51 percent. Those women are less likely than men to enter tenure-track positions.
At U.Va., the percentage of female faculty professors is inching upward after being stuck between 20 percent and 25 percent for more than 10 years. As the number of women faculty increases, issues of getting them acclimated and feeling part of the community keep surfacing.
“We’re concerned about the broader participation by women and how to keep them in the academy,” she said.
Fraser said both sexes in this new generation of faculty clearly have a greater expectation of balancing family and work.
“They expect the institution to address this shift,” she added. Helping with spousal job placement is another recent expectation.
Work-life concerns are increasingly part of the conversation at universities and colleges across the country, said Fraser, who attended a national meeting in the fall on best practices in this area.
U.Va. already has “family-friendly” policies on the books that accommodate career flexibility, she said, but hasn’t done much to promote or provide the information consistently to those in departments and offices who need to know. An approximate time for childbirth leave can be found at www.virginia.edu/provost/docs_ policies/leaves.html
Her office intends to look at usage patterns of these policies that allow time off the tenure clock for pregnancy and critical-care family situations. There is some concern that women are reluctant to take advantage of stopping the tenure clock because they’re worried it will count against them.
“These are expensive policies, but they’re driven by a new research model that helps institutions decide how to retain women in the academy,” Fraser said. “Institutions not attending to these issues will be critically hampering themselves.”
Researchers who have turned their study onto collegiate culture itself find the 19th-century German model of the academy anachronistic in the new millennium, and say it is bound to change.
For example, Roberto Ibarra, whose visit to U.Va. on March 29 and 30 is sponsored by Fraser’s office, uses an anthropological perspective to study the university and how the diverse population of students, especially those on the path to becoming professors, is contributing to change.
Graduate students are coming in with different cultural perspectives, he says, and that will change how the university operates, how faculty teach and what they decide to teach.
In addition, mentoring clearly has become important for recruitment and retention, Fraser said. Although the University’s schools and departments have academic mentoring, to promote broader networking, her office hosts informal gatherings across disciplines that bring together new women faculty with more seasoned professors.
The U.Va. faculty advancement office, along with the president’s Women’s Leadership Council and the Women’s Center, is sponsoring several other programs this year on related topics that research shows improve the working climate for women. For details, go to http://www.virginia.edu/vpfa.