GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Academic Abbey

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/02/06 at 11:14
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Earlier this month, the American Historical Association announced the anything-but-shocking discovery that tenured men benefit more from marriage than their female counterparts.  My female friends and I long ago noticed that women at the top of the academic hierarchy rarely have more than one child and a marriage in the present tense.  Scott Jaschik scrutinized the higher statistical propensity for academic women to form endogamous marriages with another Ph.D. Academic men pick partners more willing or better able to fulfill Ruth’s biblical pledge, “whither thou goest, I shall go.”

Such marital politics produce the stuff of domestic dramas played out in every sector and every age. Mr. Darcy tests the waters with Elizabeth Bennet when he asks if she thinks her newly married friend lives a suitable distance from her father’s estate. Ma Ingalls packed up Laura and Mary whenever Pa got the notion to move further afield. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake captured the isolation centuries of new wives experienced when they set out to cross the Atlantic with husbands they barely knew.

Jaschik’s report appeared the day after Downton Abbey’s third season premier. Julian Fellowes’ reduction sauce of English stereotypes stirs American imaginations with matrimonial ephemera. The lord of the manor married American money but failed to breed profit or sons. The heiress must lower her expectations in order to keep her estate. The Irish chauffeur liberates his aristocratic lover from her hide-bound behaviors and stately home.

Academics, like aristocrats, need certain types of structures in order to survive. A tenured professor needs pupils like an aristocrat needs servants. They exist only in juxtaposition to one another. No stately home to house the servants or no university to engage the undergraduates and the top dog (to steal my tone from 1066 and All That) ceases to have anything to stand atop.

Academics drive their marital moves, but they can only manage chronic migrations if they have a doting partner to herd their progeny towards a new destination. If a tenured academic happens upon their intellectual equivalent of Downton, he (statistically more likely) digs in his heels with a fervor that would make Lady Mary blush. Two PhDs unable to share the same Downton face a marital fate scarier than the Dowager Countess’ disapproving scowl.

If the ‘trailing’ spouse has (as is more likely among trailing wives according to the AHA) a JD, an MD, an MBA, an MSW, an MAT, or anything other than a Ph.D., someone will hire her. If the partner holds a Ph.D. (more likely among trailing husbands), he confronts a choice of adjunct instructorships and administrative positions once held by the wives of the male professoriate in preceding generations. Just as those women railed against their second class citizenship as they held aloft copies of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, no one should express surprise that the husbands of tenured wives fall short the Alan Alda ideal of household helpfulness and satisfied subordination.

We all dream of marital equality. I once cringed as a newly arrived, male administrator replied, “yes,” to the patronizing observation, “so you are the trailing spouse.” Back during my tenure-line days, my husband – while fully employed at many multiples of my salary – used to field questions from faculty wives as to his experience as a “stay-at-home dad.” I doubt he liked it any better than I did when a few years later an academic wife told me, “I thought you were just a mom.” My husband and I adore our boys. We wear our parental titles with pride. However, the queries possessed the same, internalized self-loathing that Mr. Carson exudes whenever the middling or lower classes imperil the Downton way. They indicated subordination in what we understand as a marriage of equals.

Academics devalue all other occupations in the way Fellowes’ fictional aristocrats struggle to acknowledge the worth of the world beyond the Abbey. When both partners live within such stilted walls, they can appear insurmountable barriers to professional and marital success.

For those who attempt to administer academic abbeys populated upstairs & down by peculiar personalities, we could have worse role models than the indefatigable Mrs. Hughes of Downton. She neither worships nor resents. Mrs. Hughes merely comprehends and coordinates with an admirable mix of affection and authority.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

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  1. Dr. Fichtenbaum comes to his elected post out of a strnog set of convictions. My personal hope for the association is that the elected leadership and the AAUP staff will coalesce around the idea of growing the membership. This necessarily means finding ways to transform faculty into activists who are prepared to discover their common interests and I believe he knows this is no mean feat. The forces opposing our principles of academic freedom, shared governance and due process are great. No less a threat is our profession’s inattention to its own defense. My colleagues and I became a cadre of activist scholars when we began our campaign to bring collective bargaining to our campus. All any of our group ever wanted to do was teach, perform our research, and provide service to our respective institutions and disciplines. Gradually we began to understand the critical importance of learning to defend our professional rights. Rudy was ready to help us learn the ropes.Ten years and two labor contracts later, we simply never stopped our activism because we see the value of supporting the unique work that AAUP does for all faculty tenure track or not, organized or not, chapter members or not. We support the national association because it is the only such entity that has continually worked for the good of higher education (faculty, students and administrations). To get this message across, just to our campus community, requires constant dedication to the task and we have a union! Now, I know some faculty out in the southwest who are every bit as deserving of support as the fortunate faculty here in Ohio with brothers and sisters close at hand. If AAUP principles are indeed universal, the association, at every level, needs to figure out how to apply them more uniformly. If President Fichtenbaum can move the association closer to that ideal, then his time in office will truly be for the greater good.Dave WittAkron-AAUP

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