Women in academic continue to hit a glass ceiling in university administration. The Times Higher Education Supplement cites research by Louise Morley, professor of education at the University of Sussex, who has found that female academics often “get stuck in bureaucratic middle management roles” rather than attaining the higher echelons of university posts. That is, women are becoming the directors of communications, finance or human resources, but not university presidents.
In Australia, Morley found that women hold 40 percent of pro vice-chancellorships but only 18 percent of vice-chancellor roles. In Europe, only 13 per cent of higher education institutions in Europe are led by women. The figure is even lower for research-intensive universities, where only 9 percent have a woman leader; in the UK, only one such university, the University of Manchester, is led by a woman. In the US, women held 23 percent of president positions at all colleges in 2006, according to research by the American Council of Education cited in Catalyst; women were more likely to hold such positions at public institutions than private ones (26.6 percent to 18.7 percent).
Women Shut Out From Top Posts Even As More Students Are Female
In her report, International Trends in Women’s Leadership in Higher Education, Morley noted the same trends in universities around the world, whether in Sri Lanka, Uganda, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The absence of women in top positions in universities is all the more notable as the number of female students has risen sevenfold since 1970, going from 10.8 million globally to 77.4 million in 2007. In contrast, the number of male students has gone from 17.7 million to 75 million, a fourfold increase.
“It doesn’t matter [whether] the country has had decades of social equality legislation or is under a military dictatorship, the situation is the same. Women tend to get jobs with huge amounts of admin – roles that deal with the clutter of universities and keep that clutter away from other senior roles [occupied by men].”
Charity Angya, vice-chancellor of Benue State University, Nigeria, recounts that male colleagues laughed at her when she first sought her position. She notes that men were given preferential treatment as “they were seen to possess ‘masculine’ attributes of power and authority.”
On a more positive note, Gülsün Sağlamer, the former rector of Istanbul Technical University, pointed out that 28 percent of professors in Turkey are women women. While in her rectorship, she says that she created
“a nursery on campus, which allowed women to have their children close by in case there were any problems. It is this kind of infrastructure that makes it easier for academics.”
I’m in the second decade as an academic and changes such as on-site childcare, better policies for maternity leave and the possibility of “stopping” the “tenure clock” would make a huge difference for women in academia. A recent study found that, for women in the sciences, motherhood has too often meant the end of an academic research career for women in the math-intensive sciences, due to the pressures of research and publication. The study suggested that it was time revise the schedule for tenure and advancement, as these were set at a time when “few women worked outside the home and when raising children was assumed to be women’s work, and thus it was designed for people without significant responsibilities in household work or child care.”
Studies by the American Council on Education and the American Association of University Professors have both found that the percentage of women in academic administrative positions drops the higher they climb. Universities all over the world continue to fail to offer sufficient role models for an increasingly female population of students.
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Photo by UC Davis School of ED