Women-only professorships

There has been a lot of commentary on the women-only professorships proposed by Mary Mitchell O’Connor.  On balance, it seems that both men and women are in favour of the idea.

There seems to be two arguments made in favour of the proposal:

The first is that women are subjected to out-and-out discrimination by promotion assessment panels who, as a consequence of implicit or explicit bias, favour men over women. Women-only professorships will go some way to counteracting these biases is the argument.

The second seems to be that the entire academic promotion system is biased against those (mainly women) who cannot compete because they are unable to commit to the 60-hour week that is required if one is to build up the CV required to reach the professor grade.

The second argument seems more credible to me. The fact is that to reach a professor grade in academia, you need to be able to work insane hours. No matter how clever you are, or how talented you are or how much of an original and creative thinker you are, or no matter how inspirational and pastoral you are as a teacher, you will never reach the grade of professor unless you can put in the ridiculous hours you need to build up your metrics. That’s the fundamental problem.

To make professor you need to be bright, ambitious, physically and mentally healthy, single-minded, able to get by with very little sleep, utterly focused and willing to make very large personal sacrifices.

That’s the problem. Academia is not normal. It requires people to be obsessed by their work, to let it intrude on their personal lives and, in some cases, to put their physical and mental health at risk. Academia is crying out for a rethink, a rethink in which we look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are rewarding those attributes that contribute to our most important mission which is, after all, to educate.

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