Tag: promotion

Is bullying baked into academia?

Recently, David Edelstein and Jim Goldgeier circulated an open letter for signature to address bullying in the profession. The open letter can be found here. So far, there are nearly 100 signatures, including mine.

As a sophomore in high school, I was 5’2”, weighed 215 pounds, was in a bunch of advanced classes with much older students, and played role-playing games in my spare time. I know a little bit about being bullied. And I know a lot about its toll. I know also that bullying can come in many forms, with some bullies savvier than others in terms of how they ply their craft.

Verbal abuse and physical intimidation or assault are clear violations of behavioral standards – professional or otherwise – and instantly recognizable by any reasonably aware on-looker. One of the things that made some of the recently surfaced allegations of bullying so shocking is that the language and behaviors were so coarse and bluntly damaging as to stagger belief. I think this kind of bullying can be policed, and in ways not all that different from the way it got policed on the schoolyard: someone larger or with more status would make it clear the behavior needed to stop. Or eventually one would snap and stand up for oneself, even if it meant fighting a literal fight you could not win.

Ferreting out more subtle bullying behavior is going to be incredibly difficult because behaviors that would be considered bullying in other professional or interpersonal contexts are formalized parts of how our work is assessed and rewarded. 

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Audit Culture in UK Higher Education

In 2016 I took a job at university in the UK. As an American, British academic culture was new to me, especially its ‘audit culture’. The key elements of audit culture are mechanisms for the evaluation and measurement of teaching and research. The vast majority of UK higher education is delivered by public institutions, regulated and funded in large part by the government. The UK government justifies its use of oversight mechanisms on democratic grounds. They argue that since higher education is funded primarily, though not exclusively, by the central government, academic staff should be held accountable to the public through the evaluation of the relative ‘excellence’ of a university’s research and teaching. However, as I will explain, government-mandated reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. The practice of oversight is woven into the day-to-day administration of teaching and research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national review of research quality and productivity that takes place approximately every five years (the upcoming REF is in 2021, the previous one was held in 2014). The process is taken very seriously by university administrators because it informs the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. At my university we have already begun preparing for the next cycle with what is known as the “rolling REF”, an ongoing internal assessment exercise where we all read and assess one another’s published work. What this means, in effect, is that it feels like there is no end to the REF review process. As one colleague put it, “after the REF is before for the REF.” 

The rules of the REF are baroque and shift with each subsequent cycle. Under the current rules, as a scholar on a research and teaching contract your aim should be to produce four, four-star research outputs every five years. This is because, at least for the 2021 cycle, no one researcher can submit more than four items, but universities have to submit at least something from all eligible staff it employs (just determining eligibility requires a flow chart–see p. 36). There is also an “impact case study” element to the REF used to assess the role research plays outside academia. To give you an idea of the scale of the REF audit, here are the stats from 2014:


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Gender, Rank and IR: Missing Role Models

Last week, I asked a question online that was asked of me and then I asked at the ISA two weeks ago:
Can you name women of color working in the US or Canada who do IR and are full professors?

At the ISA, folks could only name one or two.  On twitter and facebook and my blog since then, the total has increased to eleven:

·  Neta Crawford of Boston University.
·  Condoleeza Rice, who was a full prof at Stanford before becoming provost and then worst National Security Adviser.
·  Jacqueline Braveboy Wagner, City College of New York.
·  Reeta Tremblay of U of Victoria.
·  L.H.M Ling of the New School.
·  Katherine Moon of Wellesley.
·  Zehra Arat of U of Connecticut
·  Christine Chin of American U
·  Saadia Pekkanen of U of Washington
·  Nazli Choucri of MIT
·  Sheila Nair of Northern Arizona U.

Not great.  Sure, we could be missing a few, but this short list demonstrates the point that my friend was making: there are damn few role models/mentors in US/Canada IR for women who are not white.

One can quibble with the various modifiers/restrictions in the question:

  • what is IR?  I tended to exclude a few names of those who are experts on one country or an area and do not do foreign policy/international relations type questions.  I am sure we could get the list to be significantly longer if we included women who do one area of the world.  Indeed, some of the women above can be considered area studies people but have done some IR-ish stuff.  While the ISA is
    broadly inclusive so that it includes area studies people, the point of this exercise was about whether women who do IR might have mentors, not whether there are women who do IR or comparative.  Also, in the conversation I had with my friend, her concern was in part about the implicit and sometimes explicit expectations to be an expert in the area of the world her family comes from rather than being an expert on general IR stuff.  There is a tendency to push people of color to study stuff like an area of the world or race and ethnicity, whereas white people can be expected to study anything.
  • why US/Canada?  Well, the friend is in US/Canada North America and was pondering the availability of mentors.  There was no intent to diminish the contributions of women of color at schools in other parts of the world.   While the internet makes it possible to confer with people around the world, one is likely to meet up with people in the same region 
  • why women of color?  That was the way it was put to me.  We could use other ways to talk about race, such as visible minority (the Canadian way to refer to these kinds of identities), but I stuck with the term that was most inclusive.  And identity is always tricky: are Arab Americans people of color?  Traditionally, not so much.  Since 9/11?  Maybe.  I asked a full prof I know whether she was a person of color and she said she was not, but understood how some might see her fit that category.  Anyhow, I was not aiming at perfect coding, but at getting a general idea, and the paucity of names is suggestive.

A quick look at this reveals a few patterns: no Latinas, three African-Americans and then Asian-Americans making the majority of the list.  So, yeah, there are few role models for African-American women and none for Latinas who want to do IR.  There are few women of color that undergraduates, grad students and junior profs can look to and think “well, they made it so maybe I can, too.””

Most of the women listed are post-positivist, which could mean either that women who do such work are more likely to make it through the leaky pipeline, or there might be an affinity for a particular kind of IR by women of color, or maybe sampling bias as one of my key sources of names knew these people because their work speaks to each other.

One Canadian, several in the Northeast/New England area, a few from the West Coast, and nothing in between or down south.  So, if you want to meet your mentor, it means traveling for most folks.

How do we “fix” this?  How do we have more women full professors of color in IR?  Obviously, whatever barriers exist to promoting women and people of color need to be broken down.  I used to work at a university where there was an apparent barrier between associate and full, and that helped to perpetuate the gender imbalance.  Indeed, in Canada anyway, it seems like the process to become tenured is far easier than becoming Full even though the former means lifetime employment and the latter might mean a raise.  In the US?   I don’t know.  But there has been stuff written on the leaky pipeline, so we need to find the leaks and plug them, including discrimination in citation patterns and in listings on syllabi and differential service obligations (women end up doing more service, which may not help them get promoted).

A different friend of mine told me at the ISA that none of the female associates have received outside offers, and all of the male associate profs in her department have received such offers even though the women have better research scores.  How does that happen?  Such a perfect (and awful) correlation of gender and opportunities?  Getting outside offers is one way for people to get promoted faster, and it seems at least in that one case (more survey work required) one key tool to fast promotion has been denied.  So, perhaps one way to deal with this problem is to make sure that senior searches take seriously the full range of candidates and not just the first names that come to mind?


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