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The Possibility of Promotion: How Race and Gender Predict Promotion Clarity for Associate Professors


by Amanda M. Kulp, Lisa Wolf-Wendel & Daryl G. Smith - 2019

Background/Context: The research on promotion to full professor is sparse. Research that does exist has largely emerged from single campuses and studies conducted through disciplinary associations. Extant studies strongly suggest the presence of equity issues in advancement throughout the academic pipeline. Our study uses cross-institutional results to offer analysis of and potential solutions for the problem

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We explore the extent to which tenured faculty members at four-year postsecondary institutions are clear about their prospects of being promoted to full professor and how their background characteristics, institutional characteristics, and satisfaction with various aspects of academic work predict their perceptions of promotion clarity. We are focused on whether cultural taxation in the form of heavy service and advising—often associated with underrepresented minority faculty and women faculty—is a factor. We examine the influence of ideal-worker norms and work/family demands on perceptions of promotion clarity. Lastly, we focus on the structural elements of the academy to frame the topic, rather than focusing on individual agency.

Population/Participants/Subjects: This study uses data from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) survey, a large, national study of postsecondary faculty. Our sample consists of 3,246 individuals who held full-time, tenured positions as associate professor at four-year institutions when they responded to the surveys between 2010 and 2012. The sample was roughly divided between males (54%) and females (46%), and most faculty were employed at research institutions (59%). The sample was predominantly White (82%). The characteristics of the associate professors in the sample are representative of the larger U.S. faculty population at the time of the survey.

Research Design: This quantitative study uses descriptive statistics to examine patterns in promotion clarity across various demographic and institutional characteristics. We examine how satisfaction variables intersect with perceptions of promotion clarity for associate professors. Then we conduct a series of linear regression analyses to explore the influence of predictors on associate professors’ sense of clarity about promotion.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Being unclear about expectations of promotion to full professor is clearly of concern to faculty members at four-year universities in the United States, but it is especially of concern to women. Satisfaction with service is a very important variable in predicting perceptions of promotion clarity. For all associate professors, working at certain types of institutions or in particular academic disciplines had an inverse relationship with promotion clarity. The factors associated with lack of clarity about promotion are more structural than individual.



The traditional academic career suggests a linear trajectory: from bachelor’s degree to doctorate, to tenure-track assistant professor, to associate professor with tenure, to full professor. Becoming a full professor is seen by some as the pinnacle of the academic career, but it also serves as a gateway to the highest echelons of the academy. Full-professor status allows one to be competitive for upper-level administrative positions (i.e., department chair, dean, vice provost, provost, or chancellor) and/or to be considered for distinguished professorships (Gmelch, 2013). Not everyone who enters the academic pipeline seems to be making their way up the career ladder with the same ease or at the same pace. Indeed, there are lots of “leaky” points along the pipeline—individuals may not complete their doctorates, may not get hired into tenure-track positions, may not earn tenure, or may get stuck at the associate professor level. As will be shown, these “leaks” are not evenly distributed across all identity groups. The purpose of this study is to examine the latter stage of the pipeline to determine whether there are patterns in who is getting stuck at the rank of associate professor and why.


The academy and those who conduct research about higher education know more about who, what, where, and why individuals leak from the pipeline at the earlier levels. For example, there is ample research on why graduate students do not earn their doctorates, and a host of programs have been designed to help them achieve their goals (e.g., Golde, 2005). Further, there is a sizeable body of research on the needs of assistant professors and the tenure process (e.g., Moody, 2004; Smith, 2015; Turner & Myers, 2000). Many institutions have implemented early-career mentoring programs, improved the clarity of tenure and promotion processes, and worked to make the pre-tenure stage easier to maneuver (e.g., Zambrana et al, 2015). Less is known, however, about the process of helping faculty members move through mid-career and how to help them achieve full-professor status.


There are some studies—some even several decades old—calling urgent attention to concerns about the process of promotion to full professor (e.g., Ards & Woodard, 1992; Baldwin & Chang, 2006). This is not surprising, because many of the concerns affecting the tenure process continue to face faculty members once tenure is achieved and may even become exacerbated as they progress up the career ladder. That is, institutions focused on protecting junior faculty may feel freer to engage tenured faculty in committees, advising, and teaching responsibilities, thus placing promotion to full professor in some jeopardy. These concerns are particularly acute for women and people of color, two groups that have made inroads at the assistant-professor level but have not achieved parity at the more senior levels (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2017).


This study explores the extent to which faculty members are clear about their prospects of being promoted to full professor and how their background characteristics, institutional characteristics, and satisfaction with various aspects of academic work predict their perceptions of promotion clarity. The study focuses on full-time, tenured associate professors at four-year institutions. We are especially focused on whether cultural taxation in the form of heavy service and advising—often associated with historically underrepresented minority faculty and women faculty—is a factor. We also focus on the influence of ideal-worker norms and work/family demands on perceptions of promotion clarity.


We define promotion clarity in the context of the trajectory of a tenure-track faculty career. Being clear about whether one will be successfully promoted and about the process, criteria, standards, and timeframe is important because it has implications for mobility in progressing to the senior academic rank of full professor. For the purposes of this study, perceptions of promotion clarity means that associate professors report that they have a clear sense of whether they will be promoted to full professor in the future and that they are clear about the process necessary to attain promotion.


We use descriptive statistics to examine patterns in promotion clarity across various faculty demographic and institutional characteristics. We examine how a number of satisfaction variables we constructed intersect with perceptions of promotion clarity for associate professors. Then we conduct a series of linear regression analyses to explore the influence of our predictors on associate professors’ sense of clarity about promotion.


LITERATURE REVIEW


While the research on promotion to full professor is still sparse, especially for underrepresented minority (URM) faculty, an important body of literature does exist. The research has largely emerged from single campuses and studies conducted through disciplinary associations. For example, Eason (2002) qualitatively explored the reasons that associate professors in rank more than 12 years “decided” not to go up for full professor. She concluded that it was less a choice not to be promoted than it was the consequence of other choices (e.g., raising children, taking on heavy service loads, or serving as directors of undergraduate programs). She described a group of individuals who are vital and have given a lot to their institutions, but who operate more in a local context than on a national or cosmopolitan scale. More recently, Gardner and Blackstone (2013) looked at the promotion process through the lens of 10 associate professors at a single research institution. They concluded that there is a lack of clarity about expectations for becoming a full professor. A recent study using national data from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education survey (COACHE) emphasized that associate professors, especially those who have been at the associate level for six years or longer, are the least satisfied among faculty (Mathew, 2014). As in other studies, Mathew cited heavy service and teaching loads and invisibility as factors that affect mid-career faculty (Babcock, Recalde, Vesterlund, & Weingart, 2017; Baldwin & Chang, 2006; Baldwin, DeZure, Shaw, & Moretto, 2008; Buch, Huet, Rorrer, & Roberson, 2011; Eason, 2002; Modern Language Association [MLA], 2009; O’Meara, Kuvaeva, Nyunt, Jackson, & Waugaman, 2017; Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2012). Indeed, Baldwin and Chang (2006) noted that “we know little about the long ill-defined phase after the probationary years” (p. 28).


Several studies have focused on the promotion process by looking at gender without looking at race/ethnicity. Specifically, much of the work/family literature is about White women. For example, Ward and Wolf-Wendel (2016) conducted a longitudinal study of tenure-track women with children. Their third follow-up interviews with these women (when they were in the mid-mid-career stage, with teenage children) demonstrate a hesitancy to pursue promotion, because the women either felt that they were not ready, did not want to deal with the politics of promotion, still felt the sting of the tenure process, or had made other parts of their career (i.e., service or teaching) a priority over scholarship. The women also indicated that they made decisions about how to engage in their academic careers in light of their family needs. These findings paralleled the more quantitative results found by Mason, Wolfinger, and Goulden (2013).


Studies that look at the intersectionality of race and gender have found differential rates of promotion to full professor for faculty of color (e.g., Beutel & Nelson, 2006; McDowell, Singell, & Ziliak, 2001; Perna, 2001; Toutkoushian, 1999). Studies that disaggregate data by race/ethnicity show that disparities in achieving promotion may indeed be an underappreciated phenomenon that will grow in importance. For example, Perna (2001) looked at promotion to full professor using a large national database of faculty (National Study of Postsecondary Faculty). She found that promotion to full professor for White women and URM individuals was directly related to time spent on research as opposed to teaching, and that women and people of color were more heavily engaged in teaching activities than their White male counterparts. This sense of burdens that interfere with the conditions that facilitate promotion has been repeated in the findings of other studies (Babcock et al., 2017; Eason, 2002; Fang, Moy, Colburn, & Hurley, 2000; Joseph & Hirshfield, 2010; McDowell, Singell, & Ziliak., 2001; Misra, Lundquist, Holmes, & Agiomavritis, 2011; Misra, Lundquist, & Templer, 2012; Mitchell & Hesli, 2013; Nunez-Smith, Rizzo, & Ciarleglio, 2013; Porter, 2007). More recent studies using data from individual institutions have documented the extensive service and teaching burdens for associate professors and for women in particular (Anderson & Slade, 2016; O’Meara, Kuvaeva, & Nyunt, 2017; O’Meara, Kuvaeva, Nyunt, et al., 2017).


A number of studies on specific disciplines have found differential effects of gender and race in promotion to full professor (Alex-Assensoh et al., 2005; Ginther & Khan, 2004, 2006; MLA, 2009; Turner 2002a, 2002b, 2003). Using data from a national sample of political science departments from 1980 to 1990, Ards and Woodard (1992) pointed out that while the demographic profile of academic rank for non-African American faculty showed an increase in the percentage of full professors, there was no such movement for African Americans. In a follow-up, Ards, Brintnall, and Woodard (1997) used 1991–92 data to look at the promotion rates of African American (n = 345) and White faculty (n = 6,435). Using multivariate analysis to control for a number of other factors, the authors found that “the one factor with the largest impact on whether a faculty member was a full professor was race” (p.168). A similar study of faculty members in economics found that White males who are U.S. citizens are more likely to be promoted (Faria, Loureiro, Mixon, & Sachsida, 2013). A study by McDowell et al. (2001) cited a glass ceiling for women in economics because of time spent on teaching and service. A larger body of research also highlights concerns about promotion to full professor for women in STEM fields, with factors such as work-life balance and service underlying these findings (Fox & Colatrella, 2006; Gardner & Blackstone, 2013).


Promotion to full professor is emerging as an important concern on campuses, but few institutions do the kind of analyses that would bring these findings to the surface (Dow, 2014; Flaherty, 2017; Jaschik, 2012; Williams June, 2016). No doubt, faculty members bring it up themselves. For many years, the assumption has been that the two major hurdles for an academic career are getting hired and achieving tenure. The studies cited here strongly suggest that there are equity issues in advancement throughout the academic pipeline. While lack of promotion to full professor does not have the dire consequences for the individual that denial of tenure would have, it has significant consequences for leadership in the academic community, sense of self, and diversity on campus. The present study uses cross-institutional results to offer analysis of and potential solutions for the problem.


CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK


We use the concepts of cultural taxation and ideal-worker norms as a guiding conceptual framework. Padilla (1994) coined the term cultural taxation to describe the extra service responsibilities that faculty of color are asked to take on in addition to the traditional academic responsibilities of teaching, research, and service. These responsibilities can include student advising—even beyond the students to whom the faculty member is assigned—serving on the numerous diversity committees that campuses create, serving on search committees in and outside the program or school, working with ethnic organizations on campus, serving as “departmental experts” for their racial/ethnic group, serving as role models, providing advice when campus incidents emerge, and engaging the broader community in ways that are expected above and beyond the expectations of majority faculty members (e.g., Aguirre, 2000; Smith, 2015). While this “tax” is levied throughout a faculty member’s career, it can be particularly acute during the mid-career period and may inhibit faculty members from engaging in the kind of work needed to earn promotion. Jacobs and colleagues (2002) demonstrated the unique burden placed on faculty of color to fit into the academy, often at the expense of their own cultural identity. Padilla (1994) wrote about cultural taxation as the “obligation to show good citizenship towards the institution by serving its needs for ethnic representation on committees, or to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to a cultural group, which, though it may bring accolades to the institution, is not usually rewarded by the institution on whose behalf the service was performed” (p. 26). Expanding on Padilla’s notion of taxation, Canton (2013) noted that it is “the price that most faculty of color must pay for admission to and retention in the Academy…. [It] is a stealth workload escalator for faculty of color. And like stress, it can be a silent killer of professional careers and aspirations” (p. 10). Our questions about how the process of earning promotion may look different for minoritized faculty members is rooted in this concept and is a major focus of this study.


Another conceptual lens that may be helpful in framing this study stems from writings about ideal-worker norms (Acker, 1990). Ideal workers are dedicated to the job, meaning they are not supposed to take into consideration or be distracted by things that are not job-related (e.g., family or other outside responsibilities). Historically, ideal workers have been White men whose sole focus was on work. While all academics experience ideal-worker norms, as reflected in promotion and tenure criteria and expectations, those who have responsibilities outside of work may have their career progress stymied. Some have argued that the tenure track itself, including the timing of when faculty “go up” for promotion, is based around a dominant male time-clock (Williams, 2000). Further, the ambiguous nature of promotion expectations caters to those whose cultural and social capital help them navigate the process more smoothly, while the unspoken norms can more easily inhibit those who are not part of the dominant group. There is growing evidence that for White women and people of color, who face pressures and expectations outside of their academic responsibilities, the set time-clock and vague but high expectations for promotion may lead to decisions not to progress up the academic ladder. Drago et al. (2006) referred to this as “bias avoidance” and suggested that many academics, particularly those who are parents, make choices about their careers that may be counterproductive to career advancement. Current research and campus demographic realities suggest that women, for example, do not progress in their careers as faculty or in their progression to leadership positions at the same rate as their male colleagues (Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, & Williams, 2014; Mason et al., 2013; Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2012). In part, the lag is attributed to work and family conflicts, yet there has been little empirical investigation of work, family, and mid-career stages of academic life. Examination of the roles of race, gender, and family structure in decisions whether to go up for promotion to full professor stem from this literature. It is interesting to note that while the ideal-worker framework is most often used in relation to White women and work/family concerns, looking at URM faculty through this lens is also important, as they too are impacted by these systemic norms, not only as a result of personal concerns, but also because of the demands of cultural taxation. For women of color, the cultural tax related to race and ethnicity combined with ideal-worker norms associated with gender represent a double set of pressures.


One last note is in order before moving to the analyses and findings: There is a tendency to frame issues of promotion and timing as being matters of individual choice and agency (i.e., an individual either chooses to go up or not, or an individual either chooses to meet the criteria for promotion or not). To frame this issue as being about individual choice misdirects the concern away from the important structural and institutional elements at work in an academic setting and profession. We suggest that it is more appropriate to frame questions about the academic pipeline and faculty members’ progression through it as a critique of the structures that created and reinforced the pipeline itself. Today, colleges and universities are frequently described as neoliberal institutions focused on bureaucratic accountability and the bottom line, rather than as places devoted to the life of the mind (Levin & Aliveva, 2015). Indeed, the bureaucratic processes underlying progression up the academic ladder embody the neoliberal tendency to focus on issues of accountability (i.e., measuring, reporting, auditing, etc.) and can serve to distract from the loftier goals of intellectual engagement (Berg & Seeber, 2016; Mountz et al., 2015). It is within this systemic context that individual tenure-track faculty members go up for promotion to full professor. The context must be kept in mind. As Ward and Wolf-Wendel (2016) stated, “Instead of blaming the drop of water for leaking out of the pipe; it is more productive to figure out why the pipe is leaking in the first place” (p. 14).


METHODS


DATA SOURCE AND SAMPLE


This study uses data from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education survey (COACHE), a large, national study of postsecondary faculty based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The COACHE survey is distributed to faculty at participating institutions every three years, and data provide information on how faculty experience academic work life. The average response rate for faculty at universities is above 60%, and the response rate for faculty at smaller institutions is about 75% (Mathew, 2014). Data from the 2010–12 COACHE surveys are used in the present study, and the survey was completed by a total of 25,865 faculty members.1 Associate professors who indicated they did not plan to go up for promotion to full professor due to imminent retirement or leaving their institutions were excluded from the analyses. Because we were interested in examining the typical paths of faculty members at four-year institutions through the progressive ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor, we also excluded faculty who were hired into their institutions at the rank of associate professor or who spent less than four years between their points of hire and tenure. Of the remaining survey respondents, we included in our sample 3,246 individuals who worked full-time at four-year U.S. institutions and who held tenured positions as associate professors when they responded to the surveys between 2010 and 2012 (Table 1, Table 2). The sample was roughly divided between males (54%) and females (46%), and most faculty were employed at research institutions (59%). Most faculty were married/partnered (73%) and responsible for at least one dependent (59%). Non-U.S. citizens comprised a small portion of the sample (16%). Most faculty came from either the arts and humanities (22%) or the physical, biological, and environmental sciences (19%), though sizeable proportions also came from the social sciences (15%); professional fields such as business and education (14%); and engineering, computer science, and mathematics (13%). Relatively few faculty came from the medical or health professions (6%) or had unspecified disciplines (12%). The characteristics of the associate professors in the sample are representative of the larger U.S. faculty population at the time of the survey (NCES, 2017).



Table 1. Descriptive Statistics: Full-time, Tenured Associate Professors Working at Four-Year U.S. Higher Education Institutions (N = 3,246)

 

n

%

Female

1,492

46.0

Married/partnered

2,362

72.8

Has children/dependents

1,902

58.6

International/non-U.S. Citizen

530

16.3

Median age at time of survey

47 years

Research institution

1,900

58.5

Arts & humanities

709

21.8

Social sciences

474

14.6

Physical, biological, & environmental sciences

617

19.0

Engineering, computer science, & math

408

12.6

Professional fields (business, education, architecture, law)

460

14.2

Medical/health professions

199

6.1

Unspecified

379

11.7

Spent at least 6 years in associate professor rank

1,243

38.3



The sample included mostly White faculty (82%), with smaller proportions of Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander faculty (8%), American Indian or Native Alaskan faculty (0.5%), Black or African American faculty (4.5%), and Hispanic or Latino faculty (4.0%). Small percentages of the sample included people who identified their race/ethnicity as Other (0.9%) or Multiracial (1.0%).



Table 2. Descriptive Statistics: Racial/Ethnic Breakdown of Full-Time, Tenured Associate Professors Working at Four-Year U.S. Higher Education Institutions (N = 3,246)

 

Total

Male

Female

 

n

%

n

%

n

%

White (non-Hispanic)

2,647

81.5

1,438

54.3

1,209

45.7

Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander

248

7.6

131

52.8

117

47.2

American Indian or Native Alaskan

15

.05

7

46.7

8

53.3

Black or African American

143

4.4

70

49.0

73

51.0

Hispanic or Latino

131

4.0

76

58.0

55

42.0

Other

28

0.9

17

60.7

11

39.3

Multiracial

34

1.0

15

44.1

19

55.9



Faculty had generally spent around six years at the associate rank at their institutions at the time of the survey (Figure 1). However, it is important to note that the distribution of time spent in the associate rank varied widely: The sample included associate professors who reported spending from less than one year to as many as 40 years at the associate rank.


Figure 1. Years spent at the associate professor rank: Self-reported by associate professor faculty at the time of the COACHE survey (N = 3,246)



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Dependent Variable


The dependent variable is a continuous, composite variable called promotion clarity, which is a combination of six items from the COACHE survey that ask respondents to report how clear they are on their departmental processes and criteria for promotion to full professor, and how clear they are on whether they will be promoted to full professor:



Please rate the clarity of the following aspects of promotion in rank from associate professor to full professor:


1.

The promotion process in my department

2.

The promotion criteria (what things are evaluated) in my department

3.

The promotion standards (performance thresholds) in my department

4.

The body of evidence (the dossier’s contents) considered in making promotion decisions

5.

The time frame within which associate professors should apply for promotion

6.

My sense of whether I will be promoted from associate to full professor.



On each question, a value of 1 indicated being “very unclear” about the particular aspect of promotion in rank, and a value of 5 indicated being “very clear” about that aspect of promotion.


It is important to clarify how item 6 in the composite dependent variable aligns with items 1 through 5. One could worry that if respondents were clear that they would not be promoted to full professor, this item would receive a low score and thus be on a negative scale rather than a positive scale, which would conflict with the rest of the items in the composite, as they are all positively focused. However, because the question asks respondents to rate how clear they are on “whether” they will be promoted, rather than “whether or not” they will be promoted, it is measuring respondents’ overall sense of clarity about being promoted. Being clear about promotion is what is important here, regardless of what the ultimate outcome may be. Because item 6 measures an overall sense of clarity, it is positively scaled and aligns appropriately with the rest of the items in the composite. Reliability tests (Table 3) confirm that these items hang together with a high level of internal consistency (M = 19.90, SD = 6.65, Cronbach’s α = .920). All items had correlation values between .56 and .85 (p < .01).



Table 3. Correlations of Survey Questions Related to Clarity in Being Promoted to Full Professor (N = 3,246)

 

 

Measure

1

2

3

4

5

1. My sense of whether I will be promoted from associate to full professor

 

 

 

 

 

2. The promotion process in my department

.56**

 

 

 

 

3. The promotion criteria (what things are evaluated) in my department

.57**

.83**

 

 

 

4. The promotion standards (the performance thresholds) in my department

.58**

.85**

.77**

 

 

5. The body of evidence (the dossier’s contents) considered in making promotion decisions

.73**

.78**

.77**

.56**

 

6. The time frame within which associate professors should apply for promotion

.59**

.57**

.55**

.57**

.56**

Note. ** indicates correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Independent Variables—Demographic and Institutional



Faculty background characteristics included gender (male = 0, female = 1), race/ethnicity (dummy coded variables based on the racial/ethnic categories in the survey), being a non-U.S. citizen or international faculty (no = 0, yes = 1), being married/partnered (no = 0, yes = 1), and being responsible for dependents (no = 0, yes = 1). Faculty members’ institutional type, based on basic Carnegie classifications, was introduced as a control variable (other four-year institution = 0, research institution = 1) because faculty commitments to research, teaching, and service can vary across research and non-research institutions. Spending at least 6 years in the associate professor rank was introduced as a dichotomous variable (less than 6 years in associate rank = 0; 6 or more years in associate rank = 1). Finally, academic discipline was dummy-coded and introduced as an independent variable representing broad disciplines: arts and humanities (reference); social sciences; sciences; engineering, computer science, and math; professional fields; and medical/health professions. A small proportion of faculty members did not specify their academic discipline, and thus their academic discipline was labeled “Unspecified.”


Independent Variables—Satisfaction


We constructed some independent variables as composite variables from COACHE survey items, using an item-reduction strategy based on maximum likelihood estimation. On each of the survey questions used to produce the composite factors, a maximum value of 5 indicated that faculty expressed feeling very satisfied with that particular factor, and a minimum value of 1 indicated faculty expressed feeling very dissatisfied.


Satisfaction with service load measures faculty members’ satisfaction with the amount of and equitable distribution of their institutional service load, including committee work, student advising, and other service activities (M = 18.48, SD = 4.22, Cronbach’s α = .802). Satisfaction with department measures satisfaction with interaction with other faculty in their department and with the intellectual vitality of faculty in their department (M = 49.33, SD = 4.38, Cronbach’s α = .932). Satisfaction with department chair measures satisfaction with their department chair’s decision-making, priorities, communication, and fairness (M = 26.83, SD = 6.07, Cronbach’s α = .908). Satisfaction with recognition measures satisfaction with the recognition they receive from colleagues, department chair, and chief academic officer for their scholarly/creative work, teaching efforts, student advising, and service and outreach work (M = 28.93, SD = 5.31, Cronbach’s α = .906). Satisfaction with collegiality measures satisfaction with their department culture and collegiality, including mentoring, having others pitch in when needed, and commitments to supporting diversity and inclusion (M = 20.23, SD = 3.16, Cronbach’s α = .816). Satisfaction with institutional priorities measured satisfaction with the institutional leadership’s priorities, how those priorities were communicated, and how they affected faculty quality of life (M = 17.36, SD = 10.42, Cronbach’s α = .795). Finally, satisfaction with work/life balance measures satisfaction with the balance between professional and personal/family obligations and the support they receive from colleagues in making family life and an academic career compatible (M = 20.99, SD = 4.39, Cronbach’s α = .793).


Independent Variables—Promotion Perceptions


We created two final independent variables related to associate professors’ perceptions about promotion. Clarity on promotion processes, criteria, and expectations is a composite variable that measures how clear faculty were about their departmental processes, criteria, and expectations for going up for promotion to full professor (M = 20.79, SD = 6.34, Cronbach’s α = .912). Departmental encouragement for promotion is a continuous variable that indicates faculty members’ level of agreement or disagreement with the survey question, “My department has a culture where associate professors are encouraged to work towards promotion to full professorship.”


Statistical Models


We conducted a series of descriptive analyses to understand correlations between survey items and to detect significant differences between key groups of interest. The second stage of statistical analysis examined what specific factors influenced associate professors’ clarity about being promoted to full professor and whether predictors of promotion clarity varied for groups based on gender and race/ethnicity. Using a series of linear regression models, this study was able to identify the effects of predictors on associate professors’ promotion clarity and how those predictors were related to gender and race/ethnicity.


Limitations


As with many national studies, efforts to look at race, gender, and the intersections of race and gender were severely limited by the relatively small sample size. Another limitation of this study is that it relies solely on faculty satisfaction data to understand whether people have clarity about being promoted to full professor. We know from other research that associate professor faculty members tend to suffer a “midlife malaise” that occurs across all industries, not just academia (e.g., Clark, Oswald, & Warr, 1996; Mathew, 2014). It could be that what we are describing as a lack of clarity is actually more related to mid-career dissatisfaction that most people feel than to the specific effects of personal, institutional, and work-life characteristics.


RESULTS


EXPLORING DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES RELATED TO PROMOTION CLARITY


We ran t-tests to compare how various groups of associate professors might perceive promotion clarity (Table 4). On average, women were less likely to be clear on whether they would be promoted than men (t =-5.02, p < .001). Faculty who had been in rank more than six years were more likely to have promotion clarity than those who had been in rank for less time. Women were less satisfied with their service loads and work/life balance than men. Those who were not married/partnered and didn’t have children were also less likely to have promotion clarity. When we looked at the interaction between race and gender, there were slight differences in promotion clarity, though these are more likely attributable to gender differences rather than race/ethnicity differences (Table 4). This lack of statistical significance could be due to the small sample size of faculty of color. Regardless, female faculty across all races/ethnicities were less likely to have promotion clarity than men.


Since receiving feedback is important in predicting promotion clarity, we ran bivariate tests to determine group differences in how faculty members perceived whether they received sufficient formal feedback on their progress toward promotion to full professor (Table 5). Interestingly, faculty members who were married and who had children were less likely to report having received formal feedback on their progress toward promotion than their unmarried, non-parenting counterparts. Faculty members at research universities were statistically more likely than their colleagues at other types of four-year institutions to report having received formal feedback on their progress. Further, those in rank more than six years were also more likely to indicate that they had received formal feedback on their progress than those in rank for less time.



Table 4. Cross-Tabulations of Full-Time, Tenured Associate Professors Working at Four-Year U.S. Higher Education Institutions and Promotion Clarity (N = 3,246)

 

n

%

SD

t-value or F

Male faculty

1,754

54.0

0.91

−2.76

**

Female faculty

1,492

46.0

0.91

 

 

Married/partnered

2,362

72.8

0.92

−2.42

*

Not married/partnered

884

27.2

0.90

 

 

Has children/dependents

1,902

58.6

0.94

−2.18

*

No children/dependents

1,344

41.4

0.89

 

 

American Indian or Native Alaskan

15

0.50

0.69

1.18

 

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

248

7.60

0.86

 

 

White

2,647

81.5

0.91

 

 

Black or African American

143

4.40

0.88

 

 

Hispanic or Latino

131

4.00

0.93

 

 

Multiracial, Visible Minority, Other

62

1.90

0.95

 

 

White faculty

2,647

81.5

0.89

−0.92

 

Non-white faculty

599

18.5

0.91

 

 

International faculty

530

16.3

0.91

.627

 

US citizen faculty

2,716

83.7

0.90

 

 

Faculty at research institutions

1,900

58.5

0.90

1.50

 

Faculty at other 4-year institutions

1,346

41.5

0.92

 

 

Faculty in rank at least 6 years

1,243

38.3

0.95

3.05

***

Faculty in rank less than 6 years

2,003

61.7

0.88

 

 

Arts and humanities

709

21.8

0.91

1.07

 

Social sciences

474

14.6

0.91

 

 

Sciences

617

19.0

0.87

 

 

Engineering, computer science, math

408

12.6

0.88

 

 

Professional fields

460

14.2

0.95

 

 

Medical/health professions

199

6.10

0.90

  

Unspecified

379

11.7

0.94

 

 

Note. ***p < .001, **p < .01, *p < .05

     



Table 5. Cross-Tabulations of Full-Time, Tenured Associate Professors Working at Four-Year U.S. Higher Education Institutions and Whether They Received Formal Feedback on Progress Toward Promotion to Full Professor (N = 3,146)

 

Received formal feedback (n)

%

t-value or F

Male faculty

402

23.7

.995

 

Female faculty

322

22.2

 

 

American Indian or Native Alaskan

2

14.3

1.805

 

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

44

18.6

 

 

White

619

24.0

 

 

Black or African American

27

20.0

 

 

Hispanic or Latino

23

18.4

 

 

Other, Multiracial, Visible minority

9

15.0

 

 

International faculty

107

21.0

1.191

 

US citizen faculty

617

23.4

 

 

Faculty at research institutions

514

27.9

−8.05

***

Faculty at other four-year institutions

210

16.1

 

 

Faculty in rank at least 6 years

390

32.7

−9.74

***

Faculty in rank less than 6 years

334

17.1

 

 

Arts and humanities

138

20.1

1.011

 

Social sciences

126

27.5

 

 

Sciences

152

25.3

 

 

Engineering, computer science, math

100

25.1

 

 

Professional fields

90

20.2

 

 

Medical/health professions

60

30.8

 

 

Unspecified

58

15.9

 

 

Note. Due to missing responses on the survey question about whether faculty received formal feedback on progress toward promotion to full, a subset of 3,146 is used rather than the full sample number of 3,246.
***p < .001, **p < .01, *p < .05



DIFFERENCES IN PROMOTION CLARITY AND SATISFACTION WITH DEPARTMENTAL ENCOURAGEMENT BY RACE AND GENDER


We examined the extent to which there were racial/ethnic and gender differences on promotion clarity and satisfaction with departmental encouragement by race and gender. Table 6 suggests men and women of color are less clear on promotion to full than other groups. In terms of promotion clarity, Latino men (standardized M = –.16), Asian men (standardized M = –.07), and Multiracial men (standardized M = −.07) were significantly less likely than other male faculty to have promotion clarity. It is noteworthy that the mean for Latino male faculty on promotion clarity is much lower than any other male group. Compared to White women, women of color are also significantly less likely to have promotion clarity. While academic discipline and other factors may be co-related to race and gender, it is clear that faculty from underrepresented racial groups are generally less clear on promotion to full professor than other groups.


We did not find significant differences across gender and racial groups on faculty perceptions of their departments’ encouragement for promotion to full professor. However, Table 7 shows there are some patterns suggesting that women across all racial groups may be less satisfied and encouraged.



Table 6. Interactions Between Gender and Race/Ethnicity on Promotion Clarity (N = 3,246)

Gender

Race/ethnicity

n

Mean (standardized)

SD

F

 

Male

American Indian or Native Alaskan

7

.01

.41

1.98*

 

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

131

−.07

.85

 

 

White

1,438

.01

.91

 

 

Black or African American

70

.12

.90

 

 

Hispanic or Latino

76

−.16

.97

 

 

Multiracial, Visible minority, Other

32

−.07

.94

 

 

Female

American Indian or Native Alaskan

8

−.40

.75

 

 

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

117

−08

.88

 

 

White

1,209

.04

.92

 

 

Black or African American

73

−.24

.83

 

 

Hispanic or Latino

55

−.22

.89

 

 

Multiracial, Visible minority, Other

30

−.10

.92

 

 

Note. ***p < .001, **p < .01, *p < .05



Table 7. Interactions Between Gender and Race/Ethnicity on Satisfaction with How Well Their Department Culture Encourages Promotion to Full Professor

Gender

Race/ethnicity

n

% Strongly Agree or Somewhat Agree

��2

Male

American Indian or Native Alaskan

5

71.0

31.91

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

61

46.6

 

White

784

51.0

 

Black or African American

39

55.7

 

Hispanic or Latino

34

44.7

 

Multiracial, Visible minority, Other

16

50.0

 

Female

American Indian or Native Alaskan

2

25.0

28.39

Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

46

39.3

 

White

547

45.2

 

Black or African American

22

30.1

 

    

Hispanic or Latino

19

34.5

 

Multiracial, Visible minority, Other

11

36.7

 



PREDICTORS OF PROMOTION CLARITY


The following linear regression models examine the effects of the faculty background, institutional, and satisfaction variables on being clear about promotion to full professor. First, we modeled the regression using the full sample of 3,246 associate professor faculty members (Model 1). We then modeled separate regressions to compare the same set of predictors across gender and race/ethnicity: Model 2 included only women associate professors (n = 1,492), and Model 3 included only associate professors of color (n = 599).


Table 8 presents the goodness of fit measures and the results of the linear regression analyses in Models 1–3. All three models explained a significant proportion of variance in being clear about promotion to full professor: the all associate professor model had an estimation of R2 = .365, F(1, 22) = 84.06, p < .001; the female-only model had an estimation of R2 = .365, F(1, 21) = 40.19, p < .001; and the faculty of color model had an estimation of R2 = .401, F(1, 20) = 19.37, p < .001.


As shown in Table 8, for Model 1 (all associate professors), female associate professors were less clear about being promoted to full than male associate professors. Associate professors employed at research universities were less clear about promotion criteria than faculty at other institutional types. Faculty in the sciences, along with those in computer science, engineering, and math, were also less clear about promotion criteria than those in other fields. Being in the associate rank for six years or longer was positively associated with having a clear sense of institutional promotion criteria. Several composite satisfaction variables also positively predicted promotion clarity: service load, department, department chair, departmental recognition, departmental collegiality, work/life balance, and departmental encouragement for promotion.


In Model 2 (women only, Table 8), there were fewer overall significant predictors of promotion clarity, but the R-squared measure indicated that the model explained the same amount of the variability of the data in predicting promotion clarity. Women faculty in the sciences and social sciences were less clear about promotion criteria compared to faculty in the arts and humanities. Being in the associate rank for six years or longer was positively associated with having a clear sense of promotion criteria. Satisfaction with one’s service load, departmental recognition, departmental collegiality, work/life balance, and departmental encouragement for promotion also positively predicted promotion clarity for women faculty.


In Model 3 (faculty of color only, Table 8), the R-squared also improved, indicating that the data were slightly more fitted to the regression line in predicting promotion clarity. In the case of faculty of color, however, the only significant predictors of promotion clarity were a few of the satisfaction variables, including satisfaction with department, department chair, and departmental encouragement for promotion. The lack of more numerous significant predictors for faculty of color indicate there are other variables above and beyond gender that were not identified in our model that that might account for the differences in promotion clarity for faculty of color specifically.



Table 8. Results of Linear Regression Models 1–3, Factors Influencing Being Clear about Processes, Criteria, and Expectations for Promotion to Full Professor for All Associate Professors Combined, for Female Associate Professors Only, and for Associate Professors of Color Only (N = 3,246)

 

Model 1: All associate professors (β)

Model 2: Female associate professors (β)

Model 3: Associate professors of color (β)

Female

−.105

 ***

 

−.112

 

Black

−.023

 

−.044

 

 

Hispanic

−.086

 

.025

 

 

International faculty

.007

 

.043

 

−.083

 

Married/partnered

−.021

 

−.014

 

 .004

 

Has dependents

.007

 

.028

 

−.019

 

Research institution

−.062

*

.015

 

 .001

 

Arts & humanities (ref)

  

 

 

Social sciences

−.035

 

−.157

*

 .056

 

Sciences

−.120

**

−.235

***

−.103

 

Engineering, CS, Math

−.097

*

−.038

 

.005

 

Professional fields

−.058

 

−.105

 

.028

 

Medical

−.026

 

.014

 

−.030

 

Unspecified

−.043

 

−.014

 

.124

 

In associate rank ≥6 years

.078

**

 .028

*

−.011

 

Satisfaction with service load

.067

***

.015

***

.068

*

Satisfaction with department

.024

 

−.014

 

.084

**

Satisfaction with department chair

.050

**

 .028

 

.123

***

Satisfaction with recognition

.079

***

.015

***

.064

 

Satisfaction with collegiality

.032

*

−.014

 

−.017

 

Satisfaction with institutional priorities

−.017

 

 .028

 

−.025

 

Satisfaction with work/life balance

.092

***

.015

**

−.002

 

Dept encourages promotion to full

.397

***

−.014

***

.418

***

R2

.365

 

.365

 

.401

 

Standard error

.726

 

.730

 

.699

 

F-statistic

84.06

***

40.19

***

19.37

***

df

22

 

21

 

 20

 

n

3,246

 

1,492

 

599

 

Note. ***p < 0.001, **p < 0.01, *p < 0.05. All (β) reported are the standardized beta values.



DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS


Several results stand out as worthy of highlighting. A key finding is that, regardless of race/ethnicity, women are less clear than men about prospects of promotion to full professor. Underrepresented minority faculty members, as a whole and disaggregated into racial/ethnic subgroups, are not more likely than White faculty members to be unclear about promotion. Being unclear about promotion to full is clearly a concern for all faculty members at four-year universities in the US, but it is especially a concern for women.


Being female; being satisfied with one’s service load, department recognition, and work/life balance; and having a department that encourages promotion to full are all strong predictors of promotion clarity. Looking only at women associate professors, the same variables are significant predictors. For faculty of color, satisfaction with one’s service load, department, and department chair and having an encouraging department culture all carried significant weight. In light of our conceptual framework of cultural taxation, it is important to note that satisfaction with service, which serves as a proxy in this study for service load, is a very important variable in predicting perceptions of promotion clarity. For every group, satisfaction with service is a significant predictor of promotion clarity.


The other significant variables that are tied to our ideal-worker conceptual framework are structural, rather than individual, in nature. For all associate professors, being at certain types of institution or in particular academic disciplines had an inverse relationship with promotion clarity: Associate professors at research institutions and those in the sciences, engineering, computer science, and math are less likely to be clear about what is expected for promotion to full. Based on these findings, we conclude that the factors associated with lack of clarity about promotion are more structural than individual.


IMPLICATIONS OF FINDINGS


As noted in the theoretical framework section, the structure of the academy should be the focus of change, rather than focusing on “fixing" individual faculty members (Berg & Seeber, 2016; Levin & Aliyeva, 2015). The following recommendations are based on the data and focus primarily on institutional change.


Associate professors are seeking clarity in what is needed to achieve promotion to full professor. Across campuses, the criteria for promotion to full professor are vague. Institutions need to be more transparent about promotion expectations so that faculty members know what they need to do to achieve this important milestone. Many institutions have worked to clarify tenure expectations; it is time to do the same kind of work to clarify the expectations for promotion to full professor.


Criteria for promotion to full professor need to be reasonable and attainable. A tenure decision is high risk, because the institution is promising lifelong employment to an individual. One might ask, what is the risk to the institution of promoting someone to full professor? While many handbooks suggest that teaching, research, and service are all critically important for promotion, the reality may be that research is the critical element. More important, institutions ought to be asking: What is the risk of setting the bar too high, so that faculty are not poised to achieve the highest rank, or of not acknowledging that time spent on teaching, mentoring, and other service obligations will take away from research? What is lost in terms of human capacity or morale if individuals believe that they are not capable of achieving the highest levels of their profession? Might faculty members' failure to be promoted or perceiving themselves as not promotable lead to individuals leaving the institution, or worse, staying at the institution but not being fully participating members of the community?


In this era of accountability, many academic administrators are worried about “deadwood” professors who are tenured and who are perceived not to be fulfilling their obligations to the field. Neoliberal demands are changing the nature of academic work, moving it to a system of accountability (Berg & Seeber, 2016). Many institutions have implemented post-tenure reviews, have increased the consequences of failing to satisfy the work requirements of the professoriate, or both (Obeng & Ugboro, 2017). While our data do not allow us to comment directly on faculty productivity, it is clear that many mid-career faculty members are the workhorses of the academy: If they acted selfishly by only engaging in research-related activities or in other activities that would lead to promotion, much of the work of departments, schools, and universities would cease to be done. One suggestion might be to revise promotion criteria so that they reward the work that institutions need done, rather than just one aspect of faculty work. Institutions need to be careful about sending a message to their faculty members that it is beneficial for them to say “no” when asked to engage in important service or teaching obligations. In such an environment, the smart decision would be to say, “Why should I do more if it won’t help me get promoted?” We want to create academic communities where faculty members are encouraged to be good citizens and where the system rewards such citizenship. If we fail to do this, we will promote the wrong people—the people who have learned the cultural norms that devalue service, advising, undergraduate education, time-intensive high- impact practices, etc. Institutions should ask themselves: To what extent are our promotion criteria encouraging faculty to opt out of being good citizens?


The expectation of service is acute for all associate professors, but particularly for women and URM faculty. Such expectations take time away from engaging in research and other forms of scholarship—which are essential for promotion to full professor. Departments and institutions need to acknowledge that associate professors are pressured to provide service, but at the same time such service is devalued in considering promotion to full. We are in a “do more with less” era in which tenure-track faculty, especially those who have already earned tenure, are carrying the lion’s share of the service burden. To help mid-career faculty members achieve their career potential, departments need to develop strategies to reduce or more fairly distribute service burdens, alter promotion criteria to value the contributions that faculty members are making, and use policies such as sabbatical leaves to provide opportunities for research. At many institutions, sabbaticals are awarded competitively and often go to those who are more recently promoted or who have had time to devote to scholarship. Moreover, as long as the numbers of URM faculty are low while student bodies' diversity increases, racial equity in service and mentoring will be difficult to achieve. It is easy to imagine a sabbatical policy that evaluates productivity throughout an academic career and balances contributions to the institution with dedicated time for scholarly research.


This study found that being encouraged by one’s department to pursue promotion to full professor is an important predictor of promotion clarity. This suggests that department chairs and senior faculty members need to engage in proactive efforts to encourage promotion, rather than passively waiting for individual faculty members to decide to go up on their own. If people are self-nominating or waiting for nomination by someone else, policies that regularly assess the timing of promotion might increase clarity for people who are unsure.


Mid-career faculty members need more mentoring and support to help them achieve their potential in the field. Our research suggests that many faculty members need someone to reach out and encourage them. Further, they need feedback along the way to help set them up to be successful. More senior faculty, as well as academic administrators, are in an ideal position to help their mid-career colleagues make decisions about how best to spend their time and about whether to say yes or no to opportunities that arise. Institutions have figured out the necessity of providing mentoring support to junior faculty members; they need to recognize that faculty members at all levels are in need of continued support, guidance, and mentoring.


Finally, we need to move away from framing the leaky pipeline as being a matter of individual choices and recognize that it is a structural problem. People who do not go up for promotion to full professor are not inadequate, and the decisions they make about their career trajectories are not about a failure to perform. Rather, lack of progress toward promotion often results from a lack of clarity about what is needed to be successful, a lack of encouragement to achieve promotion, a departmental climate that discourages professional advancement, and imbalances in service expectations. Individual “decisions” that result from these structural concerns have even longer-term structural implications for higher education as a whole. For example, if institutions want to recruit a more diverse pool of department chairs, deans, vice provosts, provosts, and chancellors, which they say is a goal, then getting individuals through the gauntlet of the promotion process is essential. Full professorship serves as a gateway to academic leadership, and leadership serves as the means by which institutions respond to future demands. Might there not be an argument for helping faculty members better achieve their and the institutions' goals by paving the way to becoming a full professor?


FUTURE RESEARCH


There are several questions that remain unanswered and necessitate future research. In particular, we suggest that COACHE and other national surveys add a clear mechanism for capturing responses about feeling or being “stuck” at the associate professor rank. The measures of promotion clarity available to us are good proxies, but do not fully capture the concept of feeling stuck in the associate rank. Further studies that disaggregate data by discipline and institutional type are needed to further explore patterns of who has promotion clarity and how it develops. We also need research with larger sample sizes of faculty of color so that we can disaggregate data by subgroup and have large enough sample sizes that we can detect potential differences in experience. Further qualitative research exploring promotion clarity and examining institutional policies that either encourage or inhibit faculty members to proceed up the pipeline are needed.


CONCLUSION


As the academic labor market shifts to the increased use of non–tenure-track faculty members, tenured faculty members are increasingly expected to carry out the important work of colleges and universities in terms of leadership, governance, service, and institutional transformation. This makes the post-tenure segment of an academic career more significant, not just for individuals, but especially for institutions. This study augments the existing literature on the need to focus on the trajectory of associate professors and highlights predictors of promotion clarity generally and for white women and persons of color. It also highlights the usefulness of three conceptual frameworks—cultural taxation, ideal-worker norms, and institutional context—for studying faculty experiences and the implications for policy, research and practice.



Note


1. The authors acknowledge that the reported results are, in whole or in part, based on analyses of the COACHE data set. These data were collected as part of a multisite survey administration and supported by funds from participating colleges and universities; they were made available to authors by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education. This paper has not been reviewed or endorsed by COACHE and does not necessarily represent the opinions of COACHE staff or members, who are not responsible for the contents.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 5, 2019, p. 1-28
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22614, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 11:07:59 AM

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About the Author
  • Amanda Kulp
    University of North Florida
    E-mail Author
    AMANDA M. KULP is the Director of Assessment at the University of North Florida. Her research interests include faculty issues in higher education. Among her recent publications is “The Effects of Parenthood on Ph.D. Recipients’ Paths to the Professoriate: A Focus on Mothers,” in The Ideal Worker in Higher Education: Context-Dependent Norms and Work-Life Balance for Men and Women (New Directions in Higher Education).
  • Lisa Wolf-Wendel
    University of Kansas
    E-mail Author
    LISA E. WOLF-WENDEL is Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the School of Education at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on faculty issues, including studies of the academic labor market, the needs of international faculty and faculty from historically underrepresented groups, and the policy response of academic institutions in light of demands for dual-career accommodations and work/family balance. Among her recent publications is Academic Motherhood: Managing Work and Family (Rutgers University Press).
  • Daryl Smith
    Claremont Graduate University
    E-mail Author
    DARYL G. SMITH is Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Education and Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests include faculty diversity in higher education. Publications include Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work, 2nd ed. (Johns Hopkins University Press).
 
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