A blurb in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today mentions a Dept. of Education study’s report that if current trends continue, female college students will make up 60% of the undergrad population by 2019. Similar gender breakdowns will be expected at higher levels of education.
At the same time, we have seen (especially in the humanities), an increase in what Marc Bousquet describes as the casualization of academic labor — that is to say, the replacement of tenured and tenure-track professors by lower paid “part-timers” (i.e., grad students or adjunct “piece work” faculty who are paid by the class). Now, Bousquet is an academic radical of the first water, but I can and do find value in his diagnoses without accepting his prescriptions.
Like others, I think both these trends (more women in higher ed/more casualization in the professoriate) intersect, and I think they create a feedback loop. Despite the fact that men are no longer necessarily primary breadwinners (As a first-grade teacher, Mrs. Mondo makes about 125% of what I would earn without summer classes — for which I get the piece-work rate), women are often seen (even in academia) as — or are expected to be — providers of “extra” income, and are (under)paid accordingly. This underpayment in turn drives men who wish (or have) to be primary earners out of the profession. This skews the gender balance further, and the feedback gets a little louder.
All this is especially true in the humanities — men still dramatically outnumber women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields — which also pay better (at least in part because there’s more obvious demand for those skills outside the academy). But the humanities are where I work, so that’s what I see. And in the humanities, an ever-increasing number of men and women are being underemployed or driven out of the profession.
I’m glad to see both men and women in my field (my department is split 50/50 on the tenure line, although all our adjuncts last year were women.) I don’t think we need some sort of affirmative action program for men in the humanities, but I have to wonder if seeing more men in the field might mean an improvement in how all of us are treated. What can we do (if anything) to keep from becoming a pink-collar ghetto?