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A Woman's Work

By Melissa McDaniels

Unfinished Agendas: New and Continuing Gender Challenges in Higher Education. Judith Glazer-Raymo, ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Unfinished Agendas challenges the reader both to appreciate gains women have made in the academy in the first years of the twenty-first century and to take responsibility for answering the question of what all of us, especially women in leadership positions, can do to address “mounting external and institutional challenges [that] threaten women’s advancement.” The book, edited by Judith Glazer-Raymo, brings together feminist scholars of higher education to examine underlying challenges and propose solutions.

In the first chapter, Glazer-Raymo lays out trends related to the status of female students and faculty in the first years of the twenty-first century. Women now make up a greater share of PhD recipients than they did in previous years, with the greatest gains seen in the life sciences between 2000 and 2005. Evidence of increasing gender parity among doctoral recipients is tempered, however, by data that demonstrate that among those graduates who pursue faculty roles, the percentage of women decreases steadily as faculty rank increases. Glazer-Raymo also points to the disparity between the gender composition of faculties at community colleges, where women are more likely than men to work, and those at research universities. Women comprise a majority of the contingent faculty workforce and continue to be at a salary disadvantage compared to men across all ranks  and institutional types. Taken together, these data suggest that there are still “unfinished agendas” related to women’s advancement in higher education.

Framing the status of women in the academy, Glazer-Raymo skillfully lays out what she calls a “resurgence of feminist activism in higher education” by reviewing examples of institutions that were prompted by controversies or actively chose to increase transparency through continuous examination of women’s status at their institutions. In a later chapter, Frances Stage and Steven Hubbard provide trend data related to the baccalaureate origins of recent math and science doctorates, identifying institutions that are “unexpected producers” of female scientists. These two chapters provide a context within which to read the remaining chapters, which address a refreshingly diverse set of issues related to women in the academy.

Two authors explicitly ask readers to bring to the foreground the importance of the role that intersecting identities play in faculty members’ success in their chosen fields. Becky Ropers-Huilman argues that the process of constructing an identity, giving voice to the multiple identity groups of which each of us are members, is one of the most challenging issues facing female faculty today. Utilizing autobiographical data, she brings the reader’s attention to the concept of privilege, arguing that white women faculty members have an opportunity to “dismantle racial and gender privilege from within their positions of power and oppression.” She raises the fundamental question of what needs to happen in higher education to accommodate people with identities in multiple oppressed groups. In her chapter, Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner also relies on both autobiographical and ethnographic data to tease out how the “interlocking effects of gender, race, and ethnicity” can “compound pressures of the workplace environment for faculty women of color.”

Several contributions to the volume contain data collected from long-term qualitative investigations of the experience of female faculty at different career stages and in different institutional contexts. Aimee LaPointe Terosky, Tamsyn Phifer, and Anna Neumann describe challenges that female faculty members face during the years immediately after they have been granted tenure. These writers bring into focus the concept of scholarly learning, asking what forces cultivate, or get in the way of, this portion of a woman’s development as a faculty member. They present data from a three-year longitudinal study of faculty and make a strong argument for paying attention to the scholarly learning of all faculty. Such learning, the authors argue, “assumes, and in fact demands, a subject of study— conceptualized, reconceptualized, and otherwise advanced by people of diverse backgrounds and equally diverse ways of knowing and understanding the world.” The authors of another chapter, Kathleen Shaw, M. Kate Callahan, and Kimberley LeChasseur, utilize results of both quantitative and qualitative explorations to understand the experience of female faculty at community colleges. Specifically, the authors explore the effects of resource levels on how well faculty members do their jobs and how content they are in their roles. The authors argue that “professional employment in low-status institution[s] presents unique challenges for the work life of female faculty situated in community colleges.”

Other contributors to Unfinished Agendas highlight how the use of economic metaphors and theoretical frameworks influences the questions we ask about new and continuing gender challenges in the academy. Amy Scott Metcalfe and Sheila Slaughter use the concept of academic capitalism to examine the impact of growing market forces on academic women. They challenge the reader by suggesting that “if women want to address the remaining disparities in higher education, they will have to address the market issue directly.” Ana M. Martínez Alemán introduces an alternative to a marketbased production metaphor of teaching and learning, that of a gift economy, in order to “give us a means to recognize and comprehend the internal gender logic of these relationships” and therefore view faculty productivity—in teaching—as an “idiosyncratic, subjective, and symbolic . . . interrelational activity that cannot be commodified and carries only symbolic worth.” Martínez Alemán poses the fundamental “so what?” question when she asks, “How can we rightly appraise and take stock of instructional performance?” She then suggests methodologies that may best assess this gift or reproductive economy.

Overall, Unfinished Agendas is an impressive follow-up to Glazer- Raymo’s 1999 book Shattering the Myths: Women in Academe. The contributors to Unfinished Agendas highlight the gendered nature of higher education by focusing on the disciplines, economies, and discourses of the academy and how they affect the experience of female faculty, doctoral students, and administrative leaders in U.S. universities and colleges. One of the challenges of writing a book on women in the academy is the breadth of the topic. This book achieves satisfying breadth without watering down what is a vitally important—and complex—topic for those concerned about the future of the academic workforce. Another challenge when discussing the status of women in the academy is the risk of privileging the experience of majority group members (white, heterosexual) over that of minority group members. Several chapters in this book attend directly to this ongoing challenge, while others place issues of privilege in the background of the text.

The next step for individuals concerned about the status of women in higher education is to consider the implications of the increasingly cross-national nature of research, teaching, and learning. In the epilogue, Glazer-Raymo summarizes what she believes are eight challenges that emerged from the ideas put forth in chapters in this volume. How might these challenges become increasingly  complex, or potentially less relevant, in an increasingly global higher education context? This question remains open for consideration as the valuable work of feminist scholars of higher education progresses.

Melissa McDaniels is project director of Advancing Diversity through the Alignment of Policies and Practices, a National Science  foundation–funded ADVANCE-Institutional Transformation grant at Michigan State University. Her e-mail address is

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