Book by: John Curtis
Review by: Michelle M. White
Director, Academic Advisement
Millersville University

As the title suggests before it became a topic of research and policy formulation, the “challenge” of balancing family and career was played out primarily in the lives of women in academia. The representation of women among college and university faculty has been increasing since the 1960s (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Despite this progress, gender inequities remain in various aspects of faculty life, including such employment outcomes as salaries, rank, and tenure. Likewise the challenge manifests itself in the family-related outcomes of marriage and children.

For decades, women who pursued advanced degrees and careers in the academy faced obstacles and conflicts. The contributors suggest that the legal, formal, and visible hurtles have been largely, but not entirely removed, leaving more subtle structural disadvantages: forms of bias and discrimination that could be characterized as unconscious or unintended.  The authors recognize that when faced with choices between fulfilling the obligations of family and pursuing an academic career many women have sacrificed their careers by accepting positions at teaching-oriented colleges that offered a more predictable workload.

The premise of this volume is that the challenge of balancing faculty careers and family work is not one that individuals—men or women—should face alone. It is also a challenge for colleges/ universities if they are to recruit and retain the most able faculty. As long as women feel they can not pursue faculty careers to the full extent of their abilities, colleges/ universities will not draw from a complete pool of potential faculty members. The contributors do an excellent job addressing the increased use of contingent faculty positions to meet growing enrollments as part of a broader transformation of colleges/universities toward a more corporate model. They maintain the glass ceiling and the maternal wall affect women (and men who choose nontraditional roles) in all professions; academia is not immune to gender stereotyping and cognitive bias. The authors suggest that the gender wars are particularly acute in academia as represented by the large numbers of childless women.

Strengths of this book include its identification of barriers to achieve gender equity in family and employment as well as the recommendations offered for institutional policy and practices such as stopping the tenure clock, working part-time on tenure track, and negotiating with department chairs to modify teaching duties. The contributors emphasize that demonstration and establishment of work-related policies are not enough; faculty must know how to use these policies to explore the more varied career paths, to and through academia.

Due to the rise of contingent appointment as the model situation for new faculty hires and a growing emphasis on corporate models for higher education, institutions must consider how to maintain a faculty who are fully engaged in teaching, research, and institutional governance and possess academic freedom protected by tenure. At the same time, the academic community needs to make room for new voices and new perspectives. Detailed and workable measures that enable faculty to balance their academic careers with their lives off-campus are ways to meet that challenge. This is concise, well-written book for women faculty members employed in various roles—part time, full time, and tenure track. It is a multifaceted resource that would be a useful resource in any faculty member’s library. 

U. S. Department of Education. Digest of Education Statistics 2002. Washington, D. C.:

   National Center for Education Statistics, 2003.

Challenge of Balancing Faculty Careers and Family Work.  (2005). Book by Curtis, John W. (Editor). Review by Michelle White.120 pp. Price $29.00. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN #0-7879-8190-7.


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