Thinking Outside the Pipeline
The impact of the unexpected in work-life issues
Rosemary Magee, Vice President and Secretary of University, and Julie Seaman, Associate Professor of Law

Vol. 10 No. 1
September 2007

Return to Contents

Science in the Seams
Computational and Life Sciences Initiative redefines disciplinary lines

High-performance computing at Emory

“Everybody understands or recognizes the combination of computational and life sciences as very promising. . . . Few people have been working in this combination of fields long enough to have established a leadership presence.”

“Rather than 'deconstructing' nature into its simplest parts . . . , the twenty-first century will likely be spent trying to understand, scientifically, the nature of complex interacting systems by “reconstructing” complexity.”

Staging Science
Teaching, and learning from, the interdisciplinary class

Thinking Outside the Pipeline
The impact of the unexpected in work-life issues

Creative Minds and "The Greatness Game"
A Response


We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.
– Anais Nin.

By now, most of us at Emory are probably aware that work-life issues have become a hot topic in the workplace and, in particular, higher education. Emory has joined other top universities in addressing policies and investing resources in order to foster a campus culture that supports a wide range of personal and professional commitments. In February 2006, President Wagner charged Emory’s Work-Life Initiative Task Force to address issues relating to work, health and well being, and family life of faculty, staff, and students as a part of the university’s cross-cutting strategic theme “Creating Community-Engaging Society.”

These issues are vitally important to all faculty—young and old, male and female, partnered and single, with and without children—especially with major demographic shifts occurring in society and academia. For example, as noted in the last issue of the Academic Exchange (May 2007), there is a growing trend among faculty to postpone retirement for reasons that include financial need and a desire for continued social engagement. Numerous studies confirm the significance of the baby boomer age group to the overall economy: in the next five years, the number of workers aged 55 to 64 will rise by 48 percent, while the group aged 20 to 24 will grow barely 1 percent.

Younger faculty, too, seek out universities that value and support their attempts at work-life integration. Research has shown that faculty members in their thirties and forties have radically different ideas about the way that higher education should work than their older colleagues. According to the Harvard Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), these younger faculty members often seek institutions that provide “a good fit” regarding benefits and programs as much as money or prestige.

While the Work-Life Task Force has grappled with many specific issues affecting faculty, staff and students (our report will be available later this fall), we also believe it is important to pause and reflect upon the larger picture of academic culture. How can we become the university we want to be? An important first step is to recognize that most of us perceive the university—its strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and joys—through the prism of our own lived experiences. To paraphrase Anais Nin, we tend to see things not as they are, but as we are. There has been much talk these last few years about the need to build bridges and to foster the spirit of a university rather than a multiversity. In gathering data, both quantitative and qualitative, for the work-life project, we have been struck by the experiential and perceptual divergences among people in our community, for example, between those with responsibilities to children and those providing care to elderly parents. Such multifaceted differences create challenges insofar as work-life issues (or non-issues) depend upon who is framing the questions. And it seems daunting to try to offer answers to questions that shift and reshape as they travel over the landscape of the university.

The power of metaphor

A striking example of this framing process involves the pipeline metaphor, which has dominated discourse in academia for some forty years. In the early 1970s, with the acknowledgement of gender imbalance in the faculty ranks, it became customary to talk about the problem in terms of a pipeline that, over time, had proportionate numbers of men and women entering academia at the front end, but far fewer women emerging from the other end as full professors. The solution, it seemed, would be to fix the holes that allowed so many women to leak out along the way to professional success.

Trying to find ways to plug these leakages has been a large part of the drive for gender equity in academia for at least the past decade. Flooding the pipeline with diverse populations of undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows, it was once believed, would in due course result in similarly diverse populations among the professoriate and academic leadership. As that expectation failed to fully materialize, despite gender parity among undergraduate and graduate students and the removal of many institutional barriers, work-life scholars have suggested that the pipeline is not just leaky but is actually blocked in significant ways for women who enter academia at a time in their lives when they may also bear significant family responsibilities. The tenure clock and the biological clock frequently come into conflict.

The metaphor of the pipeline has served us well in that it focused attention on an important imbalance. But by reducing such a complex issue to a mechanical problem, it overlooks that many life experiences, affecting both men and women, do not simply fit into a predetermined path. Indeed, some of the more meaningful experiences and deepest insights can emerge in nonlinear ways and in unexpected moments and places. Perhaps it is time to fix the pipeline metaphor itself?

As the linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson note in Metaphors We Live By, “We define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in
part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor.”

Preliminary findings from Emory’s faculty survey

A recent faculty survey on work-life issues provided the task force with useful data about faculty views on a wide range of work-life issues. All tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty at Emory were invited to participate. While there was a lot of convergence among a wide range of respondents, a more nuanced picture emerged when the survey data were broken down by gender. To begin with, women faculty replied to the survey in greater numbers than their male colleagues—women are only 36 percent of the survey population but accounted for 52 percent of respondents, perhaps because work-life issues frequently impact them more as caregivers.

Other differences are also worth noting. Whereas some 17 percent of faculty said that they had at some point considered requesting a tenure clock extension, that overall figure masked a gender disparity of more than three to one. Women consistently responded in much greater proportions than men when asked whether a range of work-life policies and practices would be “of great value” in improving the overall quality of faculty work at Emory. To take just a few specific examples, automatic tenure clock extension for childbirth or adoption was considered of great value to almost 60 percent of women responding to the survey, but only to 31 percent of men. The possibility of pre-tenure part-time appointments, similarly, was greatly valued by almost half of women, and by less than one-fifth of men (see graph page 9). These findings are consistent with a recently released survey conducted by COACHE.

From pipelines to prism

One lesson that emerges from the faculty survey, as well as work-life research and discussions with faculty at Emory and at peer universities, is that we are both alike and different. We may be parents as well as mothers and fathers; children as well as sons and daughters; spouses, partners, and colleagues. Men are affected by these changing roles and expectations as much as women. Significant numbers of male faculty believe that support for family-friendly policies should be an important priority for the university; for many women faculty, the need is even more acute. The rewards and responsibilities of personal and family life should be recognized as part of the fabric of our academic community. Moreover, bringing together the full range of diverse talents on our campus can lead to greater productivity, creativity, and excellence.

It is time to repair and unblock the pipeline, to be sure, but also time to be open to new ways of imagining an academic life not constrained by the linear, narrow pipeline metaphor. For Emory to be a university, rather than a multiversity, we are called upon to acknowledge the various facets of the prisms of our lives. Without such commitment to mutual understanding we will remain more separate than together no matter what programs and policies we have in place. Thus it may also be time, perhaps, to turn to a colleague with a hand outstretched, to balance his or her prism in our open palm, to hold it up to the light, and to try as best we can for a moment to see a multi-faceted world refracted in an unfamiliar way. This change in imagining might presage a transformation in academic culture and community life, truly making Emory a destination university for the twenty-first century.