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Exploring the Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 on Faculty

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 2 Slot 3 Technical Session 4

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Sarah Trainer Seattle University

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Sarah Trainer is a medical anthropologist. Her work examines everyday negotiations around identity, wellness, and challenges to these within the context of large organizations. She is currently the Research & Program Coordinator for a National Science Foundation–funded ADVANCE Program at Seattle University.

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Agnieszka Miguel Seattle University

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Agnieszka Miguel received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2001 from the University of Washington, and MSEE and BSEE from Florida Atlantic University in 1996 and 1994. Dr. Miguel's professional interests involve image processing, machine learning, and engineering education especially active learning, diversity, equity, and inclusion, retention, and recruitment. Her teaching interests include MATLAB, circuits, linear systems, and digital image processing. She is an ASEE Fellow and a member of the IEEE, SWE, and Tau Beta Pi.
Currently, Dr. Miguel is the ASEE First Vice President and Vice President for External Relations which gives her a seat on the ASEE Board of Directors. Dr. Miguel has held several other officer positions across the ASEE including: Professional Interest Council I Chair, Division Chair and Program Chair of the ECE and New Engineering Educators Divisions, and ASEE Campus Representative. Dr. Miguel is also a member-at-large of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) Board of Directors. She has been a member of the ECEDHA Annual Conference Program Committee since 2013.

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Jean M. Jacoby Seattle University

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Jean Jacoby is an Associate Dean and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering at Seattle University. Dr. Jacoby joined SU as the Clare Boothe Luce Professor of Environmental Engineering. Since 2010, she has served as the director of the SU Project Center and coordinates the college's undergraduate research program. Dr. Jacoby is the co-Principal Investigator on an NSF Institutional Transformation grant-funded project “What Counts as Success? Recognizing and Rewarding Women Faculty’s Differential Contributions in a Comprehensive Liberal Arts University” (2016-2021).

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Jodi O'Brien Seattle University

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Jodi O'Brien is Professor of Sociology at Seattle University and Director of SU ADVANCE, a National Science Foundation-funded program for the advancement of women and minoritized faculty. Her work focuses on everyday discrimination, and transgressive identities and communities. Her books include The Production of Reality; Social Prisms: Reflections on Everyday Myths and Paradoxes; and Everyday Inequalities. Her recent articles include, Stained-Glass Ceilings: Religion, Leadership, and the Cultural Politics of Belonging, and Seeing Agnes: Notes on a Transgender Biocultural Ethnomethodology. She is Co-Chair for the Board of Directors for Ingersoll Gender Center and is also the editor of the SAGE Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, and the recent former editor of the public sociology journal, Contexts.

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With the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States in February and March 2020, many universities around the country moved to remote instruction. In response to public health information and changing directives from local and state authorities, universities made necessary decisions to keep their campuses closed for the entire spring quarter, with faculty and staff administrative work, teaching, and research all moving to remote bases. Faculty in institutions of higher education throughout the US have experienced additional demands necessitated by the move to online platforms for all teaching and administrative work, as well as strains placed on research agendas as laboratories have been closed, fieldwork has been limited, and in-person contact has been curtailed. As of mid-2020, many universities face budgetary shortfall and furloughs, and are having to implement salary and hiring freezes. Remote instruction continues for many institutions during the summer and projections for Fall of 2020 are uncertain: many universities are contemplating hybrid approaches, some say they will open as usual in the Fall (albeit with public health measures like masks in place), and still others have stated they will be online only for the rest of the year.

The broader context outside higher education has also been fraught with shifting challenges and change precipitated by COVID-19, its accompanying social distancing, and the widespread economic fall-out for the United States. Many public and private pre-K-12 schools, as well as daycares, summer camps, and aftercare centers have closed or moved to distance learning. The “stay-at-home” orders that affected/are affecting many states have closed libraries, parks, playgrounds, and extracurricular activities for children, as well as nursing homes and eldercare facilities. These orders have also impacted some, but not all, businesses: many people now work routinely from home and many people have been laid off or had their salaries and workdays reduced. A stream of articles in a variety of media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times have charted the impacts that working from home have had on people in the US, in a context of reduced economic power and reduced childcare options.

In the case of higher education specifically, faculty who are parents of school-age children struggle to balance teaching virtually while also caring for their families. Faculty with elderly parents face extremely difficult decisions about social distancing and best care practices. Single faculty are isolated at home, separated from their friends and families. Extensive evidence indicates that women disproportionately shouldered more care-giving at home before February-March 2020, and burgeoning evidence conducted since COVID-19 began affecting daily life in the US indicates that these kinds of inequities in care-giving are deepening during the crises, especially as external, paid care-giving options have shrunk. Less is known, however, about the nature and quantity of the work that women faculty are being asked to do (remotely, from home) for and by their universities.

Scholars of women in the workplace note that many of the activities that are integral to the reputation and everyday functioning of an organization are often performed by women and, accordingly, are taken-for-granted as a “natural” expression of women’s preferences for this sort of work. In 2016, our university received an NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant to study and change policies with an eye on equity. We proposed that women faculty disproportionately perform “hidden work” within our university and that this essential work is not compensated within current faculty reward structures around promotion. Our activities over the past four years have included strategic communication across all levels of the university, social science research (participant observation, interviews, and focus groups) with faculty, and efforts aimed at procedural change (revised promotion guidelines and increased opportunities for faculty mentoring), all based on a participatory action research (PAR) model that has allowed us to flexibly incorporate feedback and shift our activities in response. As part of our PAR model, we are currently also exploring the impacts that COVID-19 necessitated shifts have had on the “hidden work” performed by faculty at our university, as well as on faculty workloads more generally.

The research responds to the unprecedented challenges that academics are currently facing. These include isolation from colleagues, increased teaching and service asks in the workplace, increased caregiving responsibilities at home, personal economic hardship, decreased resources for scholarship and teaching, changing requirements demanded by remote instruction and the effects this has on expressed faculty and student satisfaction with classes, and the emotional tolls of COVID-19. We hypothesize that gendered differences may emerge across all of these challenges and we are investigating the following research questions: 1. How has COVID-19 impacted faculty research, teaching, and service responsibilities? 2. How do these impacts differ by gender, other demographic variables such as race, faculty rank and tenure status, and discipline? 3. How has COVID-19 impacted the resources that the university is able to provide faculty?

We used a mixed methods approach to answer these questions, grounded in our PAR model and an ethnographic framework. This emphasizes in-depth data collection via participant observation (the involvement of the researchers in campus life and use of our own experiences as data), focus groups, and individual reflections from faculty. Because of the new realities of remote work and social distancing, much of this data collection has been conducted remotely. Participant observation across public Zoom meetings, for example, has been helpful to us in staying current with larger trends at the university. During Spring Quarter 2020, we also emailed all faculty (tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure track) and asked them to provide us with a written reflection concerning their recent professional and personal experiences. We asked faculty to reflect on the following questions: 1. What am I struggling to get done professionally during this time? 2. What has been easier to do professionally during this time? 3. Have I noticed any differences in how much time I spend on research vs. teaching vs. service activities since COVID-19 started impacting my professional life? 4. How am I balancing personal demands with professional ones during this time? 5. How have I felt supported (or not) by university administration?

Data collection is still ongoing, with additional faculty sending us reflections over the summer. Initial thematic analysis of the reflections indicates the following emergent themes are proving important: 1. Faculty are balancing more care-giving at home. 2. Certain faculty are doing essential work in marginalized communities that they worry ”won’t count” for tenure or promotion. 3. Teaching and administrative service have overwhelmed research and writing time for most faculty. 4. ”The collapse of the professional into the personal” in terms of time and space is having a ripple effect across all areas of life. 5. There is pervasive worry about student evaluations, external reviewers, tenure clock delays, promotion delays, expected levels of productivity. Each of these themes can be further analyzed with an equity lens. Many women are experiencing the collapse of the professional into the personal more acutely, for example, as they struggle to share workspace with school-aged children. Faculty of color are disproportionately being asked to contribute expertise in areas that have not traditionally been “counted” in tenure and promotion policies.

It is important to note that COVID-19 did not create new inequities and strains on faculty. Instead, it has put enormous stress on existing fractures and inequities. Our goal for this research was to think strategically and systematically about the implications of the profound shifts in faculty work caused by COVID-19 for the long term, and how this will differentially impact diverse faculty in terms of workload, tenure and promotion, salaries, and teaching evaluations.

Trainer, S., & Miguel, A., & Jacoby, J. M., & O'Brien, J. (2021, January), Exploring the Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 on Faculty Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36087

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