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On Or Off The Tenure Track: The Work Lives Of Women Engineering And Technology Faculty

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

The Academic Environment

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.944.1 - 13.944.20



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Paper Authors

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Stacy Birmingham Grove City College

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Mara Wasburn Purdue University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

On or Off the Tenure Track: The Work Lives of Women Engineering and Technology Faculty


Tenured faculty and those on the tenure track are now a minority on American college and university campuses as the number of part time instructors and professors hired on a contract has increased. A disproportionate number of these non-tenure track faculty members are women. With greater demands for publications and funded research in the first five or six years of their careers, many women fear the consequences of having children during this period, which coincides with their prime childbearing years. In response, they may be opting out of the race for tenure in order to achieve what they perceive as a more desirable work-life balance by choosing part-time or non-tenure track full time academic positions.

At the same time, there is a critical shortage of skilled science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals in the United States, as well as in many Western European nations, which, in turn, decreases the pool from which to recruit faculty, who are urgently needed to educate students in these disciplines. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important for colleges and universities to learn what impact, if any, the availability of tenure-track positions may have on their ability to attract and retain women faculty to meet this need.

Using qualitative and quantitative data, this study examines the work life balance and job satisfaction of women engineering and technology faculty both on and off the tenure track. Recommendations for academic policies and practices based on their responses are offered.


The number of full time, tenured faculty positions on college and university campuses has been declining nationwide. In fact, the majority of faculty hires since 1990 have been off the tenure track; a disproportionate number of those new hires are women.1 In the 1980s, only about 12% of the full time faculty were in non-tenure track positions. However, by the early 1990s, that percentage had more than doubled.2 At present, women are far less likely to hold full time, tenure track positions than are men. In 2005-2006, women comprised 41% of tenured and tenure- track faculty and 52% of the non-tenure-track faculty.3 Engineering has by far the lowest proportion of women faculty both on and off the tenure track.2 At the same time, requirements for achieving promotion and tenure have increased dramatically.4

Given the critical shortage of skilled science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals in the United States, as well as many Western European nations,5,6 the shortage of women engineering and technology faculty, and the decreasing number of tenure-track positions, it become increasingly important to learn whether or not the declining number of tenure-track positions may hamper the ability of colleges and universities to attract and retain women faculty in these disciplines in the future.

Birmingham, S., & Wasburn, M. (2008, June), On Or Off The Tenure Track: The Work Lives Of Women Engineering And Technology Faculty Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3513

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