As part of the series of posts, here and elsewhere, on work/life balance, I've stopped to think about the tenure clock. I don't have answers. But the more I talk to people and think about it, the more convinced I become that (1) I'm not seeing all of it and (2) there are not simple, easy answers.
I have been part of discussions at my current and my past universities about stopping the tenure clock. What seemed like a simple thing, a thing that would permit women to return without losing ground, a thing that would not cost anyone anything, is not. Note: stopping the clock is not the same thing as maternity/parental leave, family leave, which is FLMA and an HR legal thing. In this context "stopping the clock" meant delaying tenure decision for a year. Because tenure is an annual consideration, clock stops need to come in units of years, whether or not that is realistic, in anyone's best interest, or functionally feasible.
Wise, caring, right-thinking people brought up issues in these discussions. First, in today's climate, if you stop the clocks for mothers, you must stop the clock for fathers. For my gay friends, that is right. The rationale is that a first year of a child's life is very difficult, even with no attendant issues (and as someone who teaches and has taught embryology, at least the basis of those issues are very clear to me).
But what about the father with the stay-at-home wife/mother? We all may "know" that fathers do not do what mothers do, but not necessarily. Next, what about the person who decides to have 4 or 5 or 6 children? Do they get to stop the clock that many times? Do they get 12 years till a tenure decision (aside from the madness of waiting that long...)? For how many children is the clock stopped is a real question. Please don't say stuff about how many children someone should have, and population explosion, and how many can be supported on an academic salary. If this is going to be in the rules, it needs to be a rule, and it needs to be complete.
What does stopping mean? Does it mean that achievements for that year are not included in the package (because the clock was stopped because the person was not working as hard)? Does it mean that they just have an extra year? If tenure decision is made at the end of 7 years, is the denominator (years) is kept at 7, while the numerator (number of pubs or whatever) permitted to be 8? Does one get to count the work one does in that stopped year? And of course, that's just the numerical assessments. And, of course, there are lots of non-quantifiable things that go on to produce the quantifiable ones: the thinking, that maturation of ideas, the looking at data that make a difference for what science finally gets published.
I agree the first step is making something possible, but the implementation is going to be harder, as so many tenure decisions that are on the margin. Someone who has published a lot (20 pubs?) but not been successful in funding? Someone with funding but who has published nothing? Someone who has totally blown off their teaching (multiple complaints to the chair and dean), but is successful in research? The unpleasant person who is just this side of ethical violations, but otherwise doing ok? Will the tenure committee, the letter writers be able to honestly give that extra year, assessing the accomplishments as if they occurred within the 7 year window and not in an 8 year one?
One of my assoc prof, tenured colleagues, an involved parent, whose partner is not stay-at-home, and quite honestly overwhelmed with child care at this career point said, bluntly: everyone would like another year. Why don't we just do that? Or at least stop the up and out 7 year madness.