My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.


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Leaning In. Thanks, Sheryl Sandberg!

As I prepare for My Year Away and contemplate what it means to be leaving administration, I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (ISBN: 978-0-383-34994-9).  This book has received a lot of criticism—from both women and men—so I was curious.  And I wanted to think about whether someone like Sheryl Sandberg (grand poobah at Facebook, just in case you didn’t know) would think I was wimping out by leaving administration.

Let’s just say the book resonated with me.

Lean In is backed up with plenty of research to convince a thinking person that gender bias still exists in the workplace—and it’s not just men’s faults.

I grew up in a home where both my mom and dad told me I could achieve anything I set out to do.  They often asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up—and would remind me of professions that weren’t thought of as “girl jobs.”  (If I said, “nurse,” my mother would say “doctor,” for example.  I think I finally settled on “geologist,” which if my college geology professor had known, would think was hysterical.)

In sixth grade, our class chose The Christmas Carol for its Christmas pageant.  I told Miss Bell that I would try out for the lead.  She said a girl could not play Ebenezer Scrooge.  I disagreed. I won the lead and played to a full house—bald wig and all.  Bah Humbug!

Sure, in seventh grade, I planned to take over my neighbor, Mike’s, paper route while he was on vacation, only to be told by the newspaper that I couldn’t “because I was a girl.”  But I rebounded in ninth grade with a landslide win over three boys for class president.  (Of course, the quarterback beat me the following year in my re-election bid.)

I played basketball in high school.  While we started with “girls” rules in ’69, by 1970, we were playing pretty much just like the boys (except we wore bloomer dresses and wore our hair in braids with white ribbons).  I was a fairly aggressive defensive player and had no problem ripping the ball right out of my opponents’ hands.  Title IX?  I didn’t think much about it.

And I didn’t think much about gender bias in higher education, either.  I’m the head of a large journalism school.  I’m a full professor.  When I return to the faculty, I’ll be one of the highest paid full professors in the school.

Then I read Sandberg’s book.  And I realized that some things did bug me.  And they bug me that I don’t do anything about them.

For example, my immediate supervisor does not have a PhD.  I do.  We are often at meetings together, talking with alumni, students, or friends in the community. More times than not, they call my male boss “Dr. xx,” and me either “Mrs. Pardun” or “Carol.”  This happens fairly regularly and I never say anything about it.   It’s not a big deal.  Except that in the academy, the earned doctorate is a big deal.  I think Sheryl Sandberg would tell me to make a big deal about it.  (Nicely, of course.)

Sandberg’s book is pro mothers, pro fathers, pro single men and women, pro careers.  She argues that we can all achieve something epic if we lean in.

What I especially loved about Sandberg’s book is that not only does she encourage women to lean into their careers, she implores men to lean into their families.  Let me tell you.  She is right!  My husband left his corporate job and began his consulting business when our twins were young.  More often than not, he was the one who was there to meet the kids after school.  In the process, he also built an amazing career.  True, he’s a terrible cook, but the man can (and does!) wield a vacuum and any number of household chores.  Plus, he can (and does!) fix anything.  (If you want to see how good he is, check out his blog, GarysFix.com.)

I’m working hard to make sure I’m functioning on all cylinders when my sabbatical begins.  I want to look back on My Year Away and be able to say that I am making my mark as a productive academic.  I’m going to lean into my research and see what I can discover.  I can’t wait!