Enabling Scholars to Achieve Success

Supporting The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship is vital because it will enable some of the best scholars in the field of Medieval Studies to: 1) Complete a research project that significantly enhances understanding of the medieval period, a time during which many of the social and cultural institutions so important to the American heritage came into existence. 2) Earn promotion so that they can achieve academic leadership and develop new research and teaching projects.

An alarming truth

Here are the facts. A 2009 report on "The Status of Women in the Profession" from the Modern Language Association says that although more women than men earn doctorates in English, "men continue to occupy tenure-track positions at a rate disproportionate to their actual numbers among new Ph.D.s." Although men and women are hired in nearly equal numbers at the entry level of university teaching, the number of women who advance to tenure is much lower than the number of men who achieve it. In the five to fifteen years after receiving their doctorates, more than 50 percent of men have achieved tenure. Barely 40 percent of women have gained tenure, with 35 percent of women Ph.D.s remaining at the lowest rung of the academic ladder as instructors. After these women achieve tenure, they are promoted to the rank of full professor in much lower proportion than men. Many of them spend their whole academic lives teaching, conducting research, serving their institution and profession, but never achieving promotions or positions of institutional leadership.

About time and money

Here is a way to understand the career disparity. First, it takes an average of ten years to earn a Ph.D. in a medieval subject. Scholars lucky enough to get a teaching position at the rank of assistant professor are usually around ages 32 or 33. Within the next six years they must prove themselves worthy of receiving tenure and advancing to the rank of associate professor. This "proof" is usually in the form of a significant scholarly contribution—most often a book. For many women, this is the same time when they are starting families. So there is a disastrous convergence of multiple demands: completing a significant research project and publishing, teaching classes, accommodating time-consuming committee appointments, and beginning a family. Women who successfully advance beyond the tenure process are often abandoned there, without the mentoring and support (especially from senior women scholars who are in short supply) that enables a new level of intellectual growth to propel them into higher positions. All major professional associations in the humanities that have studied this problem recognize the need for innovative support for such women scholars. This fellowship would provide such support on three fronts.

FUNDING: By providing scholars with financial support for three to nine months of research, The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship will allow promising faculty the time to think and write that will help them gain promotion on a faster track than it would take if they had to continue teaching while fulfilling their other obligations at work and home. Upon promotion, such scholars will more likely have the visibility to effect positive change in their home institutions and in academe worldwide.

MENTORING: Each recipient of the Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship will choose or be assigned a senior mentor who will help advise, support and guide the recipient during the fellowship period. This is perhaps the most innovative area of the fellowship.

DONOR SUPPORT: The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship represents a dual opportunity for its donors:

  • To pay tribute to the life and work of a beloved and respected teacher/scholar.
  • To support, for years to come, women scholars who need time to complete promotion requirements and whose continued presence in the classroom will make a significant impact on their students. When women have achieved parity with men on these levels, the fund would also support male scholars.

With your generous support, Bonnie Wheeler's legacy will live on for generations of students and scholars in Medieval Studies.