A Letter to Law Review Editors and Promotion and Tenure Committees at Law Schools

The open letter to law reviews, administration, and promotion and tenure committees seeks to raise awareness of the gendered effects of COVID on women faculty. The letter is open for colleagues to join by signing via the link https://forms.gle/LPuZ3e9safLwMPfg9
We write to apprise you of the likely negative professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women law professors and urge you to consider them strongly while reviewing promotion and tenure matters and law review submissions this fall. Because of the need to socially distance and isolate, and the reality of working from home with added care responsibilities, women are likely to have lower scholarly submission rates than men, and possibly lower publication rates. Consequently, these outcomes may have serious negative effects if ignored. Left unaddressed, these disparities also have the potential to alter the landscape of legal academia and further marginalize both women scholars and the perspectives they bring to legal scholarship, education, and public dialogue.

We address this letter to law review editors so that you can be aware of the possible lower rates of submission and work to balance your issues for the upcoming cycles.

We also address this to law administrators and promotion and tenure committees who are in a position to evaluate scholarly output and attach consequences to it so you can make necessary policy changes to avoid intensifying gender inequities.

1. Gendered Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

It has been five months since the novel Coronavirus pandemic disrupted much of academic life in the United States. During these months, we have seen a steady stream of evidence about how the ensuing shutdown has affected women. Our colleagues with children and elder care responsibilities report that it has been very difficult to juggle between those obligations and work. Many of us have experienced this for ourselves. The division that separates work from home has collapsed, threatening the very notion of “work-life balance.” And, increasingly, some employers have begun to reshape what used to be the private domain of family and home through “work at home” requirements that disregard the ways in which care work happens. These requirements add to the burdens on workers already struggling to accommodate new working arrangements.

A preliminary study, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality,” by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research states:

“An even more important channel for differential impacts on women and men is that in the course of the pandemic, most US states along with other countries have decided to close schools and daycare facilities. Worldwide more than 1.5 billion children are out of school right now. This has dramatically increased the need for childcare. In addition, grandparent-provided childcare is now discouraged due to the higher mortality rate for the elderly, and given social distancing measures, sharing childcare with neighbors and friends is very limited also. Thus, most families have no choice but to watch their kids themselves. Based on the existing distribution of child-care duties in most families, mothers are likely to be more affected than fathers. Single mothers, of which there are many in the United States, and who are often in a disadvantaged economic position to begin with, will take the biggest hit.”

In the same study, the authors report that among women who work full-time and are in heterosexual marriages with children, 86% of their spouses also work full-time. (Among men who work full-time and are in heterosexual marriages with children, only 52% of their spouses also work full-time. A married working father is three times more likely to have a stay-at-home spouse than a married working mother.) In these families, typically one caregiver provides more care. In heterosexual couples, that person is generally the mother. According to the study:

“It appears likely that much of this uneven distribution of the burden of childcare will persist during the current crisis; the factors that initially led to this arrange- ment (which could include relative income, relative bargaining power, and the influence of traditional social norms and role models….) will continue to apply, and “retraining” one spouse on short notice may not be practical. If we assume that the relative distribution of the burden stays at 60-40 and childcare needs rise by 20 hours/week during the crisis, full-time working women would need to increase their childcare hours by 12 hours vs. 8 for men.”

The 60-40 allocation is for childcare alone. We note that women do twice as much domestic labor of all kinds even in dual-earner families. With the requirements of isolation, and with access to family, institutional, and social support systems cut off, this work load is likely to rise.

For single parents who are mostly women the impact is even more dramatic: “21 percent of all children live only with their mother, compared to 4 percent living with their father only. Thus, the current crisis will affect mothers very disproportionately.” In addition, rates of family violence have risen sharply, creating greater instability and stress on the women who are the vast majority of victims of intimate partner violence (IPV).

2. Professional Effects on Women Academics

Professors are not exempt from unequal distributions of domestic labor. Nor are they immune to IPV. Empirical research from before the pandemic has revealed a pattern of gender bias in legal academia, including greater expectations that women provide “academic caretaking” and other forms of service work to students, colleagues, and the institution as a whole. These workplace responsibilities have only intensified in recent months with classes online, more frequent private remote student appointments, and additional meetings on needed policy changes to address the pandemic.

Consequently, the result of the gendered effects of COVID-19 are now becoming apparent in academia. An article in Inside HigherEd states that evidence is emerging that single author journal article submissions by women have fallen during the pandemic. This article has led to further examination of the rate of women’s submission to journals. “The Lily” reports that in some fields, since the shutdowns began, the rate of submission by men has risen by 50% while women’s submission rates have fallen. As most summer camps have remained closed and plans for fall reopening of daycares/schools remain uncertain, women who have shouldered the childcare burden have had little time to produce academic scholarship.

In addition to the stress of the pandemic, the killing of Breona Taylor, Ahmad Aubery, George Floyd, and others and the ongoing nation-wide protests against police violence have profoundly affected and increased the demands onAfrican American faculty and other faculty of color. We urge law reviews and administrations to consider the multiplier effect that these events have had on women faculty of color.

Women law professors in heterosexual family arrangements and single parents are likely to have similar decreases in productivity to that seen in other academic fields. The pandemic lockdown struck in the middle of Spring 2020. It is likely now that we will see decreasing journal article submissions by women in August 2020 and stretching into the next several cycles.

3.The Need for Awareness and Action

We ask that law journal editors be aware of the gendered impacts of COVID-19 on legal scholarship and academia and take proactive measures to include women scholars in all their issues. Furthermore, women may submit essays and shorter work which journals should weigh carefully. Journals should publicize their interest in shorter works, as well as work that is at an earlier stage of development than is typical for submission. Deadlines and schedules should be flexible to accommodate the needs of women shouldering multiple burdens.

We urge promotion and tenure committees to also be aware of these effects. A delay of the tenure clock may be insufficient to address the ongoing effects of the pandemic on women faculty, though we urge schools to offer this delay as a threshold. Schools should proactively provide ways for isolated faculty members to engage in scholarly collaborations and avail themselves of support systems.

Law school administrations should also provide as much flexibility as possible, working with affected faculty to identify how the institution can support them. The pandemic, which has required social distancing and isolation, makes it difficult to seal off the “work-day” from family care when daycare and schools are unavailable. While it has been unavoidable that our homes have become, in some measure, our workplace and our childrens’ classrooms, this does not give employers leave to unilaterally reconfigure these spaces.

COVID-19 has been a stressful ordeal. And it is ongoing. We continue to struggle with the uncertainties of our private and work lives. At this moment, we ask that law review editors, deans and other administrators, and promotion and tenure colleagues understand and accept that women are facing an unequal burden and respond accordingly to support gender equity.


Cyra Akila Choudhury
Professor of Law
FIU College of Law

Meera E. Deo
Director of LSSSE
Professor of Law
Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Angelique Eaglewoman
(Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate)
Co-Director Indian Law Program
Professor of Law
Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Jennifer S. Hendricks
Professor of Law
Co-Director, Juvenile & Family Law Program
University of Colorado Law School

Saru Matambanadzo
Moise S. Steege Jr. Associate Professor of Law and Ratner Family Professor of Social Entrepreneurship
Tulane Law School

Shruti Rana
Assistant Dean
Director, International Law and Institutions Program
Professor of International Law Practice and 2020 Wells Scholars Class of 1963 Professor
Hamilton Lugar School of Global & International Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Maybell Romero
Associate Professor of Law
Northern Illinois University College of Law
This entry was posted in Law Schools, Law Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.