Motherhood and the Mission: What Catholic Law Schools Could Learn from Harvard about Women


This article argues that Catholic law schools have compelling reasons to pay close attention to a largely ignored part of the controversial speech given last year by the President of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, about the persistent under-representation of women on university faculties. While the press accounts of this talk focused on his speculation that there might be innate differences in aptitudes of men and women in science and math, Summers argued that a more significant cause of the under-representation of women might be the clash between the demands of high-powered jobs and the demands of family life. This article summarizes the data supporting Summer’s speculation, and argues that the teachings of the Catholic Church give Catholic law schools a special responsibility to implement workplace reforms that accommodate faculty members who have children.

Despite popular characterizations of the Catholic Church as hostile toward feminism, careful analysis of the Church’s teachings on the family and women reveals a consistent record of support for many significant items on secular feminist platforms. In particular, there is a profound convergence of Church teachings, on the one hand, and writings of a strand of feminism known as “care feminism” or “relational feminism,” on the other hand, around the need for a social revaluation of the largely unpaid, largely female, work of caring for family members. Less commonly acknowledged, though, is the convergence between Church and feminist arguments for restructuring the workplace to accommodate women who are mothers. This article describes the relevant Church teachings and their convergence with feminist arguments.

Recent research demonstrates that motherhood, rather than gender, is the most significant barrier to career advancement by women in the United States, including women in academia. This article summarizes that research, and analyzes faculty composition data for Catholic law schools over the past four years. The data demonstrates that that gender ratios of Catholic law schools are essentially identical to those of other law schools. However, the special charge to Catholic universities set forth in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, The Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities – to be both the intellectual vehicle by which Catholic ideals are brought to bear on the pressing problems of our time and a practical model for an institution structured around these same Catholic ideals – demands that Catholic universities seriously consider proposals for restructuring the academic workplace to accommodate motherhood.


Law and Gender | Legal Education | Religion Law

Date of this Version

April 2006