Working Around the Parents

The academic women bloggers have been having an interesting conversation about whether or not the childless should have to accommodate the schedules of faculty members with kids. Should meetings be scheduled around their kids' soccer classes? Do the childless always have to teach the evening classes? Do they have to put up with the kids in the conference rooms?

I have enjoyed reading this discussion, because everyone is completely sane and makes fair points. I walked away from the conversation feeling like everyone made valid arguments and there wasn't a clear winner.

Dr. Crazy jumped started the conversation. She writes,

Now, look. I get it. Parenting is hard. There are lots of
responsibilities. I don't want to be an asshole to parents, and I
understand that kids (especially young kids) require a lot of time and
attention. I'm not anti-kid, anti-parent, or anti-family. But I think
my issue is not with parents as a monolithic group. I think my issue is
rather with the fact that a pattern has emerged where I'm expected to
be a "team player" – in ways that actually do harm to my ability to be
a good teacher and a good colleague, as well as do harm to my
individual courses and to my students, ultimately – when I never see a
return on the "team player" investment that I make. Also, I do not
think that it's all parents who do this. Actually, people who are
inclined to take advantage anyway and who are entitled assholes anyway use
the parenting card as just one more weapon in their arsenal of
assholery. And it's a pretty effective weapon: if you say no when
you're asked to accommodate one of these people (and typically it's not
the people themselves who ask you – it's somebody at one or two removes
who's got to deal with the fallout caused by the entitled person), then
it makes you look like a shitty anti-kid person. I'm not a shitty anti-kid person. But I am a person who feels… affronted… when I feel like I'm being taken advantage of.

Wendy responded by saying that everybody needs help at some time. Maybe they have a family member who is sick or they themselves get sick. If there is a culture of care where the sacrificers are honored and understand that they might need support in the future, then nobody feels put out.

Laura at GeekyMom is less sympathetic, because she held a staff position in the past. She said that academics should consider their jobs as a 9-5 responsibility and secure full-time childcare. 

I have friends in other occupations who have complained about taking up the burden for parents, who can't work late hours and insist on taking off time for Halloween. They would be horrified that parents in academia refuse to attend meetings after 3:00.

Parents do need flexibility, especially if we want to increase the number of women in academia. Full-time daycare isn't a solution, because in some areas of the country, academic pay does not cover full time childcare. While parenting is supposed to be a joint responsibility, women do do the lion share of it. If they are forced to take those evening teaching slots and attend last minute meetings at 4:00, then women aren't going to make it.

These tensions are growing out of the growing pressure by administrations and state legislatures to do more with less. They aren't hiring adjuncts and they are increasing teaching responsibilities.  I don't think that the childless should have to suck it up and take the worst teaching slots. There are other solutions. On-site childcare would certainly help out parents quite a bit. Hiring extra faculty to teach those evening classes would help.  Nearby faculty housing would also help.

Let's not blame each other; let's demand more from the top.


24 thoughts on “Working Around the Parents

  1. “Let’s not blame each other; let’s demand more from the top.”
    This. And not just in academia. Childless people have family responsibilities, too (elderly parents, family members in the hospital, etc). And everyone – parents or no – has a life outside of work. Unless one is super-ambitious and angling for that corner office or CEO position or whatever, why should anyone have to be a slave to the company?

  2. I think there is a lot that can be learned from looking at nursing units that self-schedule. The one I know employs 20-25 nurses in a major city hospital, with a standard array of about two men (both with kids), five or six childless-by-choice or lesbian, 3 or 4 just a year or two out of college so either single or engaged or just-married-with-no-kids-yet. The rest all have kids in some stage of the system — pre-school, grade school, college — and while there are a handful of stay-at-home dads, most have working husbands.
    Every once is a while, a young nurse will complain that she is always stuck with some shift or other, because they moms with young kids won’t work the 3PM shift, or the older nurses don’t take the 11 PM shift, or some more-experienced nurse it hogging the higher-paid night shifts, or whatever. It is then explained to these young nurses that everyone has a “life cycle” and the moms with young kids who are not working evening now were the entirety of the evening shift five years ago, and will be again in five or seven years. And that in three years, you’ll have your own kids and by then there will be new nurses to replace your shifts.
    Somehow, these women manage to keep their unit fully and productively staffed 24/7. If they can do it, I don’t see how it could be any harder for anyone else. (Although, honestly, the one nurse who is getting married and inviting a bunch the other nurses on Rosh Hashanah weekend when the Jewish nurses will be out anyway is going to become the 100-year-flood of staffing issues in about 6 weeks).

  3. Huh. I always thought much of the scheduling stuff was hierarchical. I am a parent of a small child but would never imagine asking for meetings to be rescheduled or not teach a night class.
    But I’m junior faculty. I also do not engage in office politics, try to keep my head down and make everyone’s life better not more difficult. Yes, I’m for tenure this fall.

  4. Having kids should make it easier, not harder, to teach nights, no? That’s when you have free other-parent coverage, if said other parent works a 9-5 job.

  5. “These tensions are growing out of the growing pressure by administrations and state legislatures to do more with less. ”
    . . .
    “Let’s not blame each other; let’s demand more from the top. ”
    Pretty much contradictory, aren’t they? The problem is that people are just asked to support those who “need more” because they have more “ability” (or time, fewer committments, or whatever). The argument that it works out in a life cycle only works if everyone’s life cycle is roughly the same, and if there’s a reasonable expectation that the system will remain stable enough that you’ll get to collect on your extra contribution/investment.
    In the nursing scenario above, it’s pretty clear to me that it’s not the rational that convinces, seniority system for scheduling (which, in turn, correlates with life cycle needs). The seniority system breaks down when people aren’t willing to pay their dues and wait for their turn or when there’s no strong expectation that paying your dues will get you to the point that you get a turn or you if you never think you will need a turn (i.e. what about the senior child-free nurses who paid their dues when they were young)? Do they still get the life cycle benefit? what if they needed/wanted it when they were young — because say, they didn’t have kids because they wanted to pursue their dream of being a concert accordionist?

  6. “The seniority system breaks down … when there’s no strong expectation that paying your dues will get you to the point that you get a turn”
    But enough about paying for boomer retirement.

  7. PS: realized I was sounding like I’m proposing that workplaces be every [man] for himself. But, I’m not. I think, actually, that I’m arguing that these kinds of trades can’t be made locally within a single work place (i.e. a 20 member department or a 20 member nursing team) without rules and regulations in place. Nurses usually do have rules and union contracts (I guessed that the schedule is mostly determined by seniority). Departments don’t, except that if you have “hard” tenure, you don’t have to be nice to anyone if you don’t want to. Relying on the common bonds of altruism isn’t going to be enough.
    If we believe that children need to be supported by society, we’re going to have to positively work towards that goal, in a way that admits that the needs of those children are going to take precedence over the needs/desires of others and that sometimes means that parents (who are needed by their children) are going to have resources allocated differently to them.

  8. I don’t think those two statements are contradictory. Yes, departments are under more pressure from the top, but I think that before academics turn on each other, they should say “fuck you” to those twisting the screws.
    Yeah, Julie, I’ve never been in the position to demand anyone work around my time schedule. But nobody has really given me a hard time about teaching slots before. There was one time that there was a last minute change in class times that left me scrambling to find a sitter, but that wasn’t the norm. I had to work around other people, but I never got stuck with a night class. I did put my foot down on summer jobs. I refuse to do work that doesn’t pay enough for a babysitter. One must maintain some dignity.

  9. I’m sorry, but I have to call BS a bit here. It seems to me that many academic women use their children as an excuse not to do the unpleasant stuff.. like teaching night classes or attending 4:00 meetings. I see it over and over again.
    I’m the daughter of a nurse. My mom has been a nurse since about 1965. She was a single mother beginning when I was 7. My whole time growing up, she worked nights, weekends, and other odd times. Her salary wasn’t great and my dad paid very little child support before he died. The closest family members were 4+ hours away. Clearly, there weren’t many resources or family support.
    The thing about nurses is that they may be required to cover all kinds of night/weekend shifts. Times when it isn’t easy to get childcare, times when it is hard to be both a mom and a nurse. If my mom routinely managed to figure out childcare so she could cover double shifts for sick coworkers with NO notice, a Ph.D. can figure out how to get childcare for one evening per week so they can teach an evening class — with 6-9 months notice. Expecting childless coworkers to teach 2-3 evening classes because their colleagues have kids is just not acceptable.
    The vast majority of nurses are women. They work all hours and figure out how to do so without much accomodation from their employers. It is just wrong to try to claim that resolving a childcare issue is the responsibility of the univeristy, and that until that happens, women won’t make progress in academia.

  10. A small clarification: Nurses are PERMITTED to unionize. The vast majority, however, view themselves as “professionals” and not “labor” (this is especially the case when there are unionized nursing assistants who would be in the same unit, but whom the nurses consider their “employees.”)
    I know that there has been increased lobbying for union protection, which I support in the abstract, and that many nurses are now unionized, (and, yes, just the threat of unionization has likely improved some issues) but I’ve never personally met a unionized nurse — and I know a lot of them.

  11. I have a good friend who is a nurse and she’s works plenty hard. Nurses have to deal with bodily fluid and all sorts of things that would be too distasteful for most people. Hats off to them. But their jobs are, in some ways, more family-friendly than academic jobs. That’s why so many women go into that field.
    1) There is a high demand for nurses, so my friend was able to take off many years as a stay at home mom. After her divorce, she was able to go back into the workforce really easily. No one cared that she had gaps on her resume. Can’t do that in my profession.
    2) She’s paid better than starting academics. Nurse practioners earn around $70,000 and even more around here. Those salaries can buy you good daycare.
    3) She would take the night shift a couple of nights a week, so she would have the rest of the week completely off. She could take off time for a quick school meeting or when her kid was sick.
    But I’m sure that their jobs could also be more family-friendly. I don’t understand why women (and parents) have to keep sucking it up and not demand reforms. The need to increase the number of women in academia seems like a valid reason to demand changes.

  12. “but I’ve never personally met a unionized nurse — and I know a lot of them.”
    That’s interesting, because all the nurses I know belong to unions. In my experience nurses are like teachers, who are professionals, as well, and also unionized. But, I’m not finding numbers, so my experience is only anecdote. And, yes, I know the issues between the different levels of qualifications for health care professonals that an outsider might all call a “nurse” (i.e. nurse practitioners, RNs, LPNs, and more). A regional issue, perhaps?

  13. Night classes: for us, night classes are extra money (an “overload”), so they are very much in demand. I, however, choose time over money, so I never want a night class.
    Re nurses: this is pretty interesting to me because of my sister’s situation. She has been in school in a surgical tech program for over a year. She’s dropping out simply because she cannot deal with finding child care for her 3 year old twins and do hospital requirements 3 days a week next term. Last term, she did it 1 day a week and my mom pitched in, but it was hard on my mom, who is already primary caretaker for my disabled dad. My BIL doesn’t seem to be supportive, either, or maybe his job simply isn’t (and he works for Mercedes, which means he probably has to be careful to keep his job in this economy). Anyway, she is thinking of going into an RN program instead after a year or so.

  14. BJ,
    It’s largely structural, and therefore indirectly regional. Nurses have unionized primarily at the large corporate institutions that treat their employees like cogs (Kaiser, Tenet, etc.) Nurses at large teaching hospitals, independent facilities, or at smaller, non-corporate offices, are generally treated with the appropriate levels of respect and have generally voted down attempts to unionize, so as to not create an antagonistic relationships. If you live in an area dominated by Kaiser Permanente, you probably know a lot of unionized nurses.
    Laura: I don’t think I disagree with you. My point was primarily that academia should become more like nursing, at least in terms of scheduling. There’s no real reason why couldn’t. And, you know, I bet that a midnight class would be pretty popular at some schools . . .

  15. Here’s a related question: what’s the etiquette on ‘parking’ my kids on campus? I occasionally have enough time to pick someone up from an event but not enough time to run them home before I have to teach, meet with someone, etc. so I have occasionally: sent older child (12) to library on campus by himself; sent all THREE of them to the student center with money and instructions to buy ice cream; parked an occasional child in my office with computer games while i taught. I’m always secretly afraid I’m going to get caught and hauled before some board somewhere. Do you all do this? What are your usual rules regarding parking of children on campus? (We did get a memo telling people not to park them in the computer labs because they were taking up valuable terminals and preventing others from using them. The kids in question were not mine — and I feel little ones who yell shouldn’t be in the libe, but beyond that, do you have rules>)

  16. Dr. Mom:
    I’d be hesitant about the college library. For a while, it seemed that every university seemed to have at least one pervert in the stacks. I haven’t heard about that sort of thing lately, so maybe colleges are managing security better than they used to.

  17. I am feeling frustrated with parts of my job right now, and some of it is due to this issue.
    If I want to teach anything other than first-year courses, I have to teach in the late afternoon or evening. All of the upper-level courses in my field are cross-listed with graduate courses, and our grad director insists that any courses for grad students–including those cross-listed for undergrads–be offered only in the evenings. He says that is because the grad students want the classes in the evenings, since many of them work during the day. Personally, I don’t understand this argument, because I see many of our grad students around during daytime hours, but I’ll put that point aside for purposes of this comment.
    Part of the reason why I went on for the PhD and didn’t stop at a MA is because I wanted to teach courses for majors in my field. I didn’t want to teach freshmen the rest of my career. I don’t want to only teach freshmen until my infant goes to college, either.
    Part of this is because I like the variety of courses. I’ve been teaching first-year students for 12 years. I could teach this class in my sleep. I like the intellectual stimulation of teaching majors and teaching different courses.
    Part of this discontent is professional. I want tenure, and I need good student evaluations. Student evals from the freshman-level courses (i.e. the courses that are required to graduate) are *always* lower than evals from major courses. For tenure and promotion, I need those good evals that are more likely to come from the majors.
    I have managed to talk the grad director into allowing me to teach in the late afternoon on a trial basis. This fall I will teach a grad seminar from 4:30-5:45 two days a week. In the spring, I’ll teach an undergrad/grad course from 3:30-4:45 two days a week. The grad director isn’t crazy about this arrangement and is only doing this on a trial basis. I don’t know what will happen next year. I would love to have a semester where I don’t have to teach in the late afternoon or evenings; the past two years, I’ve been teaching courses until as late as 8:45. On those days, I don’t see my daughter except for the hour in the morning when she is getting ready for school. She is asleep by the time I get home, and then I also have grading and class prep waiting for me.
    It’s all well and good to say that professors should consider their jobs to be 9 to 5, but reality is another matter all together. When I’m required to teach past five if I hope to advance in my career, it’s not a 9 to 5 job. When the bulk of my evenings and weekends at home are spent grading papers and doing class prep, it’s not a 9 to 5 job.
    Thus, I don’t think it’s too much of me to ask to be done with teaching by 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. When I have to give up so many of my personal hours in the evenings and on the weekends on grading and prepping–not to mention trying to fit research in there too–I don’t think an hour or two in the late afternoon is too much to ask in return.
    But it really doesn’t matter what I think, because I don’t see the teaching schedules in my dept changing anytime soon. I’m stuck working these hours, plus the evenings and weekends, and honestly, I am really starting to resent it.
    PS: Another problem with the nursing analogy–the tenure clock is ticking at the same time as the biological clock. Most nurses enter their field in their early 20s; most professors enter in their early 30s. Thus, for many of us, we don’t enter the field single and childless/free, working the crappy hours. Many, though not all of us, enter the field with a spouse or partner, a child or two, and plans of having more children soon. We have to manage the two clocks—tenure and biological–from the moment we start our careers. That is a huge difference.

  18. Professing Mama — I think a lot depends on whether the grad director is right about your grad students needing the course in the evenings or not. If they do, then the late teaching is just the nature of the job (just like nurses and doctors need to cover the evening hours and restaurants need to be open at dinner time).

  19. Professing Mama – Oh, that’s just awful. My fingers are crossed that the students will take the earlier classes. Just give it two semesters in a row to see how it works. I think it takes students a semester to change behaviors. Another idea is to make the evening class a once a week, three hour session just to limit the pain.
    Where’s the teachers’ union? Why is Professing Mama putting in so many hours? She should be getting extra compensation for this. I’m outraged. No job should expect these sacrifices from an employee. Especially a job that only pays $50,000 per year. Outrageous.

  20. Dr. Mom- I don’t know what the student center at your school is like- they vary quite a bit, it seems- but if it’s anything like the one at the University where I was an undergrad (Boise State), then any kid old enough to be reasonably well behaved for some time should be fine there. I was even one of the managers for the building my last year (students ran it in the evening) so feel more confident saying that. We had a video game room, pool, bowling, a food area, and lots of chairs. Anyone could go there, so that should be kept in mind, but I’m pretty sure that I used to enjoy going there as a kid, too. So long as they are well behaved I think it’s probably okay. As for the library, when I was 12 I loved to go and would have been very happy to go to the library. I’d think a 12 year old should be perfectly okay at one, again, so long as she or he can behave at least as well as a typical freshman, and will like reading newspapers or looking at books.

  21. I’ve parked my 9 year old in my office, while I taught, and even taken him to class with me. Nobody had a problem with that. Seems like your kids are old enough to amuse themselves in a student center. I can’t imagine that anyone would have a problem with that.

  22. “I can’t imagine that anyone would have a problem with that.”
    Yesterday my wife got snarled at for letting our three year old run around at a plaza that is public, but right in the middle of the university. A student suggested that she keep him quiet so that he could study. She suggested he go somewhere without a carousel if he wanted quiet.

  23. Professing Mama, I really don’t think you should be expected to work from 9 am to 9 pm. If you have night classes, you should not have other classes until the afternoon.
    Scheduling classes is such a group project. At our university, the registrar-type person (not her official title, but basically, she’s the person in charge on this issue) makes most of the decisions with the chair’s input and the dean’s input, but her decisions are affected as equally or more by issues of enrollment and room scheduling.
    Again, a good chair and/or dean will help manage the situation to benefit all faculty. It’s a leadership issue. The chair should be helping you get tenure and advance in your career because that benefits him/her and the department.

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