It’s that time of year again, folks–at least for those of us on semesters with absurdly long semesters. (15 weeks! FIFTEEN WEEKS–say it like Cruella DeVille’s “FIF-TEEN PUPPIES!”, plus a week of exams! How did I ever get into grad school or get a job with a B.A. earned in slight 12-week increments?) Mid-August is a funny time of year, because classes haven’t yet started, but most of us have been fielding requests to meet with advisees, and most of us have a faculty retreat, or a first-of-the-new-academic year departmental meeting, and maybe a meet-and-greet the new grad students get-together. These meetings are a part of the obligation of faculty life–and attendance at these events seems to me a small thing to expect, especially considering the favor of the previously unscheduled 12 or 13 weeks of the summer that many of us enjoy. But–and you all know who they are, because there’s at least one in every department–there are some of our colleagues who treat these August meetings and obligations as though they’re merely optional.
Thus, the question from the mailbag at Historiann HQ:
My question for you and your readers is a faculty-with-children thing. I am in a tiny department, which is even smaller now because one colleague is on leave in the fall. This week is opening week, and we’re all supposed to be on campus.
A female colleague with children lives 75 minutes out of town, so she normally only comes in three days a week. This week, there is a day that we really must have someone available for advising duty, according to our Dean. I would normally do the job, but am in meetings for most of the day — meetings that in part have to do with me already taking on a duty no one else in the department could bother doing. I’ve informed my colleagues of this, and another (male) colleague with children has not responded, and the female said she couldn’t do it and couldn’t our other colleague?
My male colleague’s toddler is in daycare. My female colleague’s kids are school age. My female colleague responded to my reminder that we were all supposed to be on campus with a note saying that child-care and financial issues prevented her from coming in to campus. But we are paid to do a job! Moreover, this colleague has regularly canceled classes on days her kids are out of school to take them places, or to do other kid- or family activities. She has never been able to find a sitter for these weeks where we are not teaching, but are supposed to be in meetings, revising curricula, etc.
So that’s it — what do you do with colleagues whose family obligations prevent them from performing some of their duties? And is it an issue, or more of an issue, when the colleague is a woman, because it can add to the perception that women are not as serious about their work? (This particular colleague gets way more writing done than many of us, because once the kids are in school, she can either go to local archives or even just write at home without interruption till they come home.)
Frankly, as a person with only one income and no kids, I resent being expected to pick up the slack.
Oh, Fed Up, how I feel your pain! It’s really irritating to work with colleagues who think that the rules don’t actually apply to them. Fortunately, I haven’t seen this in such dramatic fashion in my work environments–in fact, I have some sympathy for your colleague who lives out of town. Dr. Mister Historiann has never managed to find a job in the towns where my universities have been located, and we always live closest to his work because it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be called on to administer a livesaving lecture in early American history in the middle of the night. We all know that emergencies happen, and in households with children, they will happen more frequently than in households that include only other adults and/or pets, but missing the occasional meeting or class because someone barfed at school and had to be sent home for the rest of the afternoon is different from refusing to find child care in the first place. (What is it with parents and their modern refusal to find babysitters these days? I hear this complaint a lot, both from people who are child-free and who even have children themselves. What gives? Are there no more teenaged or college-aged babysitters to be found these days? Are even progressive parents so captive to “Dr. Laura”-style advice that says that leaving their children with someone else for an hour or two will irreparably damage them?)
Where we live, and whether we choose to reproduce, is a choice, not an unavoidable obligation or accident, and we all have to arrange our personal lives around our work responsibilities. That, it seems to me, is a minimum qualification for retaining one’s job. So it’s not that your colleagues’ families “prevent them from performing some of their duties;” your colleagues are choosing not to perform some of their duties. It’s reasonable, in my opinion, to want to restrict on-campus days to one’s teaching days, especially if your department is one that expects a certain level of research productivity, but having a 2- or 3-day a week schedule is a privilege, not an entitlement. We all should understand that if department meetings, job talks, special guest lectures, and the like are scheduled on a non-teaching day, we need to make the schlep. (And, by the way: it’s really uncool for people who are on Tuesday-Thursday schedules to complain about having to come to campus a burdensome THIRD DAY of the whole week! Besides: by the time you’re an Associate Prof., you’re on campus 3 days a week, no matter what your teaching schedule is.)
It is unacceptable and unfair to use one’s family life–or any other chronic excuse–to duck out of work, regardless of the sex of the ducker. (I hear you when you say you fear that your female colleague is reinforcing all sorts of stereotypes about mothers in academia–but the problem really is gender-neutral, and should be addressed in that fashion.) Somehow, your colleagues manage to find child care when they need to teach their classes or to get some research and writing done–and if they can find child care to do the parts of their jobs they find pleasurable and interesting, then they can find day care, babysitters, or neighbors to help out when they need to attend meetings and meet with advisees. School-aged children can come to campus with them, if necessary–I have colleagues whose school-aged children do homework or play happily and quietly in their offices while they’re in meetings or teaching classes on occasion. (I really don’t how or why your female colleague pleads “financial” difficulty in making the trek to her workplace. Isn’t going to work a solution to financial need?) Perhaps your department Chair could offer them the option of being adjunct faculty, whose only obligation is teaching. There are a lot of adjuncts in your area, I am sure, who would love to join the tenure -track with its attendant responsibilities to self-government and administration.
But, none of the above sermonizing addresses your question about what to do about colleagues who abuse their flexible schedules, and who appear to lean on you and others who made the unfortunate choice to live closer to campus and/or not to have children. This is something that is best addressed by your department Chair and/or the Dean, depending on the administrative structure of your college or university. A gentle but pointed and firm reminder about the obligations regular faculty have beyond their teaching and research is something only a department Chair or other administrator can issue and enforcewith poor service evaluations and deductions in merit pay. After all–it’s not personal, it’s not anti-natalist, it’s just business. And as you point out, it’s only fair to everyone else. I would be really interested to hear if my dear readers have any particular advice or suggestions for Fed Up, and I’m hoping someone will chime in with the recipe for Magic Good Colleague Fairy Dust.
If you have a Chair who refuses to enforce these obligations, you have my sympathy. In that case, you can reinforce your own boundaries and refuse to “pitch in” beyond what’s reasonable and fair. (In a small department like Fed Up’s, there are presumably a very limited number of people the Chair can call on!) And it’s certainly unreasonable and unfair for department Chairs to lean on the compliant and uncomplaining out of deference to the complainers and the shirkers!
One final word: the thing about children is that they grow up. They don’t need child-care forever, and then eventually they leave home. And if your department Chair doesn’t take a firm stand now, my guess is that a lot of the people who use their children as an excuse to duck out on professional responsibilities will find other reasons once the baby chicks have flown the nest. I work with a lot of people who have children, including very young as well as school-aged children, and my homies get sh!t done. They show up to meetings and do their jobs–occasionally with their children, but more often they’ve made other arrangements–because they are adults who understand their professional responsibilities.