Casualties of academia, or casualties of patriarchy?

I'll get you, my pretties--and your little girls, too!

I'll get you, my pretties--and your little girls, too!

Dr. Crazy has a fascinating and raw post, “Casualties of Academia,” evaluating her life and career and those of her peers on the occasion of turning 35 this summer.  She writes,

I know only a handful of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships and to have children and to have the career that they dreamed of having, and worked so hard to achieve. I know maybe two handfuls of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships where they consciously chose (as a couple) not to have children. But at the end of the day, I really believe that success in this profession is hostile to a full life, particularly for the women I know. I think it’s possible, don’t get me wrong, but I think the profession actively resists it.

I’m thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been reflecting a lot about the choices I’ve made in my life and the life that I’ve managed to make for myself as a 35-year-old person. I can’t imagine, really, leaving my job for kids and a husband. But at the same time, I want kids and a husband. And yet, time is running out. Biologically. I’d never really considered that this is where I’d be at 35. I never imagined that I’d have published a book (a) and that I wouldn’t have a kid (b). I never thought that my clock would actually be ticking. What a freaking cliche for the modern career girl! What a ridiculous way to feel! But the reality is that no matter how cliche and ridiculous it is, this is my reality. I’m 35 and I’m not in a relationship that would lead to a kid, and I’d want that relationship and I would want a kid. But I’ve worked really hard at getting the career that I have, and it really matters to me. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who have chosen the kids/family thing over the career, and I don’t want their lives either.

. . . . [T]his profession offers us very little latitude for negotiation, when it comes to fitting the personal in with the profession. And by “us” I mostly mean “women.” The casualties of this profession aren’t slackers, or people who didn’t know better, or people who didn’t care enough, or people who were workaholics. The causalties are women. And sure, there are exceptions. But I’m willing to venture that the exceptions prove the rule.

I have to say, she surprised me with this post, since she has in the past cheerfully reported working with so many women colleagues with children, and has spoken up for their ability to live full lives on a par with that of their male colleagues.  (Although Dr. Crazy has commented elsewhere that many of these women are classically stalled as the Associate Professor level, much moreso than her male colleagues with children.)

I agree with the thrust of her post–that “the casualties of this profession aren’t slackers, or people who didn’t know better, or people who didn’t are enough, or people who were workaholics.  The casualties are women.”  But, I might suggest a different title for her post–“Casualties of Patriarchy,” rather than “Casualties of Academia,” because the trends she observes among her peers are also observable across other professions (law, medicine, business, etc.)  The demands of the academic life, mostly due to the extremely competitive job market for most Ph.D.s, and the almost inevitable demands for relocation if and when one is offered a tenure-track job, dramatically exacerbate the pressures that all professional women experience.  But it’s only worse, not different, for women in academia, because of our old nemesis Voldemort Beelzebub Hobbamock, uh, sorry, I mean:  patriarchal equilibrium.

Heterosexual women are usually expected to choose at some point in their lives, career or family.  Heterosexual men are rarely or never expected to choose.  No one asks men, Are you going to change your name when you get married?  Does your wife think it’s OK for you to work after you get married?  Are you going to follow your wife when she gets a new job?  Are you going to quit your job now that your wife is pregnant?  Are you going to stay home with your baby?  How soon do you think you’ll go back to work after your child is born?  Have you considered working part-time before the children go to school/when the children are in school so you can be home to meet the school bus?  It’s the pervasiveness of this cultural script and all of the assumptions embedded in it that drag heterosexual women down, until a lot of them just give up and give in.  (As Fay Weldon said, “It’s such a waste of time trying to tell your husband to pick up the socks or clean the loo. It’s much easier just to do it yourself.”  Give up!  Give in!  The rest of us have!  I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!)

Back when Dr. Mister and I announced our plans to get married, it was amazing to me the speed and regularity with which I was asked these questions.  We were almost exact peers educationally-speaking:  I finished my Ph.D. in December of 1996, he finished his residency in the summer of 1997, and we both started our first “real” jobs in August of that year, and married a month later.  But no one ever asked him any of those questions–only I heard those questions (or others like them), over and over again, for at least the first 5 years we were married.  (With age and obstinacy comes a form of privilege!)  To be fair:  Dr. Mister did hear versions (frequently second-hand) of “You’re going to follow your wife around?  Why can’t she just get a job teaching high school around here?”  But the message was clear:  we were peers, but I was expected to “do” marriage in a way he wasn’t.  His life was supposed to sail on as planned–only I was taking on a second job as the “wife.”

I realize that there are a lot of heterosexual men, especially in academia, who do things like take time off to care for a new infant, or who are there at the bus stop each morning and afternoon.  But, this is viewed as benevolent volunteerism (for which they get a LOT of cookies!), not as essential parts of their jobs and identities as fathers.

0 thoughts on “Casualties of academia, or casualties of patriarchy?

  1. I think the hardest part of academia may be finding a partner and handling location issues related to that. Most academic women I know have been in relationships with other academics. Being involved with someone in a different profession, like medicine, is a real luxury because most other professionals have some choice about where they live. But, most PhD students or faculty understandably draw upon other academics for their dating pool, and this complicates things quite a bit. The two-body problem is a huge impediment towards being able to have a fulfilling personal life, start a family, etc. And, while I take your point about the broader patriarchal culture, I do think that dating and the two-body problem are real, and uniquely academic, problems.

    However, I always thought that academics who DID manage to live with their partners likely had an advantage in child-rearing over other professions where one’s time is more intensely scheduled. Granted, I don’t have kids myself, and I’m sure the pressures always are there. But most academics have more control over their time and schedules than other professionals. That’s got to be some kind of advantage.


  2. Thank you for the post, Historiann, and for bringing Dr. Crazy’s post to all of our attentions. Reading this fills me with raw emotion of my own – I’m trying to figure out how to contribute in a constructive way. I’m turning 35 this year as well and filled with similar feelings about the hostility of our profession to full lives (to paraphrase Dr. Crazy). My own insistence on having it all and ignoring the limitations around me have led to many gut-wrenching choices and situations. As I’ve posted about previously, I have a t-t job, a husband who lives 6 hrs away, and a small child. We are both untenured. My husband and I have been working to resolve our work situation (by trying to get jobs at the same university) for four, going on five, years. The fact that this is unresolved means, among other things, we constantly move, are constantly on the market, are constantly unsettled – we have no home, no roots, friends scattered everywhere, and very little collegiality in our respective departments (I’ve had multiple t-t jobs, and he’s had a succession of adjunct positions, post docs, and now a t-t job). Soon our child will need stability and a permanent home; we are scrambling to find a solution by the time this time comes. I wanted to have a family and decided that we should just go for it, in spite of everything being up in the air. I don’t regret the decision, so rare among academics, to have a baby pre-tenure. Frankly I don’t have enough energy to worry about tenure, since I don’t even know where I’ll be living in 9 months. Every year we undergo an excruciating round of “how will we live next year?” and must relive the choices we are willing to make, for ourselves and each other, over and over and over again. Luckily, we work together as a team, and have so far managed to keep our competing careers/ interests from causing us to turn against each other. I am always on the brink of quitting; my husband usually talks me down. But why I am more willing to throw in the towel than he is? Is it because I’m a woman, and therefore socialized into putting myself second/ family first? Or because as much as I love my job I have a clear sense that this is not the only possibility for my life. (Neither of course was having a child the only possibility for my life – but I guess you could say I chose having a baby as more important to me than a career several years ago, just by the fact of having one. If you think about it, it’s pretty sad that it comes down to that.) But it all makes me feel like I’m being *driven out*. I know that’s an emotional, even hyperbolic, reaction. And I’m stubborn and angry and feminist enough to react to that feeling with resistance – to think, I am just not having it. I will not compromise or give in or bow down to this. . . But really I don’t know if that stubbornness is worth the toll that the situation is beginning to take on me. (And I know I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I just want to add that my husband is a full-on feminist himself, a partner in every way, who firmly rejects the perception of, as historiann says, “benevolent volunteerism” that is thrown his way.)


  3. “Being involved with someone in a different profession, like medicine, is a real luxury because most other professionals have some choice about where they live.”

    It really is. Of course, it means that I’m not quite as free to do fellowships or travel all summer long, since my partner can’t take a year of leave, or a whole summer off, and he never gets a sabbatical. But, I’ll take these problems any day over the problems people partnered with other academics face.

    Only 4 people in my department are partnered with academics–and they’re 2 couples who have spousal hires. The rest of us are single, unmarried/unpartnered, or partnered with people outside of academia. I agree with you that academics who marry each other double down on the hassles academia poses to a personal/family life. But as I have commented here in other threads and posts before: I have a LOT more male colleagues who brought wives/female partners with them than female colleagues who brought male partners.


  4. @ squadra: just wanted to say that you’re right, I think, in some ways about the flexibility in our schedules giving academics-as-parents some advantages to say, an ER doctor, or a trial lawyer. We *can * be there most days to meet the bus, or take a Friday morning off for a doctor’s appointment without any hassle. But unlike many professions, academia is deeply inflexible in lots of other ways – we have a time clock for achievements that we MUST meet, most of us are unable to go half or part time, and we have basically no option to leave our jobs temporarily (If I was a nurse, for example, I could quit, stay home with my kids for a couple of years, and then go back to nursing/ teaching/ being an accountant, etc).


  5. perpeuta: You sound like a woman on the edge! For good reasons, I might add. Will it help to hear that everyone I know who was in your situation had everything work out (in the form of a spousal hire) for them, and they’re all still happily married and their child/ren are thriving? I know from my friendships with these folks how draining it is to live always, as you say, in limbo–never knowing where you’ll be for more than 9 months at a time. I was strung out by just 2 years on the job market, and I lived with my partner and didn’t have a growing child to worry about.

    What some academic couples/families do is they teach on alternate schedules: One person teaches the summer and winter quarters, the other person teaches the fall and spring quarters, and the family moves to wherever the teaching partner is. Or, on semesters, someone teaches summer and fall, the other person teaches a traditional schedule (fall and spring), so the family can live together all spring and summer. This means that they can live with their partner at least half of the year.

    Only you can say what is best for you and your family. I would just caution you about dropping out of the workforce entirely. No one is immune to death, divorce, or disability–and what would you and your child do if you put all your eggs in your husband’s professional basket, and for whatever reason he wasn’t around to fulfill his end of the bargain? Mothers in particular need to think about the long-term economic security of their families, as well as the shorter-term issues of early child care. See Leslie Bennett’s The Feminine Mistake, for the full argument as to why making your own money is the only way to go.


  6. @perpetua, Point taken. The inflexibility of the advancement schedule, and the difficulty of taking part-time work (though we actually DO have that option at OPU, though I know that’s unusual), are specifically academic struggles. Good luck to you and your husband with forging a complete and balanced life — your eloquent comment above made me sad.

    (You don’t blog yourself, do you? I always appreciate your perspective here at Historiann’s!)


  7. Historiann — I’m interested in the other posts you say you’ve had about having more male colleagues who’ve brought partners along than the reverse? I would *love* to see a study that looks at spousal hiring, which is in theory family-friendly and pro-woman but in practice seems to turn out to be yet another perk for academic men: they get hired more easily and when they get hired it’s easier for them to get a twofer.


  8. But it all makes me feel like I’m being *driven out*. I know that’s an emotional, even hyperbolic, reaction. And I’m stubborn and angry and feminist enough to react to that feeling with resistance – to think, I am just not having it. I will not compromise or give in or bow down to this. . . But really I don’t know if that stubbornness is worth the toll that the situation is beginning to take on me.

    You are being driven out — it’s not emotion or hyperbole. But I don’t think the problem is you. I think the problem is structural.

    I’m sorry to come across as a know-it-all or as putting more work on your plate, but I think the answer is “Don’t agonize! Organize!” And the first step is gathering information. And I think the first question to be answered is why have you had multiple t-t jobs? Is it your failure (I doubt that) or is it a structural failure (which I tend to think is the case)?

    Then trace that failure back to its roots. Whose needs are being met? Why? Whose needs aren’t being met? Why not? What are the policies of your workplace? Can your needs be met under those policies? Have you asked for your needs to be met under those policies? Have your requests been refused?

    One thing that happens that makes me a bit crazy is the use of gender neutral pronouns. Because, you know what? Any time you discuss anything that anybody does or that happens to anybody in the workplace — you NEED to know their gender and/or sex. You can’t discuss people in gender neutral terms because nobody works in a gender neutral workplace.

    That means that not only do you need to find the answers to these questions, but you need to notice the gender of everybody involved every time, all the time.


  9. Agreeing with everything posted above … and chiming in to mention a smaller, subtler casualties-of-academia point: the idea that writing is a selfish, vain activity when a woman does it. The sine qua non of writing is concentration: when you are busy tending to other people’s needs, you can’t concentrate.

    Feminists get this pressure. I remember an essay by Abigail Pogrebin (can’t find a link) describing her childhood. Letty Cottin Pogrebin spent the seventies writing prolifically about women’s liberation while her three kids were growing up. Letty would regularly hang a sign on the marital bedroom door saying Mommy is Writing and be inaccessible behind it. Abigail–who was in what was one of the most gender-enlightened households in the world!–resented the go-away message from her mother.

    The only husband type I can think of who really encouraged his wife’s writing was Irving Mansfield, who promoted and nurtured Jacqueline Susann’s writing career. His devotion was unbelievable, but he did have a big economic stake–“Valley of the Dolls” alone sold 22 million copies. Academic prose doesn’t make spouses rich.

    In my own small version of the problem, I found boyfriends willing to tolerate my writing before I got tenure. They didn’t want me to perish so they let me publish. After I got tenure they turned pretty vocal about how unnecessary my non-nurturing-to-them labors were.


  10. LadyProf: wow. I hope you gave those chaps the gate, as the old expression goes.

    (As in the old line by Dorothy Parker: “She swore she’d wait/by the garden gate/the gate her lover gave her.”)

    You’re right: the wife/helpmeet is supposed to nurture genius and give her spouse the time and space he needs to Think and Write Big Thoughts, whereas the husband/partner of the academic wife asks instead: What about myyyy neeeeeds!

    Some guys, anyway–not all. But enough! I think you’ve hit on another reason why so many women are stalled at Associate.


  11. RE: being stalled at associate – don’t forget we need not only time to write, but as historians, the ability to travel for research projects. Many women, especially those with children, find themselves more limited in the scope of their future work. While men sometimes (often?) skip away to far-distant archives for months at a time sans family, women don’t (generally) do so.


  12. But the message was clear: we were peers, but I was expected to “do” marriage in a way he wasn’t. His life was supposed to sail on as planned–only I was taking on a second job as the “wife.”

    Oh, yeah, we heard this message a great deal. My husband got out of the rat race after his B.A. so we concurred that it was best to follow my career when we wed. First we had to deal with those comments of amazement and outrage, followed by the ones that were shocked that I didn’t quit or go part-time when our girls were born (pre-tenure I was doing my best to teach, research and be a human part of my family).

    There have been other pernicious problems both my husband and I have faced as a result of my position as the professor and primary earner. When family needs and academic schedules clash, he’s had to pay the price, watching his own career hopes be dashed, time and again. And I’m still working on the art of “No” as a way to put priorities on my research and not on being everything to everyone who needs me at the U.

    We’re all victims of the patriarchy: academics and private-sector workers, both. We still struggle to fit our round-peg of female humanity into the square-hole of acculturated expectations. When we do fit, it’s often at a great cost such as Dr. Crazy and Perpetua have noted. When we don’t fit, it’s a sign that women shouldn’t try to do this stuff anyway.



  13. No wisdom here, just my own sob story: I had a baby my second year on the t-track. Despite a helpful, nonacademic spouse, I didn’t get tenure. (Being “stuck at associate” sounds better to me than being stuck at unemployed!!)
    Some sub-issues, most discussed on this blog before: Non-research-extensive schools, as mine was, tend not to “stop the clock” or offer other child-friendlier policies. Fried from post-partum depression but afraid that taking a semester’s unpaid leave would jeopardize my future tenure bid, I jumped back into my job 8 weeks after giving birth–with disastrous results. (My female chair’s attitude: “I made tenure as a single mom. You have to give up your life and do what it takes. DO IT.”)
    Second,often in my field (increasingly in all humanities fields?), assistant profs have administrative duties as well as teaching and research responsibilities. I did, and the admin/faculty combo was pernicious. It meant taking lots of work home, since at school I had to either administrate or teach all day. The extra work took a toll on my marriage–and on my early relationship with my child.
    Third, the financial crunch schools are in makes for worse policies. For example, my school had shut down its on-site day care. I don’t think things will improve soon at a structural level. It’ll take individuals demanding better treatment from their departments. Even as a nontenured prof, I wish I had done so. From my vantage point now, it sure couldn’t have made matters worse.


  14. I really like your term “benevolent volunteerism.” I have a friend on FB whose husband is in my program. Every so often she posts something as her status to the effect of: “…has the best husband ever…he emptied the dishwasher today!” Or, “is so lucky to have a great husband who vacuumed while I was at work.”

    These comments illustrate how, even though she works at a stressful job from 8 to 4 every day, she must still be responsible for all the household chores. Apparently when her husband does what any husband should do as a contributing member of the family, that is cause for celebration. He is working on his doctorate and their family situation makes clear to me that even this younger generation that I’m a part of (those between ages 25 and 30) are still perpetuating these gendered stereotypes. It isn’t just academics who are already on the tenure track; this problem is going to be an issue for years to come, I’m afraid.


  15. Can I just say how pleased I am that I mentioned something about benevolent volunteerism today (actually, I said I’d like a partner who did his share of the ‘wifely duties’ (part of a longer conversation on that godawful conservative column on “where have all the Ladies Gone?”) and my colleagues, both male and younger, said,”what are those?” And the single one said, “but I cook and clean for myself now — why on earth would I expect to stop if I lived with someone? Hmmm … but it would be sort of nice not to do *all* of it myself!”

    There may be hope yet!


  16. I think one of the hardest things I’ve done is ask my husband to move across the country — far from his children — because I had a job. He was thrilled for me, but oh, was/is it hard for him!


  17. Once upon a time Hubby and I had a dream — we’d both finish Ph.D.s and have jobs at the same university. We’d travel together over breaks and walk to work together to teach brilliant young people…

    yea, right — after three years in a long-distance relationship and Hubby not getting the tt job for dubious reasons, he’s starting law school today. Thank goodness I didn’t give up my tenure to move to live with him.

    Now we have a different set of parameters — IF he gets a law job offer that will replace my salary, we’ll move together. If not, then he needs to find a job in our metro area. We won’t do the long-distance thing again, except in some very unusual circumstances (he gets to clerk for the Supreme Court.. or something similar), and then only for a year.


  18. My story is not as sad as many others; had kids, got tenure, still married. (No magic prescription; highly supportive partner willing to move with me and later single-parent while I commute, a willingness to sacrifice things like a social life, and a lot of luck.)

    Nevertheless I am very saddened to know that things have not gotten much better since the time more than 20 years ago, when I went to my department chair and told him that I was pregnant and wanted to take part-time child care leave. The university had a good policy which was in the faculty handbook but no one in the department had ever used it and the chair had no idea what it was. When I explained it to him, he thought for a few minutes and said, “OK, fine, I think it’s good for mothers to be home with their children.” And when I told him that even though I would now be teaching only one course in the next semester, it would be less than six weeks after I gave birth so I wwould still be on medical leave at the beginning of the semester, he said “Fine as long as you find someone else to cover your class” and then went on to tell me about [extremely distinuguished senior colleague] who videotaped her lectures from her hospital bed when she gave birth. Well, as an untenured assistant professor I didn’t have the nerve to say “it’s not my job to find someone to cover the class.” Luckily another senior woman generously offered to do it, and in fact the baby was born early and I was back in class at the beginning of the semester.


  19. I don’t find it all that unusual to be asked to find someone to cover your class when you will only be out part of the semester. The person doing so would almost certainly not be paid for it. If the chair goes to someone and says, “I’d like to you teach a class for a few weeks for no extra salary,” I think that person could legitimately complain that they were being pressured into taking on extra unpaid work just by virtue of being asked by the chair.

    Beyond that, I do think there is more of an expectation that it is the woman expected to give in or give up on her career in order to make a family happen.


  20. It’s the employer’s policy. It’s the employer’s responsibility to make it work. After all, if you take FMLA leave, it’s the employer’s responsibility to replace you or let your job go undone. And, generally, the employer has to pay your replacement — if they can’t make somebody already employed do it for free.

    Why are academic employees of the University expected to give all these special accommodations to their employers? Find your own replacement, make sure your replacement is ok with not being paid to do your job, what else are you supposed to do? Hell, if a janitor took maternity leave, the University would have to find and pay her replacement. There sure wouldn’t be all this sturm und drang over what the janitor was responsible for doing.


  21. I don’t know how many of you are also following the thread on Dr. Crazy’s website, but the discussion there is very interesting – I was especially struck by Shane from Utah’s observation that the ratios (of t-t women with children) was much higher in his department than other stats given. It turns out his department has an aggressive spousal hiring policy, and several married couples in the dept! While spousal hiring policies certainly don’t help to alleviate all the problems we’ve been discussing here, it’s clear they may provide *part* of the solution. (I’ve always felt this myself, but it was nice to see an external example of it.)


  22. Emma: THANK YOU. You’re right–and unfortunately, Ruth is far from the only person who’s been expected to figure out her own maternity leave. As she points out, it’s an extremely uncomfortable position for an untenured person–either to ask colleagues to cover for you for a period of time, or to insist that that’s your chair’s/Dean’s responsibility. Academic institutions should have provisions in place to help people out–after all, when our male colleages have their coronaries and have to take a semester off after having their chests cracked, somehow the department chair, dean, or other office in the institution figures out how to get his classes covered. There is a persistent unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that universities now hire (sometimes) people with uteri, and that having one or two or three maternity leaves is not a big deal in the context of a 20-40 year career.

    Perpetua: Shane’s department is utterly singular. I’m sorry–I don’t doubt him, but that’s like a department I’ve never heard of, and especially not a History department. (I think he’s in English.)


  23. after all, when our male colleages have their coronaries and have to take a semester off after having their chests cracked, somehow the department chair, dean, or other office in the institution figures out how to get his classes covered. There is a persistent unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that universities now hire (sometimes) people with uteri

    See, that just looks like sex discrimination to me. Men’s medical conditions are accommodated, women’s are not. We laid to rest that idea that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination when we passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Or so I thought.

    I understand and sympathize with all the very good points raised here: it’s difficult for untenured people to try to enforce policies and often the people above you have a “pay your dues” attitude and so on. But it seems to me, from reading here, that the upshot is they’re going to deny you tenure anyway. So it seems you have more to gain than to lose by addressing and making a record of the unequal treatment.

    I’m not prescribing here, I can’t tell people how to run their lives or careers. I’m only advocating for a clear-eyed assessment of what’s actually happening.


  24. Emma–yes, exactly. Men’s urgent, unplanned illnesses and accidents are covered, no problem, but somehow a university with 5 (or more) months’ advance notice can’t possibly figure out how to cover a new mother’s classes for 6-8 weeks. It is clearly discriminatory.

    One of the ways it seems that institutions count on not having to deal with this is that there is pressure put on other women to fill the gap without pay. I will admit that I have covered someone’s classes before without pay for a week or so. I regret not going to my department chair or Dean to ask for compensation, just to get the practice on the books. I know for a fact that when an adjunct quit mid-semester a few years ago, other adjuncts were offered hir sections, but of course, for a price.


  25. Here in Australia things are much the same for women. I mus say though, that as a rather new very junior part time academic at the age of 52, I can at least get to be in the same place as my children a little more than when I was struggling with my (very low level, part time) legal career. We are vastly privileged compared to many parents, many academics bring their children to meetings – not so sure how I feel about this one, having always managed to arrnage some kind of child care myself for fear of dsiturbing others. My daughter ( now 11) sometimes sits in onn my lectures, which she likes to do.
    So we must always remember how lucky we we are compared to women in non professional jobs. But the men still vastly outnumber women in senior and tenured positions as everywhere else.


  26. I had an urgent illness that caused me to miss two weeks of class unexpectedly, and I was expected to ask someone in the department to fill in for me. It was as simple as calling someone who taught the same class and saying, “Can you pinch hit for me while I recover from surgery?” And yes, for free. It’s called courtesy and friendship. However, the same request coming from the department chair looks like an “order,” no matter how nicely it is phrased.


  27. Colonial, I don’t think you should have been expected to make your own arrangement, either. The institution should have a budget and a plan in place to accomodate faculty illness or disability. It should not put people in the position you were put in–i.e. to rely on the kindness of your colleagues. It’s not an “order” if it comes from a department Chair–but a request to assist with covering a colleague’s classes would be a lot easier to do cheerfully if it were done with the offer of extra pay or extra travel money. Then no one feels beholden, no one feels guilty, and everyone wins.


  28. Maybe it’s an institutional thing. Our state school is often on very tight budgets, and departments have been told that they are basically on their own if things pop up during the semester — if they want to hire a temporary replacement, departments have to raid the department travel/research funds to do so.


  29. I think the point, Colonial, is that this is WRONG. The price of doing business is budgeting for unforeseen expenses when employees for some reason cannot fulfill their duties. WHATEVER the university’s budget situation, the reality is that they shouldn’t expect people to do extra work (beyond their contracts) for free. Department budgets are supposed to be for operating expenses – office supplies, travel money, money for events, etc. Hiring lines (at least at my institution, but it’s my understanding that this is true commonly) come from a different budget area (all originating with the provost). This is why a university can strip a department of a lecturer or of a t-t line – because that money isn’t the department’s. In other words, the “institutional thing” that you note is otherwise known as “exploitation.” Obviously, I could be wrong, but that’s what it seems like from here.


  30. I went into pre-term labor and wound up in the hospital for 36 hours or so of labor before a somewhat too dramatic “okay, were doing this NOW” (but ultimately okay) C-section several weeks into a new quarter. I was chastised by my department chair for calling in from my hospital bed to help him figure out how to cover my classes. I was, and continue to be years later, very grateful for that simple expression of compassion, telling me I had far more important things to do than worry about my classes. I’m at a state school where they tell us money is always tight, but my chair saw figuring stuff like this out as part of his job. That said, I am at a state school where they tell us money is always tight, and I went back to teaching the next quarter.


  31. Dr. Crazy–yes, my point exactly. It’s like the uni saying, “oops, we didn’t know we’d actually have to PAY that electricity bill!” or “sorry folks–we can’t pay your insurance premiums–oopsie!”

    As Emma suggested above–the uni certainly has systems for finding substitutes when a staff person will be out for an extended period of time. Why not for faculty? It just seems like part of the cost of doing business responsibly–you pay your unemployment taxes, you cover payroll, and you keep a little pot of money in a budget somewhere to pay for temporary help in case of illness or disability of a faculty member.

    truffula–I’m sorry you had such a difficult labor and deliverty, but your story illustrates my point exactly: your chair was kind to tell you to hang up and have your baby, but ze was right–it is part of hir job. All Deans and department chairs keep little piles of money in their budgets in case the floor drops out from under them. (Or in my department’s case, the roof drops on us and/or the heating and cooling system bursts and leaks all over people’s offices…)


  32. Oh, just as PSA, I discovered recently that my uni has this fabulous benefit (I know! there’s such a thing as a fabulous benefit!) for caregivers, whether you have kids or an elderly parent to watch – it’s emergency backup care available at the last minute for a variety of reasons (like child illness or holiday at school), 10 days per year. You pay a copay out of pocket, but the rest is covered by the uni. This is *not* a cure-all for working mothers/care givers, but it does help. Every business and university should have one. If your uni doesn’t, it’s something that could be taken up in the faculty senate. (Although in this economic climate, obviously no one is going to be adding any benefits – think long term ways to make changes.)


  33. Perpetua–thanks for the info. Does this mean that you bring your child or family member to campus, and they’re cared for there? Is it a reimbursement for finding your own emergency care?

    I’m unclear as to what exactly this benefit is and how it works. 10 days is pretty generous.


  34. Oh, sorry for the incoherent explanation. Basically, the benefit is run by a national organization that vets individual babysitters as well as day care centers. When you call the “emergency care” number, they can either send someone directly to your home, or find you a spot in a daycare facility (day care has a lower co-pay). So you don’t need to take your kids out of the house if they’re not feeling well. But the issues that qualify you for the emergency care are generous – illness of child, illness of normal caregiver (ie nanny or home nurse for an elderly parent), holiday at school, your partner who is at home has to be away, etc. They don’t mind if one parent is actually at home, but needs to work and can’t also watch the child. We used the service while my husband was working but before we got our child care situation ironed out. They take care of everything (you’re even billed later, so no fussing with the co pay at the time), and it can be as little as 4 hrs before the care is needed.


  35. I am both relieved and dismayed as I read both Historiann and Dr. Crazy’s blogs and the comments on the difficulties faced by women in academia. I’m a 30-year old lecturer,recently married, working on my PhD, at a South African university. And while we have a different employment system here which allows me to have a permanent position in an academic department, without a completed PhD, the issues and challenges still resonant with myself and my female colleagues in similar positions. All the female academics around us either do not have children, are divorced or married to other academics, have children but only completed their doctorates recently and are now approaching mandatory retirement at aged 60 (how crazy is that!!), or have children and have never completed their PhDs. There is not a single person in our cluster of humanties departments, who has been where I am currently and has succeed – ie, has a permanent position, a stable marriage, a PhD and children before the age of 35. And while that may appear just wildly ambitious, it is sitting in the realm of possiblity. And perhaps that is why I am relieved and dismayed. Relieved that other women across the globe are experiencing these same challenges and structural problems, and dismayed that other women across the globe are experiencing these same challenges and structural problems. I hoped when I started looking for blogs dealing with this topic that I would find that someone had the answers, that it was different elsewhere, that our situation was somehow uniquely flawed. But it has in fact given me hope to know that it’s not just us, we’re not just faltering or getting it wrong, but there is in fact a broader systemic and cultural issue of women, both in academia and else where, still being subjected to discriminatory and damaging double-standards. So, yes the system is a cock-up and we just have to fight it day by day, and not be conned into thinking that we are to blame!


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