Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In Which I Attempt to Nip Something in the Bud

BFF often jokes with me that I am "wombist." This is a term that she coined for the outrage that I feel every time (and let's just note, it's been a lot of times) I'm expected to adjust my schedule to accommodate people's child-rearing responsibilities. (In other words, this is not just directed at women. In fact, my rage is regularly directed at men.) Before people get their panties in a twist, I'm not talking about being angry at having to adjust my schedule when someone has a sick child, has a childcare mishap, or even an unusual circumstance (the first day of school, a medical appointment, child's Christmas play, eighth grade graduation, field trip, or recital). I've also had a number of pregnant students in my classes, who were to give birth during the semester or just at the tail end of it, for whom I've been happy to arrange accommodation. So my issue is not that I should not have to accommodate anything to do with kids or something like that. Dude, I like kids. I like parents. I want parents to be able to be there for their kids. I'm on board with that whole thing.

I'm talking about being the first person who is asked to change her teaching schedule in order to accommodate a colleague with children. Or being expected to teach night classes on multiple nights (I'm ok with one night class a week - not more) because I don't have kids. I'm talking about being expected to meet at 3 PM on a Friday because Mondays and Wednesdays (the only other days this colleague is on campus, because of the kids), which would be more convenient for me and for the rest of the committee, that colleague takes hir kids to gymnastics at 3 PM. Not to meets, but to practice. (And yes, I know that kids need activities and whatnot, but if you work, I feel like you sign the kid up for the 5 PM or 7 PM class, not the 3 PM class, especially if it meets multiple days a week, and when you're only on campus three days a week in the first place. Or shit, sign the kid up for lessons that meet on the days you don't teach. Don't put me at the mercy of both your reduced teaching schedule and at the mercy of your kids' activity schedule both.) I'm talking about the fact that for my first four years here I taught 5 days a week precisely because I didn't have kids, and it was made to seem like I had to because I didn't, while colleagues with kids got to teach 2 or 3 days a week. I'm talking, basically, about feeling like I don't get the same bonus things as other people, not because of anything to do with my productivity or my value as a worker (because let's note for the record I'm a higher achiever work-wise than these people), but rather because I haven't happened to birth any babies.

[Caveat: actually this isn't even entirely true. I notice that my women colleagues with children who don't also have husbands in the department do not get the same benefits that couples in the department with children, and even without children, get. In other words, accommodations are made for people who are in heteronormative university-sanctioned units.]

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.

So. One of these situations arose this week, and I took two full days to think about the request that was made of me before I responded. And while I did agree to be a team player (this in itself was a very fair request - the issue was not this request in itself but the fact that my entire teaching schedule for 2009-2010 has been determined by such requests), I made it as clear as day that I should not be asked again anytime in the foreseeable future to change my teaching schedule/course rotation around for any reason. I made it clear that I want my name moved to the bottom of the "this person is very accommodating and nice" list, and if it's not, all that people can expect from me is a big fat no.

Tenure has its privileges.

24 comments:

undine said...

Good for you. You've already accommodated those requests plenty and shouldn't be asked to do it more.

Oh, and meeting at 3 p.m. on a Friday so that the colleague can take her kids to gymnastics? You'd have been totally within your rights to invent an event of your own (Flonkerton practice, maybe) that made you unavailable at that time.

Lawgirl said...

Totally with you. My last boss would come into work @ 9 am, take a lunch, then leave @ 4pm. But because I didn't have kids, I was expected to travel in place of her, work twice as many hours, and give up my free time to accommodate her. Also, I was expected to work around her schedule during holidays due to her wanting to be home with her kids.

I get that parenting is a whole other job on top of work. BUT - you chose this. Just because I'm single without children, my time - no, my life - is not less valuable.

Academic2 said...

We have a faculty member who can't ever make meetings because the children have to be picked up.

When you know about your meeting 9 months in advance, it's not a fucking emergency.

The second or third year I was at my position, I said something about not wanting to teach two night classes or yet ANOTHER night class. My chair gently reprimanded me--because he WAS a gentle and kind man--that "we all have to make sacrifices." It wasn't until three days later that I realized I had taught a night class every.single.fucking.semester since I had gotten my job. And lots of married, older people hadn't. wtf?

Our new chair is pretty good about accommodating schedules. But the reality of that is that the crappy time classes get shifted to the adjuncts and TAs, which really doesn't fix the problem, just move it to a powerless group.

Mel said...

I really appreciate this sentiment, I get this a lot as well and I'm not even really faculty yet - but somehow as a married, yet non-childed person, I am expected to accommodate to the Nth degree which I find both annoying and insulting. I do not however, ever speak of this publicly because it is that much of a kiss of death for me right now, so I really appreciate reading your thoughts on it here. Thank you.

undine said...

I wrote about this a while ago but thought it apropos as an analogy here: It's like the flight attendants' instructions to put your computer bag under the seat so that those who chose not to pay the luggage check fee (as you did) will have more room to put their bags in the overhead bins. You have just as much right to those overhead bins--a.k.a. time--as they do and aren't obliged to follow those instructions.

Nik said...

I totally get what you're saying and I'm a person with a kid. I try to go out of my way to make sure I don't ask for special accommodation--because it's so obviously unfair. It's interesting in my department how many people don't have kids. It would actually embarrass me to ask someone to change their schedule for me. But, if I ever do need to do it in extreme situations, I hope folks are as understanding as you.

Rose said...

I'm with you 100%. I'm glad you spoke up.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I agree -- the expectation that you should conform because of their reproductive choices is really outrageous.

The fact of the matter is that we ALL have work/life balance issues that are important to us. Children are only one consideration of many.

It's also a fact that having children brings many benefits to the parents -- and it seems really unfair to expect others to bear the burden but not get to share in the benefits...

PowerProf said...

Good! I've had junior people (older than me - after 11 years they're still all older than me) with kids suggest, cajole, and try to shame me into doing crap - committees, events, shit tasks - because they have kids and are busy. Mind you, this cajoling etc is at department meetings. Child care! Planning! Work loads shouldn't vary based on womb-experience

gwinne said...

I think what's important in any department is having open conversations about scheduling issues, and the assumptions and values behind scheduling practices. I've often been asked to do things--night meetings, weekend meetings--that as a single parent it's nearly impossible to do. This, of course, is on top of having my kid in full time daycare (basically from 8:30-4:30 daily) so I can teach and show up for other job requirements. So while I do understand what you're saying, and I'd never want my needs as a parent to trump my colleagues' needs, I do think the academy as a whole is structured around the assumption that people are in hetero couples with one stay-at-home parent and, more importantly, that we are "ideal workers," as Joan Williams would put it, who are expected to be available 24/7 to do our jobs.

Janice said...

In my department, we all take turns at teaching in the night-time slots. Even those of us who're senior profs with kids know this is necessary! There's now a recent hire who prefers the late afternoon and evening time slots, so I've been off teaching nights for three years (which is nice) but I know it won't last forever.

On the other hand, I fear that I engender some "wombist" ire since I have one standing request with my department that they not schedule me to teach or attend meetings across the hour from 3-4. My autistic daughter needs to be picked up from her grade school (and we've added the further complication of driving my husband to his library job across town since the U library didn't hire him back last year and he's gone to work at one of our colleges part-time).

My department's pretty good about this but I get flack from colleagues who believe that I should be available for them to schedule meetings at their convenience whenever I'm not in the classroom. If 3pm's good for them, who am I to ask for another timeslot, even if I am open to five full days of the week beginning at 8!

I'm looking forward to 2010-11 when my autistic daughter starts high school and there'll be a system in place that will cover getting her home from school that won't involve me hopping in a car for an hour's drive around town. Until then, I hold it together and pray nobody hates me too much.

Bardiac said...

Good on you for standing up for yourself. It's a hard balance to do your bit as a team player without letting your willingness be abused, but it sounds like you're doing a good job with the balance.

It's frustrating that you have to keep saying that you're not anti-kid, isn't it? Because that's the attack that always seems to come if you don't agree to accomodate every parental request, or even question one.

Aurora said...

Hmmm I sympathize with Janice and hope she doesn't face too much wombist ire.

Seems best not to ever talk of kids in academia. Someone or the other get annoyed about something or the other.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I have to say, the reason this issue got my goat as much as it did yesterday has everything to do with the pattern issue - not with the single request - and with the fact that people who accommodate always seem to be the ones who get asked. Here's the thing: everybody has frustrations and challenges in balancing personal life and work. Part of my challenge pre-tenure was in feeling like I *couldn't* stand up for myself and like I had to suck it up when other people's needs were prioritized above mine. This had to do with both the pre-tenure issue as well as with certain centers of power within my department. One thing that helps is now having tenure; another thing that helps is that some of the leadership roles in my department have changed, and so there is a forum in which to give voice to issues like this.

And I disagree that it's best never to talk of kids in academia, and I hope that wasn't what I implied in my post. What I meant to communicate that it's not cool for the same people to be expected to accommodate a minority of other people without getting any accommodation in return. That doesn't have to do with kids, or even with parenting ultimately. That has to do with fairness.

Ann said...

Re: fairness. Right on.

One thing I've observed: women faculty are the ones who T.C.B. I've never seen a woman colleague bring a child to a faculty meeting, although they have hired babysitters to watch their children in their offices/on campus while they're in meetings. It's only men I've seen bring children to faculty meetings. Now, I'm not against children in faculty meetings all of the time. I'm just saying that it's only men who presume to bring their children, probably because the women sense that they'll be penalized for that, whereas the men know they won't be.

I agree that the child-free should not be imposed on. One thing I've seen happen is that it's parents who step up to help out other parents. As children move through phases, their needs and schedules change, so those who have benefited from special consideration in the past should step up and give back when they can. A woman in my department who enjoyed years of a T-Th schedule for her commute and then for a baby is now going to do 12 years of a MWF schedule now that her child is in school--it works better for their schedule, and she recognizes that she should pay it forward. So, she's paying back the favor of a T-Th for those 5 years.

One more thought: with all of that child care going on, it's no wonder that you have people stalled at Associate Prof. I get it that people can spend their time as they choose, but really: you can't do 20 hours of child care a week AND teach a 4-4 load and publish. It just can't happen, nor should it, so hire some damn babysitters.

Anastasia said...

I agree that a childless person's life and schedule should not be looked on as endlessly flexible. It isn't and assuming that it is or should be while a person with kids is not is unfair, as you point out here. You've got commitments just like people with kids do. Open discussion of scheduling issues seems like a good idea, ideally in a situation where it's permissible for a person without kids to insist on whatever is important to them. I realize the latter is part of the problem, I'm just saying.

I don't have anything nice to say about some of the rest of these comments, so I'll refrain from further participation in discussion.

Anastasia said...

You know, in general I think this conversation would run smoother between parents and non parents if everybody articulated what they want and need out of the situation. For a childless person, talking about your need and right to no to some things even if it inconveniences a person with kids, or the right to have your need to [fill in the blank] carry as much weight as the need to pick up a kid from school. This is going to be a lot more effective than proposing or insisting on what *parents* should do. Once a person starts insisting on that and other solutions that generally show no awareness of what it's actually like to be a mother, I can't help but get defensive and the whole thing falls apart in a hurry.

You are emphatically not doing that in this post, but it's a feature of the conversation in a more general sense. There are certain "solutions" that childless people will throw out there as "the answer" without realizing that what they're suggesting is nowhere near as easy or as bulletproof as they seem to think.

life_of_a_fool said...

In this sort of example, it seems more about the assumptions and decisions of people in charge and the entitlement (and assertiveness?) of some others, who happen to have children. I don't see this sort of scheduling issue as fundamentally about parents versus non-parents, but rather they happen to correspond in this case.

In my department, we have many parents of young children and many of those people are among the most productive and are generally pretty available (with some reasonable exceptions). They attend meetings, they teach classes in a pretty wide range of times and/or their preferences don't infringe on others (as I've experienced or heard). There are, however, some people who are never available, who aren't flexible, etc.--but they aren't the people with young kids (in my department).

Our chair also seems very good about accommodating (all) people's needs as much as possible. Sometimes she makes assumptions about what people need or want, but. . .So, I agree with Gwinne and others who emphasize the importance of communication and fairness.

(and there are some other ways in which I feel like the weirdo for not having kids, but that's an entirely separate issue).

Sherman Dorn said...

A few points:

1) NO ONE should be working or on-call 24/7.

2) As Dr. C points out, it's the pattern that's relevant, and a willingness to talk about balancing commitments. You want flexibility? Then volunteer for something as compensation to your colleagues. Because of my parental chauffeuring duties in afternoons/evenings, I've volunteered to teach the 8 am classes every semester I've been able to. We need to talk about another issue in balancing in my program, but it's the discussion and willingness to balance that's important rather than setting parents against non-parents.

pocha said...

I can't believe one commenter actually equated people with kids with "minorities." As a woman of color, I don't expect "accommodations," I expect equality.

It says something that, statistically-speaking, academics without children get tenure more frequently than those without children (here I'm thinking of that UC Berkeley study from a few years ago). Seems the profession is, if I may, more accommodating to those without children. At least for now . . .

Ivory said...

If someone was going to "trade favors" with you, what would you ask for? I'm just curious because in all of this discussion, I didn't get a clear sense of what you want - just what you don't want.

Kate said...

Because I had a lot of feelings about this post I held back from writing too. But I think Anastasia hit it on the head for me. I think some of you have had experiences with selfish people who happened to be parents. I have never had this experience, and have only ever found the junior/senior thing to impact the service work and teaching slots at my university. I have a kid, and as a junior person I get the worst jobs... though I am moderately protected from service. I would prefer if we stop talking of it in terms of those with and without kids, and in terms of the types of individuals who will make excuses to get out of things they don't want to do, and those who shoulder the burden of the least enjoyable jobs.

Dr. Crazy said...

Lots of comments to this happened while I was in Summer Committee Hell, and so I wasn't available to post them or to respond.

To Pocha: I think RESEARCH universities are definitely more accommodating to people without kids. My sense of the regional 4-year world, and the CC world, is that it's much more about people with kids (or at least with partners) because they assume that those people will stay. Or, at the very least, my place is. And so this influences what I write here. The fact of the matter is that because I'm single, unpartnered, and research-oriented, my path at this institution has been tougher than if I'd had a kid or a partner or both. People have seen me as a threat to leave, or as a threat toward change that they wouldn't like. This is NOT true at all institutions, but it has been my experience at mine.

Ivory: if somebody was to trade favors with me, I'd just want a schedule that worked for me. I'd like not to have to teach at 9:30 after a class the night before that let out at 7:30. I'd like for meetings not to be scheduled late on Friday afternoon (even if it meant I had to show up at 8 AM on a Tuesday). I'd like for scheduling accommodations to be made as often for my research or teaching needs as much (at least) as for people's family needs. The culture of my department has been that one can't even ask for such accommodations - while at the same time one can expect accommodations for family. To me, that's not cool.

Kate, yes, exactly: selfish people who happened to be parents. I tried to get at that in this line of the post: "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. " The issue is, for me, though, that the culture of my department has been such that it *encourages* assholery. In other words, you get what you want *if* you play the parent card. Not all parents are assholes, but institutional conditions can make parents assholes if it means their lives are easier. If there's a reward for being an asshole, a lot of people will act like assholes. Not all, but a lot. And in my world, people without kids get the worst jobs. So it IS EXACTLY about people with and without kids, not because people with kids are bad people, but because my institution rewards bad behavior on the part of people with kids, whereas it penalizes bad behavior if you don't have that excuse.

Aurora said...

It sounds like in your department the 'assholery' is to play the parent card. That's unfortunate. This is not the case in most research universities and most departments that are male-dominated where the 'assholery' is to put down parents as not sufficiently committed to the job.