Children and the Flexibility of the Job


Professors generally enjoy quite a bit of flexibility regarding when they are on campus or in their office. This flexibility—and the expectation that professors aren’t around all the time—is one of the perks of the job, but what are the limits of the appropriate use of this flexibility? The question is prompted by the following query (by a philosophy professor at a large university who prefers to remain anonymous):

I have two children who are now in elementary school. Over the years at my current position, I have arranged for childcare for my kids (babysitters, swaps, after-school care), at the cost of several thousand dollars, so that I can fully participate in the life of the department: attending meetings, talks, reading groups, conferences, lunches and dinners with visiting speakers and job candidates. It had always seemed to me that as a member of the department I have a responsibility to take part in these activities—not all of them, of course, but a good number of them. By contrast, I have some colleagues who regularly use their childcare responsibilities as an excuse to not attend departmental events—even events that take place during the standard work day (between 9am and 5pm). They could hire babysitters or make other arrangements, but do not do so, because, for example, they “have to” pick up their kids from school. This strikes me as an abuse of the flexibility of the job. I am curious if my views about this are unusual or off. I would also be curious to hear suggestions about how to approach this subject institutionally, even if it is just setting out expectations at a departmental meeting, given the sensitivity of the subject.

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