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.

Readers?

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Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
6 years ago

“They could hire babysitters or make other arrangements….”

How do you know “philosophy professor at large university [relevance?] who prefers to remain anonymous [shocked!]”?

Congratulations, by the way, on your demonstrated ability to do this!Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Justin, I know you don’t want people to pile on Matt’s point, but I’m also not sure how to discuss the underlying question without repeating it. It’s possible that some of this could be taking advantage of the flexibility of the job, but it strikes me that there’s no way to come to a conclusion one way or another from what has been said, in part, because it is not clear that the query comes from someone who knows what their colleagues might otherwise do (even supposing they have similar household incomes, they may still have dissimilar financial obligations and family situations).Report

David Morrow
David Morrow
6 years ago

On the one hand, I understand Anonymous Professor’s frustration about department members not participating in the life of the department. On the other hand, as the primary caregiver for my toddler and a strong supporter of making all workplaces more family friendly, I’d encourage Anonymous Professor’s department to find other ways to resolve the problem, rather than simply demanding that faculty members avoid all childcare responsibilities during the workday.

So here’s a suggestion: It takes two to cause a scheduling conflict. If Anonymous Professor wants to raise the issue at a faculty meeting, it might be better to frame the issue in terms of an undesirable scheduling conflict between departmental events and faculty members’ parental obligations. Perhaps more departmental events could be scheduled so that they don’t overlap with, e.g., school ending times. Some department members will probably complain of the difficulty of shuffling schedules to make that work, but it strikes me as less unfair to impose that inconvenience on the department as a whole than to impose a large (and perhaps unsupportable) cost on those with kids at home. Or perhaps some compromise is possible if the issue is brought into the open in a non-judgmental way. (“I’d like all department members to be able to participate in department events. How can we make that happen?”)Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

It’s possible, for the sake of discussion, to assume that the faculty member in question is in a similar financial situation to the poster.Report

Carl Brownson
Carl Brownson
6 years ago

Regarding the comment from Matt: Justin is posting a question from someone (anonymous) in a department, and that person is raising a question about someone else in his/her own department, who is surely not anonymous to the person writing the question. These are not Justin’s own thoughts. That the person writing the question might know something about the personal situations of his/her colleagues doesn’t seem particularly impossible: we all know some such things.

That said, though, I’m a graduate student and adjunct, my wife and I have our first child due in less than a month, and I’ve thought about this lately as I’ll be living through it in the near future. I’m curious what others who have been through it think the answer is. It seems like you owe it to the department that hired you to make sure you do your job, but it also seems rather obtuse for your fellow faculty members not to realize that your family might require sacrifices. I think the very fact that academia gives you flexibility is part of the solution to balancing these things, as it allows you more time to compensate in other ways for things you might have to miss for your family.Report

grad student
grad student
6 years ago

Having seen many professors have to do this in the past, and cancel meetings with students as a result (even in the middle of the workday), I am typically very understanding. Even if there are two parents parenting the child, childcare responsibilities will not always fall on just the one rather than the other; and some days it is hard to find quality childcare. Some parents try to bring their kids with them to events, as well, which I think is an imperfect but good-enough solution.
Some things to consider to ease childcare responsibilities: (1) having a department space for visiting children (such as a play area, or a store of toys everyone can use), so that professors can occasionally remain in the department or have short meetings while they mind their children; (2) asking all parents in the department about scheduling conflicts and setting expectations early, have OPEN conversations about it, without judgment; (3) asking parents who will not be around for all departmental events if they are comfortable taking on some other non-time-locked responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to the community. One common complaint I’ve heard from new parents is that many speaking events occur in the evening, when it is no longer possible for them in a normal week to remain on campus due to childcare responsibilities, even if they want to. Proposing a lunchtime or brunchtime speaker series, or moving a different event to some time in the morning, would enable those individuals to attend and relax.Report

grad student
grad student
6 years ago

That is: my response to the question-asker is that I do not think it is an abuse of the job. It is a perfectly good reason to pursue this job over other jobs. “The job” is rather unstructured as it is, what with it being unclear how much is paid work under contract and how much is simply expected work or socializing (writing a book, teaching classes, publishing papers, meeting with students, participating in committees, versus attending to visitors and listening to lectures). Presumably the University doesn’t care WHEN papers get written, just that they do; and as long as a professor teaches their classes, the rest of their time is theirs. Department expectations might vary, but in my opinion that is something that must be negotiated (when it is beyond things like committee meetings and student meetings).Report

Anon faculty
Anon faculty
6 years ago

The childcare question is orthogonal to the main issue here. There’s an important difference between not attending a job candidate dinner and not attending a reading group — the former is part of faculty service, of what faculty get paid to do, while the latter isn’t. Since service needs to be performed and is part of what we’re paid to do, failing to do one’s fair share of service amounts to collecting pay for someone else’s work.
That said, service requirements are not requirements to perform each service task a dept needs done. The real issue is whether each person in a dept is doing their fair share, not what they are doing with their time when they aren’t working for the dept. So long as faculty parents are doing their fair share, it should’t matter which service tasks they are or are not performing.
I don’t have children and this does mean that I am much more likely to go to job candidate dinners than my colleagues with young children. However, those colleagues perform other service tasks, albeit ones that permit hours I would prefer, that I do not perform. I also have colleagues who don’t have young children who don’t do their fair share of service. In that case, I and others in my department, are forced to pick up the slack, doing more work than we are paid to do, while they do less. It’s a mistake to focus on childcare. The only question anyone needs to worry about with respect to their colleagues is whether they are competently shouldering their fair share of the service burden, not what they are doing with their non paid work time.Report

Parent who adjuncts
Parent who adjuncts
6 years ago

I understand the person posing the question wants to focus primarily on the institutional question of whether it constitutes an abuse of professors’ flexible schedules to tend to family obligations during work time (for lack of a better word). I hope I am not veering us off topic to make the point that not all children are the same so outsourcing care in order to attend events is not the same for all families even if we control for economic considerations. I had a child while working on my PhD and I often miss university events that take place during school pick up times or in the after-school hours generally. This is because of the particular needs of my child and the parenting relationship that works best for him and our family. Some children are more amenable to babysitters, after school play dates, etc than others.

I have always been surprised when people say “Well, you don’t HAVE to pick up your son…” without asking any questions about why I feel I do or what structural issues might be changed in order to better accommodate working parents. Being charitable and compassionate with one another on these issues, as with so many, goes a long way towards building solutions. Remembering that being a parent does not necessarily render us knowledgeable about what it is like for others to parent their particular children is paramount to having these discussions in a thoughtful and productive way.Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

There is something a bit question-begging about posing the general question of what is appropriate in terms of taking advantage of the job’s flexibility specifically in terms of parental obligations to make certain kinds of childcare arrangements. There are others who rely on the flexibility of what we do to schedule recurring doctors appointments, or to make it to the shops before something closes, or to walk a dog, or to beat the rush hour traffic, or because they just get tired early and don’t like late dinners. Flexibility of the job means that scheduling requirements are not hard and fast, but have some degree of convenience built in. We can ask about faculty obligations to accomodate themselves to various scheduling priorities, where those priorities are in terms of degrees of convenience rather than necessity. To ask this about parents in particular makes it sounds as if scheduling a meeting or reading group around someone’s kid schedule is fundamentally different than doing so around someone’s doctor schedule, or commute schedule, etc. I don’t think it is. There is always some degree of convenience built in, and the question is then whose convenience gets accommodated. A departmental issue might arise when some people are in general more willing to compormise with their time, while others are unwilling to do so. That isn’t really about childcare, though, even if it sometimes takes the form of less willingness to pick your kid up late, etc.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

I think most of the commentators above are sidestepping the main issue: some (many?) in the profession treat child care responsibilities as somehow sacrosanct and obviously more important than other responsibilities and preferences. I’ve been told point blank that I’d be expected to attend all dinners involving visiting speakers and that I shouldn’t ask colleagues with children to participate. I don’t recall my dating life, hobbies, pet care, or other responsibilities ever getting similar consideration , let alone absolute deference.

If tenured, I would encourage the child-free but committee burdened to just say, “No, I’m sorry, I have another commitment” and leave it at that . It is too bad for the life of the department, but I don’t think this burden should fall disproportionately on the childless (and, sorry, but it is false to my experience to claim that the breeders make up for it in other ways; I have never seen this happen). If one doesn’t have tenure, well, this is yet another unfair burden you will likely have to carry.Report

K.C.
K.C.
6 years ago

Come on, Responding. You’re going to compare child care to pet care and hobbies? The well-being of a family member should not be compared with these activities. I do agree that if the department expects attendance to these meetings, then the faculty member must adhere to those expectations on a regular basis.Report

Ray
Ray
6 years ago

Responding makes a good point that supplements the initial post. It’s not about comparing pet care and hobbies to children, K.C., it is about obligations to the department and what we allow exceptions for. Why do children get an automatic pass that allows faculty members to slack on obligations, yet people without children, like myself are not given this pass for things that are important to us? Obligations should be met, and if a department gives exceptions to meeting those obligations, how we spend that time is up to us. How we spend that time should not be ranked differently for people with children and for people without children.Report

Marcus
Marcus
6 years ago

I find the original framing of the discussion a bit odd – perhaps because I posses a different intuition with respect to the possibility outlined by the original post.

There are clearly issues of fairness with respect to the responsibility to take part in department activities. But I’ve seen those exact same issues in my non-academic professional life.

And, I think, one can have a reasonable disagreement with respect to in what cases one’s children constitute a particular exception with respect to the duties of fairness, as Responding points out above. There are issues of fairness embedded in our exceptions as well. And I think those exceptions will likely change now that one can no longer assume (if one could ever assume) that having children at some point is the likely or default position. But once again, I’ve seen exact those same issues in my non-academic professional life.

So I’m skeptical that the issue is has anything to do with the appropriate use of our flexibility.
Here are some cases to consider: What would one feel about a department member who pulls more than her own weight in department activities but never goes to weekend events? Or a department member who pulls more than her own weight in department activities but never goes to morning events? My school has finals from 8am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. Many places have classes that regularly go until 9:30 or 10:00pm at night. In that kind of environment it seems less likely that there’s some of privileged “default” working hours, even if we didn’t take the flexibility to be an essential part of the job.

After minimal reflection, I’d say I believe that there simple are not any such the limits of the appropriate use of this flexibility in a direct sense, even thought using that flexibility could perhaps make one more likely to fail in other duties. But the issue there has nothing to do with an inappropriate use of the flexibility and everything to do with an unequal distribution of burdens.Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

Having worked in jobs both with great flexibility and very little flexibility, I think it comes down to this: it’s one thing to have flexible hours and another thing to have flexible obligations. The department should make it clear what obligations apply to all (teaching, office hours, staff meetings, invited talks, committee work, etc), and set up a reasonable schedule for that department and institution, eg, mostly during an ordinary work day. Flexibility for parents might mean, then, that they can take off for the occasional special event at school, can drop their kids off themself most days, can pick their kid up themself several days in the week, that they don’t have to work more than one or two evenings per semester, etc. They’d have the same obligations as everyone else, but way more flexibility and child-care cost-savings than comparable parents in more typical work environment, who might have to use morning car-pools and after-school care everyday, for example. In other words, the natural flexibility of the job makes it possible to work around our children’s school life in significant ways, but that doesn’t mean we should necessarily expect the department to guarantee that that work around is possible every day of every semester.Report

Father J
Father J
6 years ago

Why not let parental obligations–even if shallow pretexts–trump most anything else? The childless get the professional advantage of being childless, so let that comfort you when someone cancels because his son is sick–or “sick.” Philosophers already don’t care much about scheduling events during evenings and weekends, i.e., family time, so just let the parents have the excuse of time with their kids.

While we’re on the subject, can I use the honest excuse that sometimes spending time with my toddler is more intellectually stimulating than the professional event I leave him to attend?Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

K.C.,
Oh, brother! You made my point better than I could. The unthinking arrogance and chauvinism of some of those who espouse “family values” is quite impressive. Is my colleague’s family life objectively more valuable than my childless life? I think not. Yet I can’t cite the things that are meaningful to me as reasons for failing to attend a working dinner, but you think it is perfectly fine to cite your child? Please.

Parents: please try to remember that your conception of the good life does not entitle you to trample on the lives of others. Don’t play the parent card at the expense of your colleagues.Report

anon parent
anon parent
6 years ago

I have a few thoughts, and for context I will share that I am a parent of two. I think that this question is meant to set up parents against non-parents in a contrived zero-sum game, and I think that some people (eg. Responding!) have clearly bitten. Almost all reasonable people, in both flexible and non-traditionally-flexible workplaces, will agree that there are sometimes reasons for missing work or not being able to attend obligatory or semi-obligatory events. Sometimes those reasons will/could be children, sometimes not. For the childless to act like parents ALWAYS use these reasons to miss out on work, and that they NEVER get to use reasons to miss out on work seems disingenuous. (I’ll also point out as a parent in a non-flexible work situation that I HATE it when I have to miss work, it makes me fear being seen as flaky and like I am shooting my career in the foot. It is not a benefit, but a huge loss, as much as I adore my children.) Maybe your parent dies unexpectedly and you go to the funeral–that’s a reason, and it can happen to the childless. Maybe you happen to have a kid and you just feel lazy one day–that is NOT a reason, even though you have a kid–so to me, the kid question is a bit of a red herring. What matters is the reason, not the parental status.

Ok, so now you say, but they are giving the children as a reason, so that IS the question! But I doubt that is the entire reason. I do not call in sick to work because I have a child–I call in sick to work because I have a SICK child who cannot go to daycare, perhaps because my spouse has a more pressing commitment that day. Or, I cannot make a late afternoon meeting because it’s after school and I have diligently tried and failed to find an available sitter (it is harder than you think). Or, anything.

I also agree with previous commenters that in some departments, the “traditional” 9-5 is irrelevant, given the night-time teaching demands. When a job demands you be available on weekends or at night, the traditional workday is no longer sacrosanct.

I am sympathetic to the child-less who feel they shoulder a higher burden, and think that they should bring up the global issue of fairness (as someone previously suggested) but in my mind, the key is not to focus on the child-care issue. As I said, I think it’s a red-herring. If the work and timing of the work is not being fairly distributed, it is a departmental issue that needs to be addressed. But I highly doubt that the appropriate (to say nothing of reasonable!) solution is going to be that all parents have to be at all events during business hours no matter what. A solution that works for all members of the department, without requiring anyone to sacrifice too much, is the goal.

PS I didn’t want to make this the entire point of my post, but I will also point out that women traditionally shoulder more child-care, and so to demand that faculty members attend all functions or whatever without regard to kids is going to impact women disproportionately. But I also do not think that men should be penalized for child-care commitments.Report

Another Parent
Another Parent
6 years ago

Ray and Responding, I think that you are running together what is important and meaningful for you, or the philosopher with children, with what is important to the children in question. The latter marks, I think, an important difference between parenting and at least some other meaningful activities.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I’m just here to agree with Responding that the level of pro-parenting/family/child-related values bias here is, if not surprising, still disappointing. Are children more valuable than pets? Of course they are. (And I say this as someone with absolutely no interest in ever having any (children) of my own.) But does that mean the fact that you have children gets you off the hook for something that you wouldn’t get off the hook for if you (merely) had pets? Of course it doesn’t.Report

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Responding: I get why you are anonymous, since you are hijacking this thread to pretend as though the childless/those without caregiving obligations are somehow downtrodden or put upon in the workplace, when actual data points in the opposite direction. Still, let’s get clear about some things. First, no one has said that having children is a better life than not. Second, if you think that the human act of caregiving–whether to a spouse, a parent, a desperate friend, or to one’s children, is akin to personal hobbies or interests, then I’ll just remind you that someone has to have and raise the next generation of humans in order for all this to go on, and someone has to care for the vulnerable among us, and you might consider being grateful to those who take on these incredible responsibilities.

I think this is an issue best left to the discretion of departments. Not all family situations are equal (parents with special needs children are especially vulnerable).

I do think that those of us who have children should feel free to bring them to department events (a practice I engage in). My kids know how to sit through a lecture (with some help from the iPad, it’s true), and they can behave at a department party. I often bring baby along with me as well (sometimes this will cause a necessarily swift exit for a diaper change, but rarely prevents me from participating altogether). For me, this is about equality. The default position is that we should be at home with the kids (especially baby), but we also know that the burdens here will fall disproportionately to women.

If you are really concerned about this issue, ask yourself how your department/university can be more child friendly. Philosophers should like children and welcome their presence. They are full of wonder, and constantly asking why. I can remember a lecture back at the University of Chicago where the best question was asked by a seven year old boy. And yes, he was the child of a philosopher.Report

K.C.
K.C.
6 years ago

Yes, the obligations to take care of family members whether the young, elderly, or in between do have more significance than any obligation one may have to a hobby to be absent from work. Not just because it is in the interest of the family member to uphold these inherent obligations, but because it is in society’s interest do so as well. We can see the consequences of not taking care of those in society that need it, but if I don’t show up to my kite flying club we’ll all be just fine. Outside of a higher education setting, we would just have sick/personal days to solve this question, but since we decided to do otherwise, the idea of parents, children of ill parents/siblings, etc. taking time to care for them will continue to be vilified as an issue of fairness by those who don’t have those obligations.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

It is disappointing when philosophers are so reluctant to question their assumptions and accuse those who disagree with them of hijacking the discussion.

But the responses from KC and Frey are instructive. Given the dismissive tone of their “arguments”, I see little hope of people actually sitting down and working out these issues in a fair manner. They say they aren’t claiming that the lives of parents are more important, but they insist that what gives their lives meaning is more important, objectively, than what gives the lives of others meaning (ignoring, along the way, the real ethical questions about bringing additional human life into this overpopulated world).

I have shared a story above about being explicitly instructed that I had to take on a much higher departmental burden than the parents in my department. I have literally never seen or heard of a symmetrical burden being placed on parents qua parents. If I had said I couldn’t attend dinners due to pet care responsibilities or travel issues or wanting to spend time with my friends, I would have been fired.

While family friendly initiatives are often defended as being pro-women, in my experience it is the childless women who actually end up being hurt by these programs. It is unfortunate that many seem quick to sweep this real cost under the rug.

While you may be tempted to write me off as a sad hijacker who is fundamentally confused about the value of parenthood, I assure you that a number of my friends feel the same way; we are tired of carrying this particular weight, and as we move into senior positions we are inclined to simply stop.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

@ Jennifer Frey: You say “[…] I’ll just remind you that someone has to have and raise the next generation of humans in order for all this to go on, and someone has to care for the vulnerable among us, and you might consider being grateful to those who take on these incredible responsibilities.”

Forgetting the tone, this is telling. I should be positively grateful to my colleagues that I’m treated differentially based on my decision not to have children because “someone has to have and raise the next generation of humans”? Surely not. Or at least, not without the assumption that (a) “all this” wouldn’t go on without my *colleagues* having children and (b) it couldn’t go on without my non-child-related interests being treated as on a par with their child-related ones.Report

MD
MD
6 years ago

K.C. says “Yes, the obligations to take care of family members whether the young, elderly, or in between do have more significance than any obligation one may have to a hobby to be absent from work. Not just because it is in the interest of the family member to uphold these inherent obligations, but because it is in society’s interest do so as well.”

And a similar argument is suggested in the first paragraph of Jennifer Frey’s post.

But while this might show that a department could reasonably allow conflicts from parental responsibilities but not conflicts from one’s kite-flying hobby to override departmental responsibilities, it does nothing of the sort if the ‘hobby’ we’re considering is something like volunteering for an effective charity, or having a part-time job to make extra money to give to such a charity. Indeed, these latter activities are probably more in society’s interest than spending the same amount of time and money to raise a few children. Perhaps members of the department who don’t spend their time in this way (non-parents and parents alike) should have increased departmental responsibilities to allow the volunteers more time to help society?Report

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

OK, I’ll take the bait just this once, Responding.

I did not lead off with assumptions but gave reasons and facts. First, what is absolutely true, no one has claimed that having kids make a life more important or valuable. I do not, for instance, believe any such thing. Some people have acknowledged that parenting is more important than say, dog ownership or stamp collecting, and they have given reasons for this (like that fact that human society can’t go on without more humans, for instance; this explains why there is parental leave and not, say, dog adoption leave). If you want to argue about this, that’s fine, but take it off thread. This is not the place for you to flesh out arguments about the ethics of human reproduction and overpopulation, and yes I take any attempt to do so as hijacking the thread.

Second, here are some well documented facts about who the winners and losers are professionally, since that is something closer to what is at stake on this thread. There are two groups that are professionally vulnerable due to caregiving obligations: women with kids and parents with a very sick or special needs child. This is all reasonably well documented (men with kids are often seen as grounded and responsible; women with kids, by contrast, are seen as distracted and unserious). If there is a pile of data that shows, as Responding is suggesting, that the truly burdened are the childless, in particular childless women, then please show that evidence (anecdotal evidence about what your friends think does not count here, obviously). These facts should be in the forefront of our minds as we think about this.

Third I am not suggesting that what Responding reports in his/her department here is either right or fair as a best practice. All I’ve said is that there is zero evidence that this is something like a norm. What I have said, and what I would hope, is that departments would look for ways for departments to be more accommodating to those with caregiving obligations (that includes, caregiving for a spouse, a parent, a child, etc). I have suggested, for instance, that departments be more kid friendly places, and I have given reasons for this. I have not suggested, and would not suggest, that having such obligations gives you a “free pass” to skip out on department obligations.

A norm that cannot be enforced, but that should be encouraged, is a certain generosity of spirit towards one’s colleagues when it comes to these matters. Human beings are vulnerable and dependent animals, and we need to rely upon and provide caregiving for one another throughout our lives. Given this, there is a certain give and take that must happen when a colleague needs to be someone else’s primary caretaker for a time; we should expect this and have open conversations within a department about what is reasonable and fair given this. All of us, at one point or another, will likely need to count on the generosity of all colleagues in this regard. A more human workplace will recognize this. I, for one, would be happy to help out colleagues who need time away to deal with a sick parent or child, for instance, insofar as I can and within reason. Where to draw that line is hard. As a mother of a special needs child myself, I am incredibly lucky to have been on the receiving end of this sort of generosity and understanding at times; others are not so lucky.Report

Amy Lara
Amy Lara
6 years ago

I’ll echo others above: we should separate the requirement to do one’s fair share of tasks from the requirement to be flexible in timing. Suppose there are two committees, both equally tedious. Committee A requires x# of hours per week, but is totally flexible in the timing of those hours. Committee B also requires x# of hours a week, but the hours are set and conflict with common parenting duties. As a childless person, I am not willing to say that I should take on both committees (and I’m sure nobody disagrees with this). But I am perfectly willing to say that all other things being equal, I should be first in line to take on Committee B, and a parent should have dibs on Committee A. My life outside of work is every bit as important as a parent’s life outside of work, but it’s a lot more flexible.

A complication, though, is that non-parenting activities can also be non-flexible in timing and vital to one’s (and others’) well-being. What if I’m caring for my ailing parent? What if I have a chronic health condition, or I’m in a therapy group, or I just mentally shut down after a certain hour and really need to go home to recharge? What if what appears to be a mere hobby to you is actually incredibly important to my sanity? Surely we’re not saying that childless people should be infinitely flexible with their hours, ready to work weekends and late evenings at the drop of a hat?

A further complication is that a lot of service work is not formal and involves no committee assignment. There’s just being around the office, being available to mentor students or to be a good sounding board for your colleagues’ ideas or to keep visitors entertained. Anyone who avoids the office is doing less of this kind of work, but it’s not clear what’s fair to expect here. If parents are working from home a lot because it’s good for parenting, then should childless people be expected to work in the office more? Someone has to be around to do this informal service work. Unfortunately, it receives very little credit.Report

K.C.
K.C.
6 years ago

MD, in response to your points and to bring the discussion back to the original problem that was posed, if a department agrees (by vote or by chair decree) that there will be a meeting each week at 3pm and attendance is mandatory, then whether I’m picking up children from school or volunteering at that time excessive absence from that meeting should not be allowed. The time flexibility afforded us is great, but should not be abused at the expense of departmental obligations. When the absence is temporary due to unexpected situations, then as in any other reasonable workplace an understanding should be accepted by all. In no sense would an unexpected situation be a previously agreed upon volunteer work choice.Report

Chris
6 years ago

Responding says: “I have shared a story above about being explicitly instructed that I had to take on a much higher departmental burden than the parents in my department.”

Is this the story you are referring to? : ” I’ve been told point blank that I’d be expected to attend all dinners involving visiting speakers and that I shouldn’t ask colleagues with children to participate.”

If so, I don’t see what the big deal is. It would be a big deal if the only duty in your departmental was going to dinners with visiting speakers. But surely it isn’t (and among departmental duties, it is among the least onerous). If your chair is at all fair, the parents with children can be assigned different committee work. If this isn’t happening, it seems like your anger should be directed more at your chair (or whoever is making decisions about committee membership, etc.) and not at your colleagues with children (or those who are caring for sick parents, or a spouse, or any other number of extra-departmental obligations).

I have several children and that makes some departmental duties more difficult to perform than others. But other duties don’t conflict as much and I’ve done at least my fair share of committee work if not more. If your colleague is using their children to shirk all departmental duties, then this is an issue with them as an individual, not with them qua parent.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

I’m not sure why this is so hard for people to understand: I too have other things I’d like to do other than attend evening events. Someone has to do it, and I was told it would be me because of my status as someone without children. This isn’t right, and it isn’t an isolated event.

Why not have attempt to have a policy of flextime for everyone, rather than insisting that parents’ needs trump the needs of the child-free?Report

Chris
6 years ago

Responding: I think we all understand you loud and clear. If your chair really employs the principle “parents’ needs trump the needs (whatever they happen to be) of the child free” or “there is nothing in the lives of the child free that can ever be an adequate reason for them to decline some departmental duty or to perform one duty rather than another” then you have a problem with your chair. And if duties are not somehow fairly distributed on the whole with due deference to the particularities of all the lives concerned, again, you have a problem with your chair.

Have you ever said to your chair “I have an incredibly important thing to do this Friday night, namely X, and so will be unable to attend dinner with the speaker”? Would he/she really respond: “no, you must go because you are childless”? I doubt so. Perhaps I’m lucky in that the chairs I have had (3 now) would never have responded in this way. But if so, again, you have a problem with your chair.

Also, in general, I have tons of things I would rather be doing than, say, being on admissions committees or search committees, etc.. That seems like an incredibly low threshold.Report

Anon parent
Anon parent
6 years ago

Responding, your steadfast refusal to engage in reasoning here but rather to persist in re-stating the original question, makes me suspect that you are just here to push an agenda. My hunch is that the common approach within departments (when faced with assigning these kinds of responsibilities) is to evaluate each faculty member’s reasons for needing flexibility or not, and to make assignments on that basis. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t get out of an obligation because-you-have-a-child-period. Rather, you are excused from obligations because you have a REASON (presumably), and that reason may or may not include having a child. If a member of your department needed to care for an ailing parent, would you insist in demanding “a policy of flextime for everyone, rather than insisting that adult-caregivers’ needs trump the needs of those whose parents have already passed or are healthy”? If a member of my department needed to miss a meeting because they needed to care for a sick pet in need of care/oversight, I would not say “No! Human children only!” Compassion and reason, I think, make that request a reasonable one. But if someone said they couldn’t serve on a committee because they really preferred to have a beer-and-a-nap each afternoon, that is not reasonable. Compassion and reason do not demand that we acknowledge that as a good excuse.

Stop trying to set up parents and non-parents against each other. We are not enemies–we are all people trying to do the best that we can.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

I have no “agenda”; I have a position. I am also stubborn and troubled by philosophers who refuse to question doxa, even if this means voicing an unpopular opinion.

I haven’t avoided answering the arguments for the parent-centric position; I honestly haven’t seen any real arguments offered in defense of the status quo. Frey instructed me that this isn’t the place for a robust discussion of the value of parenthood and gestured vaguely at a number of studies that apparently support her position. It is true that I couldn’t find studies that prove the childless are being asked to do more than their fair share, but I suspect that future research will back up my personal experiences ( clearly the extra work isn’t being taken care of by the work fairies).

Other commentators have misconstrued the burdens that the childless are being asked to carry. I know I’m repeating myself, but it seems that people are intentionally missing the point I am making or simply disregarding my first personal experiences (which isn’t very feminist friendly, by the way!)

Currently, parents I have encountered in my university get a fee pass when it comes to ducking out of service work. I don’t think this is fair, and I don’t think that the solution is that non-parents should be expected to make special pleas to get, on occasion, the same consideration that parents are granted as a matter of course.

Here is what I will do when I’m chair: everyone will be asked to share the burdens of evening events equally (unless someone makes it clear that they’d just love to do more than their fair share of hosting). No more automatic evenings away for parents and no blanket expectation that nonparents are on call weekends and evenings (also no expectation that they must make a special plea to avoid weekend and evening obligations).

Here is what I would do if I had more power: maternal and paternal leaves and extra years on tenure clock for parents would be replaced by a general flextime leave policy to be used two or three times in an academic career for whatever purpose the applicant proposes.

To return to the original question: I think the intellectual lives of academic departments were made possible in the past by the wives of the male professors who took care of hearth and home, leaving faculty free to pursue many of the activities you describe. Over the past 30 years, things have changed, and more faculty members are withdrawing from the department to spend time with their families. As I have said, I believe the childless have been left to pick up a great deal of the slack, and I doubt this is sustainable in the long term. I think something has to give, but buoyed by the exchange in this thread, it ain’t going to be me any longer; I think my yoga class conflicts with your kid’s soccer practice. Sorry!Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Responding: I just want to make sure I’ve understood you correctly with respect to something you say above. Are you really suggesting that we do away with maternal/paternal leave?

Someone above made a point that I think is worth repeating. Flexibility at work is not only important for parents. It is important for their children. Putting aside for the moment the question of whether it is permissible for people to procreate at all, it’s obviously true that children are dependent beings who require a great deal of care. If there is a snow storm and the elementary schools let out early, some adult must be there for the child. If a child is sick and cannot go to school, some adult must be there for the child. And so on. I may be annoyed to miss my yoga class but the harm is minor in comparison to the harms associated with a failure to provide care to a dependent child.

The thought that those without children bear greater burdens (other things equal, of course), professionally or otherwise, is, though perhaps understandable if it is had by the child-less, laughable for those of us with children. When I have to miss an event due to my children’s needs, that is not a professional gain. A trip to the doctor with a sick child is not part of some enriching hobby. It’s not fun and it doesn’t help me write papers or improve my teaching. It’s a drag.

Of course, if I use my children to finagle my way out of my professional obligations then I am a fair target of criticism. But as others have already pointed out, this is a different sort of problem. If your colleagues are finaglers and that bothers you, then you can try to do something about it. But not all finaglers are parents and not all parents are finaglers.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Didn’t we _just_ have this discussion?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I have children. I do at least as much if not more service as anyone else in my department, though I have occasionally had to miss events because of something to do with the children. I’ve also had to miss work events because of funerals, the health of a parent, or travel that I elected to engage in even if it was work-related. The same is true of all my colleagues. Sometimes all of us have to pull harder when one of our colleagues is seriously ill or facing a crisis. Those who share the least in collective departmental service obligations are probably those who travel the most, yet I am proud that they represent my department well and I do not resent that they are effectively increasing the burden of service on others because they choose to prioritize their travel. However, if colleagues aren’t sharing the overall burdens of service equitably then it’s a problem. I sympathize with anyone who is on the short end of that situation but the real problem is the failure to divide labor equitably. It’s not about who has children, or sick parents or wives, or any other obligations that might take them out of the office.

That said, my choice to miss an event because a sick child requires personal care (the most likely reason, since I take my duty to find appropriate child care and backup plans very seriously) is quite different from other possible reasons to miss work. It is actually illegal for me to leave my sick child alone, under a certain age, and even above that age it would be unethical to leave a child to his own devices while extremely ill. I suppose I could choose to break the law or have my children turned over to the authorities if I neglected them, but that’s not much of a choice, is it? The kite-flying club simply does not affect work life in the same way, no matter how important it may be to someone’s life. Every person comes with a set of such external demands, and our task is to ensure that no colleagues are given a far greater, uncompensated burden as a result.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

“Fair” can appear deceptively simple, as philosophers should know better than others.

Here’s a possible policy: a department considers *important* non-work-related matters as good reasons to provide flexibility for any of its faculty members. Is it fair because it applies to everybody? I think so. But this doesn’t follow directly from any very obvious first principles—after all, someone (Responding, for instance) might well reply that it unfairly advantages those people who more often have important non-work-related matters come up. (I assume we can all agree that tending to a sick child is important, that some things that people who don’t have children do are important, and that sitting at home playing Marvel Puzzle Quest is not among them.) We’re deep into value territory here. Me and most of those commenting, we’d rather distribute the flexibility according to need. A kind of strict egalitarian ethos insists instead that those with greater and lesser need be given the same accommodation. I recognize this as a consistent and principled stance, but I find it a bit heartless for my taste.

I do agree with Responding, however, that the issue shouldn’t be about parents versus non-parents. It should be about what is and isn’t important.

In my experience, every time something important has impacted my work schedule, the institutions where I’ve worked have been helpfully accommodating, even though none of the interruptions involved children. When I needed emergency dental work, I was excused from scheduled chairing duties; when my basement flooded, I canceled a class. And yes, I have skipped reading groups because my puppy had been home alone long enough. No one has ever given me a hard time about any of these things, for which I am grateful. I am very glad to have a job where this kind of accommodation is the norm when one has a good reason. It don’t bother me in the slightest that my colleagues with children are likelier than I to need to call upon them.Report

M
M
6 years ago

Perhaps when Responding is no longer a healthy 30-something, and is ill or troubled or infirm and in need of someone to empty his bedpan or change his sheets or sit with him during chemo, it will be one of my five kids who does it.Report

Chris
6 years ago

Justin asks: “Do most people agree that, assuming non-exceptional circumstances (unusual financial strain, special needs), “I would prefer not to pay for babysitting” is the kind of thing that counts as a good reason for rescheduling departmental events?”

At my last institution, faculty meetings were scheduled from roughly 4-6pm. A faculty member with children asked that we move meetings to an earlier time. The reason wasn’t simply “I would prefer not to pay for babysitting” but “its important to be home with my family and eat dinner with them and help my kids with their homework, etc.”. A few people preferred the later time, but none of their reasons seemed as important and the department voted overwhelmingly to have the meetings at an earlier time. The discussion did not center around what is and isn’t valuable and I don’t think that it needed to.

Other departmental events are much harder to move. Talks, for example, tend to be later in the day because one wants to schedule them at a time that doesn’t conflict with anyone’s teaching. It’s also good to schedule them at a time when it is natural to just go to dinner afterwards. This seems fine to me.

So it seems inevitable that there will be some events that would require finding childcare in order for a parent to attend. To answer your question, I don’t think “I would prefer not to pay for babysitting” is, given your qualifications about the absence of non-exceptional circumstances, a good reason for rescheduling or for not attending these events. Sometimes finding a babysitter on a particular occasion proves difficult, and that may be a reason for not being able to attend an event. But given that there are good reasons to hold talks in the late afternoon/early evening, parents should do their best, within reason, to make themselves available and participate in the life of their department.Report

Matt McAadam
Matt McAadam
6 years ago

“A norm that cannot be enforced, but that should be encouraged, is a certain generosity of spirit towards one’s colleagues when it comes to these matters.”

Bravo, Professor Frey! I think point applies to a lot of matters that come up on this and other blogs.

I’ll note that I probably violated a norm I’m here endorsing in my opening comment, since my remark was based on not giving a charitable interpretation to the question. I take it the charitable interpretation of the question is something like: (1) What are reasonable and equitable expectations of faculty members with (young?) children when it comes to participating in the life of the department? (The ensuing discussion broadened this to include dependents beyond children.) I think some, like Responding, would reject this question because it singles out parenthood in favor of the following: (2) What are reasonable and equitable expectations of faculty members when it comes to participating in the life of the department? Perhaps the best way of tackling the issue with which we started would be to answer (2) and then consider whether parents or caregivers ought to be excused from fulfilling some degree of these expectations. I would imagine nobody would disagree that the determination of the answer to (1) includes the general consideration that faculty members have and are entitled to have lives outside of the department whether or not they’re parents.

Though this probably goes without saying and is perhaps irrelevant to the issue of the answers to (1) and (2), but it should probably be kept in mind that these folks (especially those with young children) who some think are shirking their departmental responsibilities because of their parental or care giving duties aren’t exactly having the time of their lives while those like Responding are attending talks and going to dinner. It isn’t special pleading or excuse making to point out and ask people to appreciate that parenting and care giving is often difficult, boring, and exhausting (all of which is compatible with it being fulfilling and worthwhile). This is just to return to Professor Frey’s wise point about generosity of spirit.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

I am wondering if there are any legal regulations that need to be considered here? A workplace policy that empowers a chair to determine employee contributions based on family situation seems to border on discriminatory . . .
I also believe that there are studies (the NYTimes has reported on this) that indicates that in the non-academic world, flex-time works best when distributed equally
I would be very leery of entering into a work community where my colleagues and I were expected to discuss and reach consensus on whose life-practices and commitments were more deserving than others (not talking about emergency situations here, but folks who regularly ask to be given preferential treatment for, e.g., course scheduling, committee assignments, etc.)Report

Abe
Abe
6 years ago

I do agree that if your child gets sick then you should be able to skip a colloquium or department meeting. But when I had children, I didn’t think that this entitled me generally to attend fewer departmental functions for however long I was a primary care giver. If it did, then wouldn’t this be a good reason not to hire parents with children, or to discourage faculty from having children?Report

Orig Anon parent
Orig Anon parent
Reply to  Abe
6 years ago

To address the redirect question, I continue to think there are just too many different kinds of cases to be able to say flatly “yes” or “no” to the question whether “I prefer not to pay for babysitting” is a legitimate excuse. Is the case one of a person who refuses every to consider paying for any kind of childcare? Or is it a case where the person has arranged childcare to cover the schedule they have in general, and is now being asked to do something on a different schedule and doesn’t have the means to arrange the additional childcare? Those are different cases. I do think it’s probably unreasonable for a person working full-time to refuse to ever arrange childcare–how would that even work? But if the event is outside of the normal hours, I think it’s (more) reasonable. And, are they very highly paid R-1 faculty? There is a lot of variability in faculty salaries, and some people are really stretched thin (and even at the same institution, there are differences in how much family support one gets, whether the person has a spouse, whether the spouse has any income and if so, how much, etc).

I don’t understand the need to come up with a single principle intended to cover all cases equally despite a total vacuum of information. While I do believe that morality is based on principles, I think they are very subtle principles, and *policies* aren’t likely to be viable options for capturing those nuances. Far better for reasonable people to come together and discuss the best solution for the case when issues arise. Then person A can say “look, I know this is a shared departmental responsibility but I can’t arrange childcare on such short notice, so I’m going to have to miss that dinner”, and the rest of the department can either say “of course, we understand” or “no, you have missed all of the past events so it’s not reasonable for you to miss this one” or whatever. Or person A can say, “look, that committee is at 4pm, but I really need to pick the kids up at 5 and that won’t work. I know we all need to serve on committees, but can I serve on the other one that meets at x time?” And the dept can say, “sure, this person hates early morning obligations so they’ll take the 4pm committee while you take the 8am committee.” Whatever–equitable distribution depends on the specifics of each group–how can an online comments thread sort it all out? Who can predict all of these nuances, and who would want a policy so clunky?

Another consideration I experienced in a previous (not my current) situation working for an institution with a large adult population is that night classes were regularly scheduled for faculty without their input/consent. This was fine, but it did mean that faculty were less likely to think of the “traditional workday 9-5” as fair game. It is not reasonable for an institution to demand someone to be available from 8am-10pm every single workday, and for people with children it really is impossible to find coverage that works like this. I understand that this affects those with children as well as those without–don’t mean to dispute that. But it does mean that the institution has to deal with schedules stretched over longer periods of time, making scheduling more difficult and 100% attendance less likely.

To those who ask whether flexible policies for parents would make it less desirable to hire parents or make it desirable for institutions to avoid hiring parents–is that legal? To make hiring decisions on the basis of parental status? And regardless the answer to that question, in my mind it would behoove institutions to make it easy for parents to have jobs, lest they loose desirable talent to other more flexible work situations. If a parent finds it too hard at institution A to meet all obligations, work and parental, and institution B makes it easier, then it becomes a flight risk. I am not saying parents should be able to demand outlandish and unreasonable accommodations–but I am saying that an institution who refuses to take reasons into consideration, even child-related reasons, should be prepared to take a loss in the talent pool.Report

Anon Parent
6 years ago

The original case said that both colleagues had (roughly) the same financial situation, and hence should be willing to employ babysitters to the same extent. But there might be other costs involved than just financial ones with getting a babysitter in, especially for an event at short notice.

Some children don’t do as well as others at being with a new sitter, or indeed in any kind of new environment. It might be that any previous attempts to use new babysitters, without having a long period with the babysitter plus the parent there, has led to a child up half the night screaming. Or it might be that some schools have much stricter rules about authorizing someone new to pick up a child, and it isn’t practical to get that authorization completed in time for the hastily scheduled event.

Unless one knows a lot about one’s colleagues’ children, it is hard to reach justified conclusions about why they will and won’t use babysitters on an occasion. It might not (just) be that they don’t want to spend the money.

Chris @41 said, “Other departmental events are much harder to move. Talks, for example, tend to be later in the day because one wants to schedule them at a time that doesn’t conflict with anyone’s teaching. It’s also good to schedule them at a time when it is natural to just go to dinner afterwards. This seems fine to me.”

I think it’s easy here to confuse the prevailing common practice in some parts of the world with what is natural or fine. Where I was a grad student, the talks started at 2.15 on a Friday. The big university across town had talks on Friday morning, so it was possible to go to both, with lunch as the meal with speaker afterwards. It certainly didn’t seem that we were missing out on anything important by having talks at a time that was consistent with at least usual daycare times. It’s true that even a 2.15 colloquium slot creates hassles for picking up children from school – unless the school has a functional after-hours care service. But it isn’t that hard to schedule stuff for between 9 and 5, especially if start really is 9 not 10 or 11.

One last thought. If I’m speaking at a place, and it is so hard to rustle up faculty to go to dinner that it has to be treated as a service obligation, one that counts towards departmental work, I’d rather just eat with grad students (who will happily go for a free meal), or have hamburgers in the bar watching ESPN alone. I hadn’t realised that people treated these dinners as an undesirable work obligation – it makes me wish that in some cases the dinners just hadn’t happened.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

At risk of kicking a hornet’s nest, I want to say that I find this discussion fascinating, illuminating, frustrating, and yet in the end a bit hopeful. Fascinating because it indicates a new level of discourse for the profession of philosophy–as Responding helpfully (?!) points out, for most of its history the discipline was made up of men whose status as parents was irrelevant to their work. But in this new world, still largely male-dominated, the concerns of work flexibility and parental responsibilities seems to have become a pressing one. That’s progress, yes? It is illuminating because, of course, the relatively few women in the profession who are also parents have been struggling to balance the same things for a long time, but they have done so in relative silence (cause, well, if they already think you are weak and don’t belong, you must never let them see you sweat–or know you have procreated). So I wonder, given that the percentage of women in the profession has remained largely static for the last 3-4 decades, is it safe to say that this new phenomenon is largely driven by the newly assumed parental responsibilities of male philosophers? Again, that’s still progress, right? Just and equal families, some say, are necessary to producing a just and equal society. But it is a little frustrating though–in an embarrassment of riches kind of way– that the concerns of male parents should become the driving force for recognition of the supreme difficulties of balancing care-giving responsibilities with work responsibilities, while women who have suffered long and hard with the same problems are still marginalized in the profession. But finally, nonetheless, I think there is no choice but to see this as a hopeful step. Recognition that these challenges are real challenges (sorry, Responding, they really really are), will make work environments more family friendly for everyone–even women.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

I think there is an issue of sheer number of hours that the childless are expected to be on campus, or available, or, at least, on call, including evening and weekend hours, that is incommensurable with other service obligations performed during the standard workday. I think the original post and Responding are both trying to make this point. Even if parents perform their “fair” share of service obligations, but only perform those service obligations during the standard work day, the effective result is a system of flex time for parents, but not for the childless. I think generosity of spirit calls for us to be charitable towards those who regard such a system, and Responding reports that (s)he is part of just such a system, as inherently unfair. And, some might also regard it as unjust.

Consider that this precludes the possibility of the childless having the kinds of lives outside of work that they might desire. It isn’t much of a counterargument for parents to respond that it’s a real drag to have a life outside of work centered around caring for children. Or, that caring for children outside of work takes precedence (for some reason) over whatever kinds of lives the childless might desire outside of work.

Parents chose to have their children. They chose to have a life outside of work centered around caring for children. They entered into a caregiver relationship with their children; their childless colleagues did not enter into a caregiver relationship with the children of their colleagues, and so owe no duty of care to these children. In fact, the childless don’t get to choose to have the kinds of lives they desire outside of work, if they work in a system as described above, because their colleagues chose to have children.

(I just want to add that I am not grateful to anyone for having children. I am grateful to the childless for making the choice not to have children.)Report

destoryingmarriagesince2010
destoryingmarriagesince2010
6 years ago

I’m interested in the over-simplistic talk of “choice” that has come up in a number of posts. Reading some of these comments, it’s like the past few decades of debate in political philosophy on egalitarianism (about issues of choice, responsibility, care-giving, gender, etc.) and the significant philosophical work of many feminists focused on issues of care-giving responsibilities, the disadvantaging of women, the gender-biased structure of the workplace, etc. never happened!

First, it’s just not true that everyone who is raising a child *chose* to “have” that child–at least not in any sense of choice that implies the kind of voluntariness that seems necessary to justify the idea that parents should have to bear the burdens of their choices without claim to any “family-friendly” policies and such. Surely many academics do choose to procreate in the most voluntary sense of “choose”–i.e. purposely conceive. But even when conception is purposefully, it doesn’t necessarily follow that having the children that result was chosen in a voluntary way–consider the shock of discovering oneself naturally pregnant with triplets. More obviously–what of unplanned pregnancy? In what sense do those who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, and then, for whatever reason do not abort or relinquish the child for adoption or abandon the newborn at the hospital “choose” to be a parent? Do you require knowing the particular reasons for not aborting, adopting out, or abandoning to determine if there was real “choice” here such that they should bear the costs of their choice? Consider the inability to afford an abortion, being legally too far along when one discovers one is pregnant, having been subject to an unchosen anti-abortion religious upbringing as a child which now makes it the case that one could not abort without suffering serious emotional and psychological consequences, the psychological consequences of relinquishing for adoption, the legal consequences of abandonment, etc. What of the happily and purposefully childless person who doesn’t want kids, but is faced with the choice upon a relative’s death to either adopt the related child who is now parentless or let the child enter the foster care system?

Further, since care-giving responsibilities are not just about being the parent of a young child, what of the responsibilities that many of us will face as our parents age? What of the person whose only sibling begins suffering from Alzheimers at a very early age and finds themselves the only party who can provide caregiving? Are these “choices”?

My point is, I can’t see how all of this choice matters at all. Do some colleagues with caregiving responsibilities get a pass because they did not as fully choose their situation? I don’t see how it makes any difference from the point of view of fairness if one without caregiving responsibilities is expected to take on all the after hours work to make up for a colleague who chose completely freely to be a parent vs. one who was essentially forced into it by tragic circumstances. What difference does that make to the person who is doing more than their fair share of the work and/or is unfairly constrained in how they live their life outside of work? Either the extra burden on those without caregiving responsibilities is fair or its not fair. How those with the caregiving responsibilities came to have them is neither here nor there.

Seeing that choice is a red herring in this discussion, I think, also sheds light on what is so problematic about Responding’s suggesting of doing away with caregiving specific-type leave and instead instituting some sort of flex-time that anyone can use for any purpose whatsoever a specified number of times in their career. The motivation for this seems to be that it’s not fair if people who *choose* to have children get leave to birth them and care for them, but those who choose not to have children don’t get any leave. But again it seems like the (false) assumption that all caregiving responsibilities are chosen–and that this is relevant in terms of determining what is fair–is doing the work here. It’s obvious that the kind of system Responding puts forth will absolutely disadvantage parents, and particularly women–for it will allow that those without children can take 2-3 research sabbaticals/tenure clock stoppages for the purpose of furthering their career while those who are raising children will not be able to use the leaves in those ways. So this proposal essentially just erases the little progress that has been made in terms of trying to prevent biological and social factors related to reproduction and parenting from disadvantaging women in the workplace. (Not to mention, whatever the specified number of leaves, what happens when after a particular worker has used their leaves for whatever purposes, another caregiving responsibility arises–child has a life-threatening illness, spouse has a devastating stroke, mother is dying, etc. Don’t we run into the same supposed “unfairness” problem? If this person then gets leave a 4th time, isn’t it unfair on Responding’s point of view to everyone else who only got 3 leaves? I suppose we will have to, then, either heartlessly deny the 4th leave to this person or given everyone else a 4th leave on which to sit on the couch in their underwear and drink beer, lest things be “unfair”!)

Further I’m surprised no one has mentioned the fact that employers routinely provide health insurance not only for the employee but also for her children and partner/spouse . Isn’t this too unfair to the purposefully single and childless as their colleagues are getting more compensation as a result of their *choice* to be partnered and to raise children? Surely the employer should either only insure the employee him/herself or should offer a specified number of other people (whoever they are) to be insured in addition to the employee (screw child #3+!) or should compensate those employees with fewer than the average number of additional family members on the insurance.

I hope the absurdity of all of this is clear! (Again, in no way do I mean to say that the particular complaint in the OP or that Responding originally put forth is unreasonable. It is what has followed after that–the emphasis on choice and the idea that there is nothing at all special about caregiving relationships such that they should be treated at all different by social or employer policy than *any* other choice one might make that I am objecting to.)

Last point, to #48–I understand why you might be thankful to those who do not *reproduce* (environmental concerns, overpopulation, the chance of any child created having an overall bad life, etc.), but hopefully you don’t run together childlessness with not reproducing. One can not reproduce and still be raising children. Indeed, one might think there is especially good reason to be thankful to the folks who do have children in that way–by becoming parents to already existing children who are in need of a loving, stable, financially secure family, and, in the process, saving taxpayers a lot of money. (At times I almost wonder if there is an anti-procreation/anti-parent vibe going through some of the comments here. I largely disagree with the anti-procreation stance, but at least understand it. But an *anti-parent* vibe, well that’s totally puzzling given that parenting in no way requires procreation.)Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

Generally speaking, the law, including labor law, which varies from state to state, cares not one’s reasons for assuming a caregiver relationship with a child. We might want to have a debate about whether or not a woman brainwashed from birth to believe that it is her God given duty to bear as many children as humanly possible freely chose to assume a caregiver relationship with these children. But, according to the law, generally speaking, she still bears a duty of care to those children. What I am arguing above is that the childless, which I’ll define as those persons who have not assumed a caregiver relationship with a child, are having caregiver relationships foisted upon them, to the detriment of their own life choices, if they work in a system as I have described in 48, and Responding claims to work in just such a system. Also, notice in the above comments the appeals to put the needs of the children first.Report

Ordinal
Ordinal
6 years ago

“Isn’t this too unfair to the purposefully single and childless as their colleagues are getting more compensation as a result of their *choice* to be partnered and to raise children?”

Insurance coverage for spouses and children costs more–significantly more–than for a single individual. Why should that commonplace rise to the level of surprise?Report

Ordinal
Ordinal
6 years ago

Clarification: the increased cost of insuring one’s spouse and children is borne by the employee. This is not a subsidy.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

AnonGrad, other AnonGrad here. What caregiver relationships are being foisted on the child-free beyond the decency owed to fellow citizens with whom one is in community–a community made better when care-giving is valued and recognized as beneficial to all? Are we actually pretending that philosophers who are parents are foisting their care-giving responsibilities on to their colleagues in some more significant way? And that perhaps the alternative is (to go back to) pretending that philosophers do not have children (or have a spouse at home that makes their work life possible).

That isn’t going to happen. So finding equitable balance is the only alternative; being fair with one another and recognizing that some workers face more challenges than others is really what basic decency demands. What “49” is saying is that care-giving isn’t always a choice, so that assumption is faulty and unfair. But even when it is a choice, why wouldn’t we support that choice? It seems like we should welcome it, and be glad there are people who want to be dedicated in this way. These parents are raising your future fellow citizens; the doctors, politicians, carpenters, bus drivers, business people… and not to mention the colleagues… of your future. Don’t you want them to do a good job of it? Don’t you want to support a society that helps them do it?

Finally, my sense is that parents in departments do not shirk work, rather they are hyper-conscious that others think that they are shirking work when they have to say “sorry, I can’t” to work commitments because of family commitments and so go out of their way to make up for it. The sense of derision they feel from people like you who openly express that their life outside of work is just as valuable as what happens in care-giving relationships (and have no real idea about what it is to “have to” give care), keeps parent-workers, particularly female parents, on tenterhooks. So the balance is probably already there, you just have to look below the surface of these shallow arguments to see it.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

AnonGrad, you think that the status quo is already equitably balanced, but persons are speaking up and saying that they regard this system as unfair and unjust.

And, your response is to accuse them of being derisive of their caregiver colleagues’ lives, because they value their own lives to the same extent as their colleagues?

Your baseline seems to be that the childless should value their own lives outside of work less than their caregiver colleagues’ lives outside of work. This is how they are having caregiver relationships foisted upon them, and this is precisely what is being questioned. And, it’s not derisive or offensive to decency to question it.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

Well, two people thinking the system is unjust doesn’t actually make the system unjust. And no one is talking about “the value of lives,” per se. So let’s not get carried away. First of all, we are fortunate to even be able to have this conversation about work-life balance. We work in a profession that permits for more flexibility in our schedules and we are not working at a subsistence level but at a level of professionally paid labor that permits for the question of how much leisure time is enough. I was in a profession before where this sort of flexibility was not on the table, and I know lots of low income people who work 2-3 jobs just to make it (they who would love the luxury of this particular conversation–and to be able to have regular dinners with their kids). So we are already on the upside of privilege.

How much value you are entitled to have recognized when it comes to your private/non-work life, that is what is under consideration. You think the division is unfair and unjust, you think that your life outside of work is being under-valued. You think caregivers are getting more recognition than the child-free. And I am just pointing out that parents and other caregivers are probably doing more work than you think in order to compensate for their other commitments and also that, if you widen the frame a little, you might see that you are also benefiting from their efforts to meet those other commitments. In short, it’s not that their non-work lives are more valuable, it’s that their commitments are.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

So, we should have all employees submit their private/non-work life commitments to inspection by their employer for value, in order to determine a distribution of work responsibilities. That sounds like a great idea. Don’t forget about enforcement.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

Yeah, I think it is prudent to use words like community and decency a lot when attempting to foist unfair burdens on others. Who could possibly oppose them except selfish monsters who are destined to die all alone (or in the selfless care of M’s litter of children)? Well, when I hear the terms decency and community in this context, I smile serenely and reach for my Pilates schedule.

I didn’t frame the issue in terms of people’s choices, but I do think it is disingenuous to insist that choices aren’t relevant to this debate. The current discussion is about flexibility, work, and familial obligations in academia. In the vast majority of cases, this involves middle class people who are deciding whether bring their own biological child into the world. Of course, parenthood is not always chosen, but for this group of people it usually is. For the purpose of simplicity, let’s focus on these cases. Surely in thinking about what family friendly policies are appropriate, the fact that parenthood is (usually) freely chosen is relevant. Suppose I decide to volunteer at the library 40 hours a week, and I cite that obligation as a reason why I can only teach on Friday afternoon. Surely it is reasonable to point out that I voluntarily incurred my library duties, and it is on me to figure out some way of meeting both obligations without burdening my colleagues. To simply point to my conflicting obligations would be to miss something important about the moral terrain.

Of course, it will objected that parenthood is just *so* different from other voluntarily incurred obligations: It is natural. It is necessary. It is more important. It special.

Sorry, I just don’t see it. The world will continue to turn if you don’t have kids. If all Americans stopped reproducing tomorrow, humanity would not come to a screeching halt (and I’m not convinced that the end of human beings would be so bad either, but I won’t linger on that), so in what sense is it necessary, special, and distinct? Of course, these are obvious points, but I think they are hard for some people to take seriously because many people reproduce for no good reason–it is just what is expected or what they always assumed they would do. If asked to justify it after the fact, they falter and reach, shakily, for rationalizations like necessity, naturalness, importance (and in the sad case of M, bedpans).Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I truly do not understand the hostility toward parenthood in some of the comments here. Does reproduction require special justification? My choice to have kids – and yes, it was a most deliberate, planned choice, and I have no idea why that should be relevant in this context – is not “more important” or special than anyone else’s life choices, needs, desires, or responsibilities, and that’s one reason I don’t feel entitled to have my colleagues take on a greater share of our communal work as a result. I don’t doubt that in some department or other, faculty with children do less than their fair share of service work, but I doubt this is the norm in our discipline. What evidence do we have to suggest this is a widespread problem? The question is how to make sure that service burdens are shared equitably, and the various causes that draw people away from doing service are not the real issue here.

I am deeply puzzled by the suggestion in some comments above that the “standard work day” is a thing any of us ought hold in specially high esteem. I work at all times of day (and sometimes night!) depending on the ups and downs of the semester. We’re professionals – we don’t punch a clock. We perform our work at a high level of expertise and commitment to standards on whatever schedule that turns out to require, just like lawyers who have deadlines for filings or doctors who are sometimes on call at odd hours. I know many professors with children whose best work hours are 9 – midnight, after all the kids are asleep. We reward people most in terms of hiring and promotions for the research done entirely on their own timetables. The idea that some set of workaday hours provides the expected standard we ought to meet, beyond which some people are bearing a potentially unfair responsibility to show up, is baffling. My experience of philosophers has been so very different. In some departments, do the professors dutifully produce teaching and research units from 8-5 while passing around the weighty burden of dinners out in the evening? I have never seen such a place, nor do I understand why this is a desirable model.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

Who cares whether having children is the choice of the parent? It’s certainly not the choice of the child.

It is so strange to me that this whole debate has often gotten framed in terms of whether parents’ lives are somehow worth more, whether having children is somehow in itself important, or whether the preference to take care of a child is more important than the preference to pursue hobbies.

Granted, those might all be relevant issues, but the most important seems to be what is important for the children’s wellbeing, given that children are especially dependent and vulnerable (this also holds for the elderly or children and relations with special needs). You don’t owe it to your colleagues to take on responsibility for their choices, you owe it to their children not to deprive them of adequate care by their caregivers (which is, frankly, a fairly minimal claim to make).

There are, of course, questions to make about where the precise boundaries should be: some claim of a parents’ time is obviously reasonable and doesn’t qualify as a serious deprivation for the child. But that doesn’t change the fact that hobbies and child-care are simply not on a par. Perhaps there are some exceptions (like some forms of volunteer work where one is a caregiver – and especially cases where one is not a caregiver who can be entirely substituted for without difference, as in the case of a parent).Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

#58: at my university, parents enjoy the following advantages:

Greater flexibility in their teaching schedules (e.g., first dibs on popular teaching times); free passes when it comes to attending work dinners, evening talks, weekend meetings and hiring committees; priority when it comes to summer teaching; automatically being given the only committee assignment that is financially compensated; extra time on the tenure clock; maternity and paternity leave; and higher saleries.

I think these are pretty significant benefits, don’t you?Report

Ordinal
Ordinal
6 years ago

“You owe it to their children not to deprive them of adequate care by their caregivers.” This holds only in the negative sense that one ought not interfere with those duties. But not performing work-related duties that a caregiver is unable to perform on account of their responsibility as a caregiver is not interference per se.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

I am not arguing about what work obligations folks like Responding should or shouldn’t fulfill, I am arguing against certain principles stating what does not count as a legitimate reason to opt out of certain work-related duties, even if those principles are more ‘fair’ in order to show that there is a fairly clear reason why childcare obligations are treated as legitimate reasons and that that same reason does not hold in the same way for other sorts of preferences.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

Clarifying on #62, which I typed up and posted rather quickly:

Responding has posed the following challenge: “If childcare obligations are legitimate exemptions, why aren’t important non-childcare activities legitimate exemptions?” What I have argued is that if childcare obligations weren’t legitimate exemptions, we would have to endorse policies that could (or would) deprive children of adequate care by their caregivers. Such a policy would be inconsistent with what we owe to children, as vulnerable and dependent beings. This reason does not straightforwardly give us cause to reject policies which do not count important non-childcare activities as legitimate exemptions (barring some exceptions, which I noted), so Responding’s challenge loses its force as an objection about fairness, excluding further elaboration or support by Responding or others.Report

Orig Anon parent
Orig Anon parent
6 years ago

I feel like the discussion here is devolving a bit, and both sides are becoming entrenched (which I am sure applies equally to me–not intending to throw stones), so I don’t know if it’s even worth continuing. But it does concern me that Responding, et al, are insisting that it is only “fair” if things are distributed exactly equally and not at all with regard to circumstance. I am curious, do they have an opinion on taxes and social security and other social goods? Are they in favor of a tax structure that takes less from those with a lower-income, and more from those with a higher-income, or is that also unfair since someone with a higher-income shouldn’t have to subsidize? Where do they stand on universal healthcare? I am not saying that one’s views on one HAS to align with one’s views on another. But the tenor of the conversation, and some of the underlying assumptions, has me wondering whether we really do have fundamental disagreements.

I, for one, am happy to pay more in taxes than those with lower income than me (and happy to pay less in taxes than the many with higher income!), even if it’s not strictly speaking fair. If I had a colleague who needed accommodations to take care of an ailing parent, I would happily accommodate it, even though I don’t have an ailing parent and so might not “recoup” that loss–I would not demand recompense via accommodations for a pilates class. But maybe we just have fundamentally different world views. That’s not to say there’s not a right answer, but I guess if that’s the explanation of our disagreement, I don’t really care to put more time into this thread, since we likely won’t get anywhere.

Thanks, all, for the time.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

63: Well, first, my dog is a dependent vulnerable being (and way cuter and more clever than my colleagues’ children ). So, what is so special about parental responsibilities?

Second, not all important obligations are the one’s we owe to dependent vulnerable beings.

Third, I may well have moral obligations to myself.

Fourth, university departments shouldn’t be in the business of sorting and ranking different conceptions of the good life or deciding which obligations have priority over others. The best way of divvying up work burdens is to do so in as neutral a way as possible. The fact that people are so opposed to general flextime policies that don’t give special regard to parental status suggests that many people are reluctant to give up the benefits they are currently enjoying at the expense of the childless.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

“Well, first, my dog is a dependent vulnerable being (and way cuter and more clever than my colleagues’ children ). So, what is so special about parental responsibilities?”

Since I am anonymous, you might have overlooked my first post (#59), where I stated:

“Perhaps there are some exceptions (like some forms of volunteer work where one is a caregiver – and especially cases where one is not a caregiver who can be entirely substituted for without difference, as in the case of a parent).”

So you’re right, pets should probably be exceptions (or, at the least, the burden of argument is shifted to those who think otherwise). There is a prima facie fairness objection on that point.

As to the rest of your comments, I’ll simply say that I’m pretty sympathetic to your ultimate position (if I am understanding it – you want a policy which is relatively generous to parents and non-parents), what I took issue with was your strange insistence that this is about what is important to parents and non-parents, as if it was just a matter of the personal priorities of parents (no matter how deep) that it becomes important that children should be given care by their caregivers. If someone finds their boxing deeply important, I think that might very well make it a good reason to opt out of certain work work duties. But it is in no way on a normative par with childcare, and to suggest that this is so strikes me as perverse. Whatever moral obligations you have to yourself, you are an adult human being and barring special needs, are a good deal more independent and less vulnerable than a child.Report

Responding
Responding
6 years ago

64: I’m not sure why it is relevant, but if you are super curious, my position is not that a distribution of some good is fair only if it is uniform. I’m happy to go along with much of what Rawls has to say when it comes to distributive justice more generally.

I find this specific issue annoying because seemingly “progressive” people claim to be endorsing these policies based on values like community and decency, yet they remain quite unmoved (even nasty!) when the costs of these policies are pointed out to them.

The self-righteousness is irritating to me and the arguments in favor of the status quo strike me as weak. I also find it particularly irksome that feminists defend these policies as a matter of course when I think time will show that those who are truly advantaged most by “family friendly” policies in academia are married men.Report

Cardinal
Cardinal
6 years ago

I think Ordinal, above, is making an overly hasty generalisation.

In some academic workplaces, family and individual health insurance costs the same amount. Or, at least, some did so in the very recent past when I was covered by such a policy.

In many other cases, the cost of adding spouse or children to the policy is considerably less than it would be to get such insurance on the private market, which suggests it is subsidized.

So I suspect there are many places where, in effect, those with children, and for that matter those with spouses, get more financial compensation from their employers in virtue of that fact.Report

anonymousplease
anonymousplease
6 years ago

I’ve watched and tried to stay out of this. I think there are genuine responsibilities that some parents have, as parents, that are significant, unavoidable, and contribute meaningfully enough to the well-being of children that they should be accommodated. But I am also a faculty member who has regularly shouldered extra burdens because a parent-faculty member “had to” do something with regard to a child, where the necessity of the “had” was at best unclear. Once or twice, sure. But I think some of you are underestimating the ways in which, and frequency with which, in some places, the invocation of “child-rearing responsibilities” (a) does in fact disproportionally burden those who do not have those particular responsibilities; and (b) is used, in some places, as an overly broad category. The invocation in this thread of “but the needs of the children!” is what finally drove me to comment. Yes, children need to be raised. They need to be raised well. But they are being raised well in families where those doing the parenting work utterly without the flexibility that is being sought here. See, e.g. : http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/06/23/3451313/working-mothers-children/
When a parent drops service work on me so that they can make a homemade meal from scratch rather than order in (and yes, I know the parents in question well enough to know that this is not a matter of economics), or so that their high school age children have someone physically at home when they get there, I understand why that’s what they want to do. of course that’s what they want to do. But the children would grow up to be fine adults even if they did not make a habit of doing such things. So I’d ask that those of you who are objecting “what about the children!” realize that some of us are shouldering extra burdens (I have no idea what is the trend in the discipline), that at least some of us do not for a second object to a parent asking others to take on extra responsibilities for the sake of things like a sick child, or a special needs child that actually cannot manage at home by themselves, but rather object to the incredibly broad use of “but the children!” “I have to– the children!” that “requires” homemade meals seven days a week at the price of more work for those of us whose non-work-related responsibilities do not include child-rearing.
I think it’s a very tricky thing determining how to be fair about this, precisely because on the one hand, there are genuine needs of children (sick child as canonical example) for which I at least am willing to shoulder extra burdens, on the other hand, there are a whole bunch of things parents often understandably want to do for or with their children that aren’t remotely tenably necessary (or possibly even good–see e.g. a high school student never allowed to arrive home by themselves) for good child rearing, and on the third hand, it really shouldn’t be my or anyone else’s business to determine for the sake of some other parent which childrearing related activities belong in which category, and yet on the fourth hand, there better be some distinction if folks like me who are not raising children are being asked to take on extra work for those who are…Report

orig anon parent
orig anon parent
Reply to  anonymousplease
6 years ago

Do we need to distinguish between VOLUME and TIMING of work? I generally agree that others should not be asked to take on a higher volume of work to make life easier for parents (aside from what may be needed to accommodate a parental leave). For me, when I was arguing that parents and other caregivers might need accommodations, I was speaking of the flexibility needed wrt timing of the work…..Report

anonymousplease
anonymousplease
6 years ago

in principle sure, but these things often come together. E.g. certain heavy-duty committees I’ve been on have (as part of the work and by necessity) one or two long meetings scheduled around everyone’s teaching. If a parent insists that they can’t be at the office after 4 because the children absolutely have to have them home when they get home from school, and any and all weekends are out of the question “because that’s the only time I get to spend with my kids”, then they’ve effectively parented out of the heavy-work committees on ‘timing’ grounds. The truth is that , I’ve bitten my tongue in real life because it does seem out of place to object that what they see as necessity isn’t, and is surely pointless to get into an argument over that even if it weren’t inappropriate as a topic of discussion (which, as I’ve said, I think it is). But geez, after a while, the extra burdens really add up. I wish that I could come up with a content neutral way of making the relevant distinctions, but I just haven’t.Report

Ordinal
Ordinal
6 years ago

Insurance for family members generally costs more, at least without exception in my experience, and to my knowledge. For that reason, the suggestion that employer administered insurance discriminates against single employees does not strike me as particularly strong. Such considerations surpass the experience of the precariat and seem unlikely, especially these days, at least for most employees. I am willing to admit to overgeneralization as there seem to be exceptions, but not hasty overgeneralization. It took careful deliberation to have been so mistaken!Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
6 years ago

Insurance for family members generally costs more, at least without exception in my experience, and to my knowledge. For that reason, the suggestion that employer administered insurance discriminates against single employees does not strike me as particularly strong.

I pay extra to insure my children, but I don’t pay the full extra cost. My employer pays about half of it. I don’t know if ‘discriminates’ is the right word. It’s a benefit I get and my childless colleagues do not.
I was glad to get the benefit, but I doubt that my colleagues have any obligation to assist me in the costs of raising my kids. (If anyone has a really convincing argument that they do, please let me know, because I am paying two college tuitions now and it’s VERY expensive.)

When my kids were young, I did get a small amount of scheduling accommodation from my department, and I was definitely excused from the more burdensome committee work. But, I was pre-tenure, and we try to keep all of our junior profs off the burdensome committees, so that was probably the main reason. And it’s just occurred to me, I do have a colleague who gets special (minor) scheduling accommodations to take care of a pet. So, go figure.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
6 years ago

Jamie: why not view this as a benefit your children get, rather than as a benefit you get?

The real problem here is simply a problem built into a system in which health insurance is provided as a benefit of employment — it doesn’t cover the unemployed and ipso facto it doesn’t cover children unless they are included in their parents’ coverage.

In countries with single-payer public healthcare this issue does not arise as an inequity between parents and the childless. Yet parents’ taxes are not higher to take account that their families receive more services from the state. The assumption is that (the vast majority) of the children will survive to adulthood and then pay into the system in taxes themselves.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

Jennifer:

“then I’ll just remind you that someone has to have and raise the next generation of humans in order for all this to go on, and someone has to care for the vulnerable among us, and you might consider being grateful to those who take on these incredible responsibilities”

I was supportive of your statements until I saw this. You do not deserve gratitude for having children. You just don’t.

Raiising children can be extremely rewarding but you are not performing a selfless act for people other than your children.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

Anonymous @58:

“I don’t doubt that in some department or other, faculty with children do less than their fair share of service work, but I doubt this is the norm in our discipline. What evidence do we have to suggest this is a widespread problem?”

Why does it have to be a widespread problem to be of philosophical interest? I doubt it’s the norm, but even if it is rarely found I think it is a fair question to address.Report

Anonymous @58
Anonymous @58
6 years ago

Because if it’s an isolated problem then it should be dealt with like any other problem of distributing work equitably among groups of faculty. They have to work out what’s fair for their particular group and make sure the leadership and policies support it. In some departments the problem might be precisely the opposite: people with kids or other obligations outside work are taking on a greater burden of service duties than seems fair. I have little information beyond individual anecdote that would help me determine which of these problems is a greater concern. I’ve been puzzled by the comments in this thread in part because the original case was not about what should be done with respect to service obligations among those who have children vs. those who do not. Rather, in the case above all the faculty in question have children, but some made special provisions to take on service duties anyway while their colleagues refrained from doing so. We might as well be deciding what to do when everyone in the department takes a month-long vacation during July, and one person takes great pains to ensure that service work gets done over the summer anyway while the rest shirk the duty for whatever reason. It’s a fairness question, not a kid question, yet it quickly devolved into a kids vs. no kids discussion that revealed some interesting feelings but otherwise did little to address the fairness question.Report

M
M
6 years ago

“You do not deserve gratitude for having children. You just don’t. Raiising children can be extremely rewarding but you are not performing a selfless act for people other than your children.”

Surely this is often very implausible. One can raise one’s children in a way that does not look only to their good but the good of those with whom they are going to interact. One might train one’s children a certain way not only for their good but for the good of the communities of which they will be a part. Sometimes this makes parenting much more burdensome for one. In such cases it is very likely that the basic conditions for owing gratitude would apply.Report

AnonGrad
AnonGrad
6 years ago

#77: Well, if this thread is really just addressing the pool of faculty with children, and addressing the problem of some faculty with children picking up the slack, in terms of service obligations, for other faculty with children (because this slack in a department would only impact faculty with children), then how should we make sure that work responsibilities are being fairly distributed amongst the pool of faculty with children? I know. We can assess their parenting for value. (You seem to want to suggest that the original poster is doing something supererogatory, but the original poster certainly doesn’t seem to take it as such. The original poster seems to be recognizing a duty to participate in one’s department, including in terms of service obligations, regardless of one’s personal / non-work life commitments, and the original poster does not seem to be taking her/his colleagues with children (specifically those with children) to be fulfilling this duty.)

#78: Also, it is one thing to be grateful or not to someone for having children. It is another thing to be grateful or not to someone for the way in which they choose to raise their children. I might be grateful to someone for raising their kids to reduce their carbon footprint, including by raising their kids not to have children, but I would be even more grateful, if they hadn’t had the kids in the first place.Report

Anonymous Grad Student
Anonymous Grad Student
6 years ago

I want to just raise the issue that the burden of faculty members failing to fulfill departmental duties sometimes falls on graduate students too. For example, in my department, it is custom to go for beer on campus with speakers after colloquium talks and for a faculty member to buy the speaker a drink. Two weeks ago, I was one out of three graduate students who showed up for beer after the talk. No faculty attended. None. When the speaker showed up, he was clearly embarrassed, and I awkwardly bought him a drink to uphold custom. By the way, I was also the only woman present. This made things even more uncomfortable for me, since I barely know the speaker and gender relations make it such that… well, you can complete the sentence for yourself.

I don’t think that child care responsibilities have much to do with these issues in my own department, though I see the motivation for the poster’s question. There are, however, structural issues that are surely at work here too. For example, universities need to stop relying on part-time faculty to carry teaching loads and make more TT hires! Shocker. In my department, if professors weren’t so over-worked, I’m sure at least some of them would be more active in terms of fulfilling semi-obligatory duties.

I don’t mean to side step the poster’s initial question, but I thought it was important to point out that graduate students are also expected to participate in the departmental culture and that these issues affect us as well.Report