Monday, April 4, 2011

A Thirsty on Scheduling

(For your reference, here is how CC's Thirsty on Fertility probably should have read.)

A Thirsty on Scheduling

It has happened every year for the past four years: Someone in our department has a new baby. I put together my department's schedule (but I am not the chair). And this event of great joy presents serious challenges to my work on the schedule because of the new parent's need for a schedule that revolves around new baby. The new parent needs:

(1) time off for maternity/paternity leave.

(2) a schedule with limited hours on campus, restricted to a single cluster (preferably mid-day).

Unfortunately, the new parents also seem to have:

(3) a tendency to go off-topic in class (chatting about the new baby, instead of teaching) to such a extent that students begin to complain. Even though I am not chair, it is my unenviable job to remind the new parent that s/he really should focus on the course content.

Regarding #s 1 and 2 above, the professors whose schedules I am crafting are becoming more and more resentful and “grumbly” now that I have had to ask them to shift their preferred times of teaching to accommodate some form of said new parent more than once in the last few years.

Further to that, I am ashamed to say that I have conceded to the wishes of these new parents beyond their child's first year; so I now am giving four young parents cushy schedules. It's gone on so long (four years in one case) that I don't know how to reset the schedule or their expectations to do what's right for the entire department.

This leads to my thirsty: How can I best approach the parents of toddlers about a compromise in their schedules, and let them know that the new-baby-style scheduling should never have gone on this long? Alongside this, what can I do to manage the complaints and resentment building among our senior faculty members?

Also, a subthirsty: when students complain to me about my fellow colleagues, should I actually believe that my colleagues are really spending that much time talking about their babies (we know how students like to cause trouble!), and if so, shouldn't I ask my chair to handle it?


  1. Seems to me this is just a subset of a higher level problem of scheduling. Everyone wants better class times, and parenting is just one of the many reasons faculty give to influence their schedules (i.e., I'm senior, I am teaching a heavy load, I am teaching the largest class, etc.).

  2. HP has it right, but here's one possible solution. We've had a dual-career couple in the same discipline share a position.

    Of course, since they were fair-haired folk, they were both given full-time teaching schedules, and thus full pay, even though they were both officially half-time.

  3. And blogger ate my fracking answer again. Briefly:

    a) scheduling has become a department issue, not just your problem, with resentment on all sides, and this needs an open hearing and input from everyone; otherwise all the resentment will fall on you. Tell your chair you need a department meeting to discuss it. Schedule this meeting between 10 and 2. Bring with you a fair schedule that gives everyone something they want, and nobody everything they want. Let them argue about variations to THAT schedule.

    b) don't let everyone's anger fall disproportionately on the hapless fourth person to give birth; it's not her fault she's last in line and everyone's tired.

    c) don't criticize your colleagues' teaching; don't even hint around about it. For all you know the silverbacks spend all their class time talking about their sailboats or their stock portfolios, and students tolerate it because they're old white guys. Serious issues, if there really are any, will show up in student evaluations and the chair - not you - can talk to the colleague about it then. Don't forget how hostile students are to women in positions of authority; particularly women who have just outed themselves as female by becoming mothers. One comment about baby clothes in 12 weeks of class from an excellent lecturer might be too much for some of the misogynistic little twerps. Seriously.

  4. What, so this was just rewritten to emphasize that the new parents are precious snowflakes to be approached with great delicacy and full knowledge of CC's inadequate status as a non-new-parent?

    Maybe I need to do a side-by-side comparison...

  5. This continuing argument misses the real issue:

    It's not really about the baby and parenting thing.

    It's really about dickhead colleagues who lack collegiality, compassion, and the willingness to work as a team to create a successful program. Profflakes endure.

    All the various comments on all the threads pretty much support this notion; I could count on one hand the number of people who smelled the red herring and noted other, similar issues that are equally ignored amongst the deadwood, silverback, unicorn whiners. Me. Me. Me. And the self-obsession was obvious on both sides.

    Oh, and I don't think anyone noted that scheduling wouldn't be a nightmare at all if administration would actually hire the proper amount of staff for the jobs. And don't gimme any bull about budget cuts; most of those have been ginned up just to punish "spoiled" faculty.

  6. @Thank you, Academic Monkey... Basically, this seems to have been written to emphasize the fact that snowflake parents (why does everyone assume these parents are ONLY women?) should be accommodated and never held accountable because society/academia/the world doesn't cut them enough breaks as it is, and if they are too insensitive and narcissistic to notice that their colleagues are at breaking point because they've requested so many accommodations, it's the coordinator's fault(aka: me) for creating such monsters who take advantage of their colleagues' generosity.

    I was willing to let this lie yesterday, but clearly, based on what was written in my original posting, and on here, Dr. Snarky wants the last word and is feeling personally attacked (wait... Dr. Snarky, are you in my department? If so, see you at noon today). Go for it: snark away. It's really not going to be any more or less pleasant than what I'm dealing with today in a meeting with all faculty.

    For the record, I am the coordinator for this particular program, and student complaints have shown up on evaluations for two years now, and have consistently increased (not for ALL of the parents, but for some), so this is something I am required to address WITH the chair and the faculty now that it has been formally recorded. Is this to say that there aren't complaints about silverbacks and crazies? No, but those are often isolated and haven't become pervasive to the degree that it needs to be addressed. Perhaps it's unfair that students are less forgiving of parents who like to wax eloquent about baby than they are about Professor Golf's obsession, but that's not MY fault. Or is it?

  7. A rotating scheduling arrangement would be in the category of fair to all. And it will probably piss everyone off equally, as wel.

    It could be done in several ways.

    As in , you got the cushy schedule last academic year, so you go to the end of the line this year.

    Or a major-league draft style--pick a number out of a hat. Person who draws 1st pick gets to pick their preferred class time for the first class they teach. Then #2, etc. If you have to go more than one round, you can.

  8. It is a herding cats problem. And as much as we blame certain stubborn members of our Depts (cough, the old white guys, cough), in fact, I blame the people in charge. Those who are handed this task and lack sufficient fortitude to carry out the task. They run around trying to please everyone, I guess they don't want to be disliked. Well, we don't like you to start, just do the job in some clear fashion that is fair, period.

  9. And, @CC, what the hell are you doing reading student evaluations? Are not they all electronic now, where you can *not* push a button to *not* read them?

  10. I was very critical of CC's original post but I think "revising" it and reposting it without her permission or input is sort of a dick move, and intended to prolong and highlight the criticism of her outside of the original thread.

    It also seems to me an intent to mock, which seems to me to be also pretty dickish.

  11. Contemplative Cynic,

    When I first read this post I missed the signature and thought you had simply restated your post from a couple of days ago in more neutral terms, minus the emotive language, and boiled it down so that the issues would be clearer and people would see what precisely you wanted advice on.

    So you can imagine my surprise at your vitriolic response, which is completely out of left field. There is nothing I can see in Snarky's post - honestly - which is contemptuous or hostile or demeaning either to you or to anything you said.

    I think you are burnt out in your current administrative position. I strongly recommend that you resign as co-ordinator of this program, effective immediately, and let someone else deal with it. You take a stress leave. You need it and your colleagues will thank you for taking it. You do not sound as if you ought to be administering anything right now; you can't divide the actual issues from your anger, and that is no recipe for effective administration.

    Academic Monkey, there was nothing in Snarky's post that said anything like that. I don't know what your problem is.

  12. If there was intent to mock, as Stella suggests (I just saw this), then it was dickish; that didn't cross my mind. That could explain why you're pissed off, CC, but I still think you need to get out of the position you're in and take a lengthy break. Nothing in your job is worth this kind of anger.

  13. @ Contemplative Cynic - I've just reread your response:

    "this seems to have been written to emphasize the fact that snowflake parents (why does everyone assume these parents are ONLY women?) should be accommodated and never held accountable because society/academia/the world doesn't cut them enough breaks as it is, and if they are too insensitive and narcissistic to notice that their colleagues are at breaking point" ...

    You really HATE parents right now. I mean, you HATE them. Can you hear yourself?

  14. No, this post wasn't meant to mock. It was intended to offer a different approach to the same problem.

    And yes, clearly there is a problem. I in no way condone parents of toddlers (mine is four now) continuing to receive the scheduling accommodations of the parents of newborns. At the same time, I think accommodating new parents for a term or two is the collegial, supportive thing to do, in recognition of the cultural contexts that hamstring young academic parents so.

    So for those having trouble understanding the completely different paradigm from which this post is written, really -- that's all there is to it.

    PS. If I wanted to mock someone, they would KNOW it. ;)

  15. CC doesn't hate parents, she hates the problems they produce for scheduling, chill.

  16. Before this continues, can we agree that no one "hates" whole groups of people? Come on, that's pretty disingenuous.

    There are problems, these problems are approached from different world views, and we are seeking to understand each other.

    @honest_prof, nice save. I think we can all get behind that.

  17. @AC - it sounded way more personal than just "is frustrated at the scheduling problems parents cause". One can substitute "are completely enraged with" for "hate" if you like.

    Also @AC - I would not have guessed from your responses so far that you wanted to understand anything about the new parents' POV. But I'm delighted to hear it, of course.

  18. I read the fertility thing and then this thing. All I can say is, holy shit. A lot of people on this board seem to resent working parents and "the problems they create for scheduling". WTF????

    It's obvious that none of you have ever worked in the corporate world, where people have kids all the time and get time off (unpaid, usually, but they still have a job to come back to) and the people who are in HR JUST FUCKING DEAL WITH IT. They hire temps, or people get overtime, and everyone just DEALS WITH IT.

    If you don't like doing the scheduling, have your chair find someone else to take it on.

    People have babies. If they didn't, we wouldn't have the fucking snowflakes we love to complain about. Why should ANYONE be made to feel bad for exercising their rights to have a family (or not)??

    I don't get this. I really don't.

    Full disclosure: I am the working parent of two Things (ages 7 and 2) who were born while I pursued a TT position and then tenure at my current institution. MY Other Half's schedule is even worse than mine is. But then again, I make the schedule on my campus, and I do my best to accommodate my colleagues, pregnant or not.

  19. This thread has been very useful for me. The people without children do not hate the parents. But, I understand their feelings, "hey, you get to pull the parent card to get a better schedule, not fair, what card do I get to play?" It is clearly an unfair balance if we ask the childless faculty to de-facto help us raise our kids. There does need to be some sort of give back to the childless faculty. Perhaps trade-off so they can open their winter schedule in order to use their extra income (not spent on children) on fancy tropical vacations (that was a joke).

    The family friendly issue needs more work, or we are forced into divisions, single vs married, families vs childless, window offices vs basement, etc.

  20. Burnt Chrome: I think your post illustrates something important. In the corporate world, they hire temps (I wish we could!) and get overtime (wouldn’t that be nice).

    No one hates parents. I can’t say I even resent parents because all the ones in my own department are so fantastic. However, what people universally do not like is feeling shafted or doing what they feel is extra work. I have a good friend who for the last three semesters has taught one course at 8:00 am and one at 6:00 pm, creating a rather long and miserable day. When he asked his chair why he couldn’t have a more reasonable schedule, his chair asked him why he needed to go home, since he didn’t have children.

    I have been lucky. I have never had to deal with these issues from either side. But is it so hard to imagine if you were stuck in that situation how one might misplace their irritation on the parents in question instead of in its rightful place on the chair? It may not be right or accurate, but it is a misconception that is best gently corrected without a lot of hyperbolic name-calling.

  21. I'm glad to see people starting to edge closer to the common ground center. Of course no one hates parents!

    And the best way to convince someone to hear you out is to refrain from the accusations, relying instead on causal explanation.

    This thread has been super interesting to me though, confrontations notwithstanding.

    (and, Merely, yes I said a few times in these various threads that I am pro-family, pro-higher taxes for more familial accommodations, just anti-demanding people. Plus I believe I've said 3 times now that Children are a social good)

  22. Prof Glabella - I'd be delighted to believe that nobody hates parents, but there seems to be one hell of a lot of very personal animosity floating around here.

    Rather than blaming the colleagues or the chair, I would blame a system that does not guarantee a reasonable amount of maternity leave (6 weeks is not reasonable), sufficient that adjuncts could be hired in for a term or the year.

    re: being forced to teach at 8 am and 6 pm - it's entirely unreasonable that classes are being scheduled at those hours at all, unless faculty are genuinely volunteering to teach at those times. this is not the fault of the parents. It is the fault of an administration that's perfectly happy to take advantage of its employees by scheduling classes at unreasonable hours. But the parents get blamed. The parents always get blamed. Why is that?

  23. AM - your first response to this thread was "What, so this was just rewritten to emphasize that the new parents are precious snowflakes to be approached with great delicacy and full knowledge of CC's inadequate status as a non-new-parent?"...? -

    Since there is nothing in this post that seems to me to emphasize that parents are "precious snowflakes to be approached with great delicacy" etc etc - in fact it simply restated the issues in less emotive terms - I took you to be yet another parent-hater. Parent-resenter. Person who believes that parents are to blame anytime there is a personnel issue of any kind within three buildings of their home department. I am very happy to be wrong, however.

  24. Our scheduling is now being done by a "more efficient" scheduling software thingummy instead of by humans. The result of this is that everyone is now taking it up the ass.

  25. @whatladder: you could have articulated that last point without using such problematic language...

  26. Yeah, WhatLadder. Your metaphor doesn't work, you know. Mostly because some people actually LIKE taking it up the ass.

  27. I will take a short thread drift here on Merely Academic's comment:

    re: being forced to teach at 8 am and 6 pm - it's entirely unreasonable that classes are being scheduled at those hours at all, unless faculty are genuinely volunteering to teach at those times. this is not the fault of the parents. It is the fault of an administration that's perfectly happy to take advantage of its employees by scheduling classes at unreasonable hours. But the parents get blamed. The parents always get blamed. Why is that?

    Maybe things are different at your school. At mine, we schedule classes at times when students want to take them. We have only so much capacity between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Given that our mission is to educate students, I don't see that as unreasonable. 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. classes make with no problems. We even offer a class or two as early as 7:00 a.m. and as late as 7:00 p.m. because the demand is there. Someone has to teach them.

    As an aside, our computer science department at one point ran out of space and time when their major was the hottest thing on campus. (Now nursing is all the rage.) They actually ran, and made with no problem, Friday night classes that went back to back from 6:00 to 8:45 and 9:00 to midnight for a couple of years.

    I don't think that anyone is blaming the parents. Again, as I've said in all my posts on these matters, 95% of the parents I encounter at work are employees who happen to have kids and find ways to make it work. The 5% who take the blame are taking it because they are not willing to be team players. If there is misery to be had, we should all spread it out as best we can. Most people are willing to help out, but they expect to be helped out in return when they need it and not to be the only ones with the crappy schedules. And with this type of 5% person, I honestly think if it weren't the kid, it would be something else.

  28. @Stella, isn't that always the way, though? Some jerk is loving the fact that the computer put both his classes for the class that meets bi-weekly on the same day, while the rest of us gnash our teeth at the requirements to be teaching in 2 different buildings at the same time.

  29. MA: I’ll second English Doc on this one. I’m afraid those class times are pretty common at some universities, particularly very large ones that struggle with access to rooms for classes.

    My intention was, of course, not to say that blaming parents is in any way warranted. However (and I know people have interpreted this thread and the previous one differently than I do), it seems to me that the parent’s side of the issue is self-evident. People, even academics, deserve to have children. Parental leave should be longer. It is collegial to accommodate parents within reason.

    However, when we feel strongly about something, we tend to demonize the other side a bit. To my reading, anyone who might possibly feel even a tiny bit slighted by how they are treated relative to parents has been accused of 1) not having the proper brand of feminism (females), 2) being a misogynistic jerk (males), 3) hating parents (all), and 4) possibly eating small babies for breakfast.

    I’ve posted twice and my intention was to broaden the perspective a bit. Other than being a misogynistic ass and believing his wife should do all the childcare, what possible conditions might make a new father hesitant to take his lawful parental leave? (In short, to paraphrase my social science colleagues, a departmental environment of machismo and masculinity hurts new fathers too.) What sort of unique circumstances might make people without children feel resentful?

    These questions are just as important to understanding this issue as are questions of how to best accommodate new parents.

  30. I'm sorry, but it's ridiculous to expect people to teach at 7 AM or 9 PM. That has nothing to do with parents. It has to do with institutions' willingness to take student dollars way past their own capacity to seat those students in classes during regular business hours. Or it has to do with tuition prices so high that you need to work a 40-hour week, 9-5, to pay for college. Or it has to do with administrations' seemingly unlimited ability to exploit adjunct faculty. Online classes, OK, I get it because you can teach from home, and it seems fine for schools that specialize in nontraditional students to hire with the explicit understanding that teaching hours will be weird.

    But the labor activists of the 19th century and beyond fought for the 8-hour day for a reason. People need down time, sleep, time to do housework, and so on, whether or not they have a spouse and/or children.

  31. Thank you, Frog and Toad. My point precisely. Asking people if they'd like to VOLUNTEER to teach at 7 am or 9 pm is one thing. Hiring people specifically to teach evening classes, who don't teach during the day, is also fine if understood in advance. Insisting that people should simply accept that their workday is however the hell long the administration feels like making it, and if that's 7 am to 10:30 pm they can just suck it up, is exploitation, and unions fought that for a reason. We all, not just parents, deserve to have a life.

  32. My university runs classes from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (or maybe it's 10:30 p.m. -- late, anyway). The job ad I answered required me to be available at *all* of those times, but, in practice, we tend to be called on to teach either early or late classes, but not both. I've done my share of 7:30 a.m. sections in the past decade, though fewer lately, since I'm now teaching the newest modes designed to accommodate overscheduled students: hybrids (which tend to meet at in-demand midday times, since one effect is to allow the university to fit two classes into a computer classroom -- a scarce resource -- that would otherwise accommodate only one) and online classes (which of course don't require a classroom at all). I like those modes in part because they mean I don't have to teach 4 classes on the same day or come in 4-5 days a week, either of which is exhausting (though I realize many people do it).

    I'm not sure how I feel about the early and late classes. The 7:30s always filled, and often the students were actually more awake and engaged (because they'd known what they were getting into) than the students in the 9 a.m. sections that followed. But there were always a few working adults with families who signed up, but had to drop out, because they couldn't really get out of the house at that hour (the people for whom the slot worked well were swimmer and other athletes with early-morning training/practice). I managed okay, but did find it hard to maintain a regular sleep schedule, since I didn't really want to go to bed at 9 or 9:30 and get up at 5 or 5:30 7 days a week.

    I definitely wouldn't do well teaching until 10 p.m. or later (and would also end up missing church/community meetings that are important to me), but I have colleagues who can handle that a lot better than 7:30 a.m. (and a friend with an preschool-age child who managed to fit in two evening sections as an adjunct after her partner came home from work, which meant she actually earned something, rather than simply traded her adjuncting money, and a bit more, for enough babysitting to allow her to keep her hand in professionally -- a worthwhile tradeoff in some ways, perhaps, but nonetheless a dispiriting one).

    Also, most of the graduate-level classes in my department are scheduled at night, in part because we've got working adults -- e.g. teachers -- going for M.A.s. That means that the evening times are, in practice, plum slots (also, the people teaching grad classes -- TT faculty -- have a 2/2 load, making scheduling of any kind easier. I'm sure there are "bad" two-course schedules, but they're a bit less common than bad 3- or 4-course ones).

    If I were running things, I'd probably get rid of most if not all of the 7:30 a.m. slots, but I don't see any way to change the evening classes, nor am I sure we should (and if I were ever offered a graduate class -- which is extremely unlikely -- I'd happily teach in the evening, though I'd hope to get one of the earlier-evening slots). And I don't really hear anybody complaining about those.

    The one advantage of the conditions under which I teach -- huge writing program, many sections, most of them taught by adjuncts and contingent faculty on 4/4 loads -- is that most people can get, if not their ideal schedule, then at least a manageable one (and nobody has the illusion that decisions are being made on a personal, rather than spreadsheet, basis). The scheduling is still a huge job (and I have tremendous respect for the person who does it), and involves a certain amount of prediction, and, sometimes, last-minute adjustments, but there's a degree of both flexibility and anonymity that prevents some of the resentment that can develop in a smaller department.

    One more reason I'm not sure I'd fit in well at a SLAC.


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