Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Are Parents of Toddlers Automatically Exempt?

Mama's little
get-out-of subbing
magical charm!
My first post to this blog was about colleagues who are parents and the demands they make about their schedules based on needing to accommodate junior's needs. This entry is not about the demands parents make, but about demands (not) made on parents because my chair thinks they are already inconvenienced enough by their toddlers and first-graders that work shouldn't be another inconvenience.

I'm in a small department at a SLAC. We only have but so many people to go around, and with many of us in our 30s and 40s, this means a fair number are 'with child,' so to speak. When one of us is absent (for whatever reason: a broken leg, a broken car, a hurricane in the East that grounded planes, a hospitalized spouse, a sick self, a teething baby), we cover for each other if the absence is likely to be longer than one class period.

Parents aren't even asked to cover for missing colleagues. And my child-free/spouse-free colleagues; they have NO excuse. And while I'm restricting this entry to their not having to cover for a (missing) colleague, they're also exempted from certain weekend activities, having to clean up after departmental outings, exempted from campus meetings after 4 p.m., exempted from having to advise students (it's a longer list than I'm including here, but I'm tired of it).

In no way am I saying that parents have it easy; we don't. And it's not the fact that the parents have a child that is bothering me this time; it's that my chair doesn't even consider them a viable option to cover for a missing colleague. They aren't even given the opportunity to feel guilty about having to say no. They're just automatically exempt in the eyes of our chair. This leaves the rest of us, those without young children, having to:

(a) feel like an asshole because we're just too damned tired (or selfish) to even contemplate covering someone else's classes when we barely made it through our own;
(b) scramble to change our schedules to cover someone else's classes that make no sense to us because their syllabus is incomprehensible;
(c) be resentful towards parents who are not even aware that they have been accommodated;
(d) blog about it and sit back, waiting for responses.


  1. Is there a way to raise the issue of finding a way to achieve a more equitable distribution of "extra" duties, *without* pointing out the underlying assumptions of the present distribution of work, no matter how obvious they are? I'm thinking of something along the lines of a list to the top of which everyone rises in turn, or a system of points, with everyone expected to complete a certain number in the course of an academic year (with reductions for actual parental leave), or something along those lines. With all the online scheduling systems out there, there ought to be a way to create an equitable, transparent system that doesn't rely so much on the chair's judgment about who "should" be asked.

    Or perhaps you need a new chair? Any chance it's your turn to be chair (I know; most people are reluctant; but the point at which you start noticing structural problems like this is probably the point at which you should be considering such service).

    Or (assuming you have tenure) perhaps it's time to practice just saying "no," without further explanation (or with the explanation that you did lots of such work when you were junior faculty, and think it's time for the younger generation to step up -- which might be a way to get at the issue without getting at it directly).

    1. Great idea about having a chart or some sort, although often the duties fall to whomever has an opening slot (i.e. if they don't teach at the time the absent person teaches). I'm going to think about this one some more instead of spending time feeling resentful (so not productive).

  2. when I worked at a military academy, there was all sorts of officialness for tracking things like this - but when it came down to assigning things that no one usually *wanted* to do, but someone *had* to do, the chart ruled: funeral detail, planning/chairing a social event, being a "disinterested observer" for plagiarism/cheating cases, giving a tour to distinguished visitors, covering classes, awful committee assignments, ordering department t-shirts, checking building security, etc.

    We also got credits for more traditional service - committee work, advising clubs, advising senior theses, teaching summer school, etc. - so the people who did more stuff voluntarily had to do less stuff that was mandated.

    -Some duties were worth more than one "credit"
    -For some duties, volunteers would be solicited - and if you volunteered you got the appropriate credit, but it also kept you out of doing more terrible things
    -when one of these tasks came up, the XO would simply assign it out to the next person on the list (i.e. the person with the fewest "credits") who had the appropriate qualifications

    obviously, the institutional culture was such that the military officers didn't have any choice in the matter and were conditioned to do what they were told, but the civilians were in the "system" as well - and it worked well for us too (we, obviously, couldn't do some of the tasks on the list). It reduced grumbling, and there was a sense of fairness to it. For the most part, we could switch duties if we needed to - say, a scheduling conflict arose or you just couldn't bear it.

    anyway, some way to systematize and share the burden probably makes some sense. There's some administrative work up front, and sure to be grumbling (especially from those who have been getting off easy thus far) - but workable, I think, in the long run, even in a civilian academic environment.

    1. Great idea. Now to draft something that includes such 'duties.' I know we get load credit (institutional) for things like committee work, but the 'volunteer' stuff that certain folks always get out of doesn't count for anything but brownie points, apparently.

  3. Do not let other people's bad behavior determine who you are when you are acting fairly. You are not an asshole. You are not selfish.

    Do not let your chair's behavior determine how you feel about the other people. Sure, they should step up and volunteer to help. Let's assume they are otherwise good people who don't want to derail their gravy train. It's understandable.

    Stand up for yourselves. All of you need to stop getting screwed just because you can get screwed without popping out a kid nine months later. A chart is a good idea - objective, non-judgmental and all that other good crap. Saying "Bullshit. I can manage my life. Millions of parents can manage their lives. Why can't the rest of these dipshits manage their lives?" is also a possible candidate.

  4. Yeah, this is no good. There needs to be equity. But you can arrange that so that people's most important obligations are still met (if picking up your kids from daycare at 4 pm means you can't attend a particular meeting, maybe then you can cover the weekend clean-up instead, for example). Though at my university, the people with little kids are around more often than those without (perhaps we're so happy to get away from our babies/toddlers that we love the office? I'm not saying that's the case for me or anything...).

  5. I really hate it when parents act like they deserve some extra support. I don't see how I should shoulder the load because somebody else decided to pop out some kids. I made the conscious decision not to have kids so that I could have certain freedoms, not so that I could help somebody else raise their kids indirect as it might be.

  6. The only reason parents have children, Naughty Professor, is in order to inconvenience child-free people. I thought you knew that. It's not as if we live in a web of communal interactions and obligations in which one person needs help covering child care this week, and another needs help coping with their own illness the next, and a healthy community functions by making sure everyone gets the assistance they need when they need it. Heavens, no. Every man an island! And fuck you, Jack, I've got mine!

    1. Looks like I hit a nerve. I contribute to society in many ways, ones that don't involve bailing out people with poor time management and birth control skills. All other things being equal, I don't need to pitch in anything extra because somebody couldn't wear a rubber. Sorry if that hurts your feelings.

      If you want to bring up getting sick, people with kids get ill more often than people without kids, so you're a double drain. Congrats! ;-)