Thursday, June 28, 2012
If nothing else, I hope the whole episode will help some folks understand the crosscurrents that academic administrators have to navigate. Within the confines of a college or university, it’s easy to fall into the default assumptions of academia. Outside of higher education, it’s easy to fall into stereotypes of absent-minded or elitist faculty, or colleges as dens of iniquity. Academic administrators have to be conversant with both, and able to translate each side to the other.
That can be a severe challenge.
The interwebs have been abuzz about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece about working women’s struggles to “have it all.” Though I wasn’t the piece’s target demographic, this part resonated with me:
Today, however, women in power can and should change that environment, although change is not easy. When I became dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, in 2002, I decided that one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life. Thus, I would end faculty meetings at 6 p.m. by saying that I had to go home for dinner; I would also make clear to all student organizations that I would not come to dinner with them, because I needed to be home from six to eight, but that I would often be willing to come back after eight for a meeting. I also once told the Dean’s Advisory Committee that the associate dean would chair the next session so I could go to a parent-teacher conference.
After a few months of this, several female assistant professors showed up in my office quite agitated. “You have to stop talking about your kids,” one said. “You are not showing the gravitas that people expect from a dean, which is particularly damaging precisely because you are the first woman dean of the school.” I told them that I was doing it deliberately and continued my practice, but it is interesting that gravitas and parenthood don’t seem to go together.
As a blogger, I adopted the name “Dean Dad” because those are the two roles that occupied most of my waking hours. I’ve deliberately written about my kids as part of a self-conscious attempt to slowly make normal the idea that many adults -- not just women -- are parents. It’s easy to say that incorporating more women into positions of authority would result in more parent-friendly expectations, though the experience of the last forty years strongly suggests otherwise. But even taking that position ignores the fact that fathers as fathers have not been nearly as conscious as they could and should have been about blending parenthood and work.
On the job, I’ve made a point of neither embodying, nor expecting, superhuman hours at the office. That’s not to say that long days never happen -- evening events come with the gig -- but that people here don’t gain brownie points by looking like they never go home. And that’s not just laziness or entitlement; it’s based on a clear sense that frazzled people generate far more unnecessary conflict than do balanced people. I’m gambling that people will do their best work over the long term when they aren’t fried. That means having time to have lives.
It doesn’t always work, of course. When The Boy was little, The Wife worked nearly full-time, and I worked full-time, and the stress was unbelievable. (For example: you both have important stuff coming that day, and the kid wakes up too sick for daycare. You have twenty minutes before you have to hit the road. What do you do? Repeat, and repeat, and repeat.) When we hit the point where she could stay home, she did, and that reduced the logistical stress tremendously. And we’re lucky to have two healthy kids with no “special needs.”
My takeaway from the Slaughter piece was that too many workplaces still assume that workers aren’t parents. That strikes me as true. And those of us who have had front-row seats to the issues faced by working parents -- women and men -- need to make a conscious choice to do something about that.
The Girl has a bit of Wednesday Addams in her. Actual conversation this week::
TG: I think heaven is in space.
TG: So that means God is an alien.
DD: Well, I guess so.
TG: And since God created people, then we came from space. That means we’re aliens, too.
DD: God created trees. Does that mean trees are from space?
TG: Mm-hmm. Everything is!
DD: Well, if everything is, then the word “alien” doesn’t mean much. Seems like we should save it for certain things.
TG: I think I’m more alien than (The Boy).
TG (deadpan): Haven’t you noticed?
benjalo @ gmail . com
This is a substantial part of why I continue to work here, even though they don't pay much and the constant pressure to do more with less (this is a state school, obviously) can be overwhelming. That situation you describe with TW? I've been there - I've got two small kids - and 99% of the time, it's okay if I stay home. Even if it's a big day - I can plop the sick kiddo in front of the TV and call into the meeting. That's acceptable here, usually. This is probably the only reason I'm not a SAHM right now.
But whatever the institution says overall, different managers still have different levels of tolerance. Even given my institution's great flexibility, there are a few managers here who rely heavily on ass-in-chair metrics. Few of their employees, male or female, have young children. Managers like that are going to continue to be a problem as the rest of us embrace the 21st century.
Anyway. I see a lot more children on campus in the summer - kids coming to work with Mom or Dad when there is a gap in child care or camp schedules - and in those moments, I wonder why people work anywhere but higher ed. And, many - if not most - folks here who are fairly high up the ladder are working parents, and it makes such a huge huge huge difference to see them in positions of leadership. If a person takes a day off for a sick kid and is still a successful administrator and everyone can see that? It means far more than dozens of HR flyers touting flexibility in the abstract. When the institution walks that walk, we all benefit.
See the top blue line of the blog, the white B in an orange box, followed by an empty text box, followed by "Report abuse" and then "Next blog"? That's standard on blogs powered by blogger, as this one is. That empty text box in that line is a search box, and the search will be limited to the blog you are looking at.
If you put "interview advice" in that box, you'll get a bunch of hits, and some great advice (I presume its great, I'm not in academia but I find this blog interesting).
Anyways, conversations like the one above (in which TG discovers panspermia!) are why I regret that my poor health kept me from ever having kids.
I haven't ever noticed very much of this in my onwn experience. But I will admit that as a single unattached person with no children, I did get a lot of late-night and weekend lab time while I was a feature tester at Large Telecommunications Company.
Not just management. At my workplace, childless people are expected to pick up the slack for parents, especially those off on paid maternity leave. When up to 30% of your department is off at a time, the extra workload on those left behind is significant. Not only is it unpaid, but it's rare to get thanked by the people who's work was done in their absence.
I've seen this formulation before, and I just don't get it. Maternity leave (or paternity leave, for that matter) is not some kind of conspiracy by parents to burden the childless.
When someone goes out on leave for any reason, even vacation, it's a hassle for those left behind. This is always true, and is just one of those costs we bear for operating in a civilized society with other human beings. Maternity leave sticks out because it is long and there is a dramatic 9 month lead-in, but really any situation where there is work to be done and not enough people to do it (and inadequate resources to hire/train temporary help) is problematic.
But at what workplace is everyone left behind to pick up the slack always and exclusively a non-parent? I've picked up the slack for plenty of people on leave, and that is as true now as it was before I had children.
Is the idea supposed to be that non-parents will stay at work until 11pm attending to the work of those on maternity leave, while the parents go home at 5:00 without a care in the world? So therefore all the burden falls on the childless by design? Because it sure doesn't happen in my universe. I might go home at 5:00 because, well, daycare closes at 6:00, so I don't have much of a choice. But if there is extra work to be done due to someone else being on leave, I'm on my laptop after the kids go to bed until whatever wee hour it takes to get it done. Nobody asks about my parenthood status. I am not exempted from this burden due to my children.
And if your organization really does have 30% of staff out at once and the remaining 70% is expected to just swallow up the workload without a thank you, that has nothing to do with maternity leave as a concept and everything to do with both amazingly poor luck and amazingly poor management.