Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Childless academics

Two Chronicle of Higher Education articles discussing whether single professors and grad student parents are neglected in academia are causing something of a stir. While I'm not single, I am childless, and thus have sympathy for the non-parent issues that are being discussed in the single academics article. Apt. 11d has discussed the topic and linked to a number of other blog posts, one of which was by Tim Burke who argued that single academics have little to complain about. One particular statement of Mr. Burke's struck me as being worthy of further comment:
"The person who really drove me nuts in the article was Benita Blessing, a historian at the University of Ohio. Colleagues who have children or spouses, she says, are free to leave boring faculty meetings while she can't just say that she wants to go home and watch reruns of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer". I really, really do try to see things the way other people see them, but this particular statement stopped me in my tracks. There are a million genuine and feigned ways that she could slip out of meetings if she likes: I feel no guilt for her lack of creativity."
I believe that Mr. Burke has completely misunderstood what Ms. Blessing was trying to say. Ms. Blessing was not, I believe, looking for ways to get out of department meetings. Instead she was likely trying to make a much larger point: some academics with families use those families as justification for neglecting the required duties of their jobs.

I can sympathize with the requirements of child rearing; it takes time, patience, and skills that I cannot imagine ever having. If you have kids it makes perfect sense to try and spend as much time with them as you can and to alter your work schedule to fit your children's schedules. The point that is important, however, is that sometimes this altering of schedules morphs into doing less required work, and thus distributing this work to the other members of the department. I know that faculty with children work at home, and that their lives are often very stressful. However, childless instructors work at home too and have stresses as well; the childless life is not all cocktail parties and evening walks on the beach (my SO will most certainly vouch for that).

But I digress: we should not turn this into a game of whose life is more miserable, or a war of parents vs. non-parents. The only thing that I'm arguing here is that it is unfair to childless individuals when parents stop fulfilling their job requirements due to their children. Until faculty are demoted to less demanding positions when they have children, then we're all doing the same job and should all have the same requirements on our work schedules, regardless of what time the kids get out of school or Buffy starts.

Brayden King makes a very similar point in a portion of his post:
"If all work takes away time that might be spent with children and partners/spouses, and we agree that people who choose to have children should dedicate quality time to improving those relations and taking care of basic needs, then all workplaces need to do a better job of making room for the family. This is one of the basic themes found in the research of Arlie Hochschild. But once you start looking for solutions that would ease the time constraints of parents, you run the risk of invoking hostility among the single people in your place of occupation."
I agree wholeheartedly that we should give parents more time to raise their children, but I'd add one thing to Mr. King's statement. If solutions are found to ease the time constraints of parents, then those same solutions, or equivalent ones, should be made available to ease the time constraints of non-parents.

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