17th 2009
What to do about colleagues who shirk work for family responsibilities?

Posted under: Gender, jobs, unhappy endings

It’s that time of year again, folks–at least for those of us on semesters with absurdly long semesters.  (15 weeks!  FIFTEEN WEEKS–say it like Cruella DeVille’s “FIF-TEEN PUPPIES!”, plus a week of exams!  How did I ever get into grad school or get a job with a B.A. earned in slight 12-week increments?)  Mid-August is a funny time of year, because classes haven’t yet started, but most of us have been fielding requests to meet with advisees, and most of us have a faculty retreat, or a first-of-the-new-academic year departmental meeting, and maybe a meet-and-greet the new grad students get-together.  These meetings are a part of the obligation of faculty life–and attendance at these events seems to me a small thing to expect, especially considering the favor of the previously unscheduled 12 or 13 weeks of the summer that many of us enjoy.  But–and you all know who they are, because there’s at least one in every department–there are some of our colleagues who treat these August meetings and obligations as though they’re merely optional.

cryingbabiesThus, the question from the mailbag at Historiann HQ:

Dear Historiann,

My question for you and your readers is a faculty-with-children thing.  I am in a tiny department, which is even smaller now because one colleague is on leave in the fall.  This week is opening week, and we’re all supposed to be on campus.

A female colleague with children lives 75 minutes out of town, so she normally only comes in three days a week. This week, there is a day that we really must have someone available for advising duty, according to our Dean.  I would normally do the job, but am in meetings for most of the day — meetings that in part have to do with me already taking on a duty no one else in the department could bother doing.  I’ve informed my colleagues of this, and another (male) colleague with children has not responded, and the female said she couldn’t do it and couldn’t our other colleague? 

My male colleague’s toddler is in daycare. My female colleague’s kids are school age. My female colleague responded to my reminder that we were all supposed to be on campus with a note saying that child-care and financial issues prevented her from coming in to campus.  But we are paid to do a job!  Moreover, this colleague has regularly canceled classes on days her kids are out of school to take them places, or to do other kid- or family activities.  She has never been able to find a sitter for these weeks where we are not teaching, but are supposed to  be in meetings, revising curricula, etc.

So that’s it — what do you do with colleagues whose family obligations prevent them from performing some of their duties?  And is it an issue, or more of an issue, when the colleague is a woman, because it can add to the perception that women are not as serious about their work?  (This particular colleague gets way more writing done than many of us, because once the kids are in school, she can either go to local archives or even just write at home without interruption till they come home.)

Frankly, as a person with only one income and no kids, I resent being expected to pick up the slack.


Fed Up

Oh, Fed Up, how I feel your pain!  It’s really irritating to work with colleagues who think that the rules don’t actually apply to them.  Fortunately, I haven’t seen this in such dramatic fashion in my work environments–in fact, I have some sympathy for your colleague who lives out of town.  Dr. Mister Historiann has never managed to find a job in the towns where my universities have been located, and we always live closest to his work because it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be called on to administer a livesaving lecture in early American history in the middle of the night.  We all know that emergencies happen, and in households with children, they will happen more frequently than in households that include only other adults and/or pets, but missing the occasional meeting or class because someone barfed at school and had to be sent home for the rest of the afternoon is different from refusing to find child care in the first place.  (What is it with parents and their modern refusal to find babysitters these days?  I hear this complaint a lot, both from people who are child-free and who even have children themselves.  What gives?  Are there no more teenaged or college-aged babysitters to be found these days?  Are even progressive parents so captive to “Dr. Laura”-style advice that says that leaving their children with someone else for an hour or two will irreparably damage them?)

Where we live, and whether we choose to reproduce, is a choice, not an unavoidable obligation or accident, and we all have to arrange our personal lives around our work responsibilities.  That, it seems to me, is a minimum qualification for retaining one’s job.  So it’s not that your colleagues’ families “prevent them from performing some of their duties;” your colleagues are choosing not to perform some of their duties.  It’s reasonable, in my opinion, to want to restrict on-campus days to one’s teaching days, especially if your department is one that expects a certain level of research productivity, but having a 2- or 3-day a week schedule is a privilege, not an entitlement.  We all should understand that if department meetings, job talks, special guest lectures, and the like are scheduled on a non-teaching day, we need to make the schlep.  (And, by the way:  it’s really uncool for people who are on Tuesday-Thursday schedules to complain about having to come to campus a burdensome THIRD DAY of the whole week!  Besides:  by the time you’re an Associate Prof., you’re on campus 3 days a week, no matter what your teaching schedule is.) 

It is unacceptable and unfair to use one’s family life–or any other chronic excuse–to duck out of work, regardless of the sex of the ducker.  (I hear you when you say you fear that your female colleague is reinforcing all sorts of stereotypes about mothers in academia–but the problem really is gender-neutral, and should be addressed in that fashion.)  Somehow, your colleagues manage to find child care when they need to teach their classes or to get some research and writing done–and if they can find child care to do the parts of their jobs they find pleasurable and interesting, then they can find day care, babysitters, or neighbors to help out when they need to attend meetings and meet with advisees.  School-aged children can come to campus with them, if necessary–I have colleagues whose school-aged children do homework or play happily and quietly in their offices while they’re in meetings or teaching classes on occasion.  (I really don’t how or why your female colleague pleads “financial” difficulty in making the trek to her workplace.  Isn’t going to work a solution to financial need?)  Perhaps your department Chair could offer them the option of being adjunct faculty, whose only obligation is teaching.  There are a lot of adjuncts in your area, I am sure, who would love to join the tenure -track with its attendant responsibilities to self-government and administration.

But, none of the above sermonizing addresses your question about what to do about colleagues who abuse their flexible schedules, and who appear to lean on you and others who made the unfortunate choice to live closer to campus and/or not to have children.  This is something that is best addressed by your department Chair and/or the Dean, depending on the administrative structure of your college or university.  A gentle but pointed and firm reminder about the obligations regular faculty have beyond their teaching and research is something only a department Chair or other administrator can issue and enforcewith poor service evaluations and deductions in merit pay.  After all–it’s not personal, it’s not anti-natalist, it’s just business.  And as you point out, it’s only fair to everyone else.  I would be really interested to hear if my dear readers have any particular advice or suggestions for Fed Up, and I’m hoping someone will chime in with the recipe for Magic Good Colleague Fairy Dust.

If you have a Chair who refuses to enforce these obligations, you have my sympathy.  In that case, you can reinforce your own boundaries and refuse to “pitch in” beyond what’s reasonable and fair.  (In a small department like Fed Up’s, there are presumably a very limited number of people the  Chair can call on!)  And it’s certainly unreasonable and unfair for department Chairs to lean on the compliant and uncomplaining out of deference to the complainers and the shirkers!

One final word:  the thing about children is that they grow up.  They don’t need child-care forever, and then eventually they leave home.  And if your department Chair doesn’t take a firm stand now, my guess is that a lot of the people who use their children as an excuse to duck out on professional responsibilities will find other reasons once the baby chicks have flown the nest.  I work with a lot of people who have children, including very young as well as school-aged children, and my homies get sh!t done.  They show up to meetings and do their jobs–occasionally with their children, but more often they’ve made other arrangements–because they are adults who understand their professional responsibilities.


78 Responses to “What to do about colleagues who shirk work for family responsibilities?”

  1. Tom on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:02 am #

    Obviously, if it is illegal to ask whether a candidate has spouse and or children in the hiring process, one’s acceptance of the responsibilities of the job (if and when offered) ought to be equally blind to one’s marriage and reproductive status. At least, if one wishes to use children as an excuse to avoid parts of the job, one should be equally willing to have hiring committees inquire about how one’s children will impact one’s ability or willingness to do the job.

    I have (almost) always been fortunate that my bosses have assigned me a two- or three-day a week teaching schedule. That’s a nice favor that many chairs do hand out to their teachers. But it’s only a favor, and when work needs to be done off that “teaching days” schedule, I can’t see why faculty members should feel like they can complain about it. Showing up for other work is part of the job.

    Chairs need to be clear about expectations that work involves things other than teaching one’s classes. But as we all know, faculty are (implicitly and explicitly) often told that “service” work doesn’t really count. No wonder many faculty members don’t take it seriously.

  2. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Tom–great points, both on the privacy of our personal lives, and on the value of service. None of us are probably compensated adequately for service–but most of us recognize that it’s part of the job. As you say though, if “the better angels of our nature” don’t lead us to do the right thing, it’s up to Chairs to hold the line.

    Service counts for at least a portion of most regular faculty’s annual evaluations/salary exercises. I have to think that most people with some self-respect would be shamed to see “does not meet expectations” on their annual eval in any category, even if it’s the one for which we receive the least credit.

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:14 am #

    Oh, Historiann — you are gonna catch sh!t for this post, for sure.

    I have a colleague whose family/commuting situation sounds *just* like your correspondent’s. She’s got her son in daycare near campus for her two teaching days, plus half a day Fridays (the day that meetings are usually scheduled). Due to furloughs and financial consequences thereof, she’s had to give up the Fridays. So… she’s baby-proofed her office, bought a baby gate to wall off a convenient corner, and is working around it. I suppose she’ll bring her (well-behaved) toddler to meetings. And I suppose we’ll all be a bit distracted by the cuteness.

    But one example of a woman’ who’s been able to make it work for her, in spite of obstacles, doesn’t mean that everyone can. And I think that those of us who have chosen not to have children, for whatever reason, underestimate how strong of a pull (or push, in some unfortunate cases) there is for other women. So there’s that.

    But here’s the thing: single and/or childless people (I’m among them) in departments do end up picking up the slack for colleagues with family obligations, and it can be irritating. But we also pick up the slack for entitled recently-divorced dudes who skip out on obligations to go do whatever they do. And for colleagues who are just plain incompetent. In comparison, the mommies and daddies are nothing to sweat.

    And maybe I missed it, but is your correspondent having to do extra work because of mom’s absence?

    Perhaps a chair with a sweet exterior and a core of steel? “Oh, yes. That is a problem. I remember when my little ones were young, having to juggle so much so I could meet my work obligations. So, X & Y are covering for you on these days. What can I tell them you’ll pick up for them?”

  4. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:21 am #

    Notorious–yes, well, I’ll take the sh!t, since I’m just standing for the reasonable proposition that we DO OUR JOBS! Like I said, if people don’t want to attend meetings or be available other than on teaching days, they’re welcome to take an adjuct position.

    It sounds like your colleague is going to heroic lengths to get stuff done, but: does she not have a partner? Why is it her job to figure out the child care? Why can’t the partner take Fridays off during the furlough? (I’m assuming that she’s commuting because of a partner’s job or location–why can’t the partner step up?) Some of this goes back to other posts I’ve made on dual-career couples, in which I’ve argued that women need to stop making their male partners’/husbands’ lives so easy.

  5. perpetua on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:25 am #

    Before I begin, I should say that I have both a t-t job and a small child AND a partner who lives/works in a different state, about 6 hours away. I have much to say on this subject.

    First, I’d like to say that I agree that faculty should not shirk their responsibilities and fob them off on other colleagues. We have a 5 day a week job, which includes teaching, research and of course service obligations to both department and university. I have always approached my own job like any normal job – I tend to keep modified banker’s hours, and sit in my on-campus office from 8-4 or 5, though I admit I don’t work until 5 now that I have a toddler at home.

    Second, in my experience, the greatest shirkers are not those with children, male or female, assistant or full. The greatest shirkers I’ve seen have been full professors (often though not exclusively men) who think they don’t have to bother with anything they aren’t interested in directly. Following closely behind this category are those who do not live in the same place as their university. These folks are far more likely to skip out on meetings, advising, committees, etc, because they are only physically present a few days a week. It seems to me this is actually the situation with the colleague the OP wrote about – not that she has children, but that she lives far away. These separate issues and should be understood separately.

    Now of course there are many “legitimate” reasons why one might not live in one’s university town. The main ones I can think of are: 1) no job possibilities for partner in the area; and (2) uni town is not a place where the faculty member can live (either because of the expense, or for personal reasons – many queer faculty and faculty of color for example find many small college towns to be various degrees of suffocating and hostile). Some people choose to live far away because they prefer a larger city environment, which I find more borderline (because living far away almost always entails increased burden on locals). As to the first reason, part of this issue is something nobody can control, since many unis are in small places without a diverse enough economy, and part of the issue is the fault of the university and the departments therein because of their (IMO) short sighted hostility to spousal accommodations, which virtually forces many faculty to live far away from where they teach or to commute back and forth over large distances, to the detriment of everybody. (I’ve tried many times to explain to skeptical faculty that having a colleague with a partner far away is bad for EVERYONE, not just a personal problem – it negatively affects depts, colleagues, and students.)

    Third, I disagree with Historiann about the gendering of the issue. While I agree that the matter SHOULD be approached in a gender-neutral way, parenting does not happen in a gender-neutral atmosphere. Even in our day and age, more women perform more of the child-rearing tasks, and are more likely the ones to sacrifice, or be expected to sacrifice, their careers for the children, should sacrifice be in order. Whether or not the mother is more likely to sacrifice her job, the world at large (and as we’ve seen on this site, esp in academia) are willing to see her as “not serious” simply for having children at all! So I think when complaining about women with children, we should all check ourselves and our assumptions, because sometimes it can be coming from an anti-woman place, consciously or no.

    Fourth, I would like to say that sometimes it IS difficult to get a babysitter. I would basically leave my child with a circus clown with a slight drinking problem for an occasional afternoon of work. in college towns, young undergrads abound – but they have busy complicated schedules and can only come SOMETIMES and have little flexibility. They also go away during breaks and the summer. High school students can only work in the late afternoon or weekend evenings (and how to even meet a high school student is something I’ve yet to know). Schools of course end promptly at 3 and good PM care is not as easy to find as it sounds. University day cares have waiting lists so long that I’ve been on two SINCE I GOT PREGNANT and have yet to get a spot. And all daycare of course is so expensive that you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t have kids yourself. ($1200 a month for one toddler at many university day cares.)

    Fifth, it is important to add that I’ve noticed that academia (perhaps like many jobs) is likely to bleed over into all areas of a person’s life. The expectations for what we are supposed to accomplish in one 40-50 work week are pretty ridiculous; almost everyone I know works at least part of weekends and of course all summer. Universities expect faculty to teach in the evenings (which I find pretty outrageous) and feel free to schedule all manner of meetings and important talks in the late afternoon and evening. My dept scheduled a vital meeting to vote for a job candidate at 7 PM. I did not attend. I’m happy to fulfill any area of my job during the DAY, but feel like it is completely legitimate to wish to spend three hours a day with my child, or have some personal time generally.

    We need to be careful to untangle anger at people who are shirkers from the real and persistent demands on the parents particularly of small children, because we live in a society where its economic/social structure militates against parenting, no matter how “family friendly” some people think the US is (we only need to look at family leave policies to find this laughable).

    I like to think I don’t shirk. I guess you’d have to ask my colleagues what THEY think. But I defend my right to have a limited and boundaried work life and a rich and fulfilling home life. Childless people have the same rights, of course, but structurally it is more challenging with children (or an elderly parent to take care of, or an ill partner, etc).

    I would also like to add that as Historiann said, children DO grow and need less and less care as they grow older. While she uses this as a warning, I take it as a hopeful sign. I knew when I chose to have a child that my productivity must take a hit overall, but that this was merely a *temporary* slowdown in what will be a 30 year career. We all have glitches in our lives that slow us down – an illness, a personal trouble like a loss or divorce or depression, parental illness or death, etc. Having a child requires similar adjustments and modifications. Shirking no, but some understanding, yes.

  6. Jay on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:31 am #

    On the inability to find childcare: this is something I’ve heard from several sources. I know someone who’s had to bring their (very well-behaved) toddler to class, because he couldn’t find a babysitter. It’s quite a thing to watch someone lecture while holding a sleeping child.

    This is definitely a real phenomenon. Teenagers don’t babysit the way they used to, and they never did babysit during the day anyway, and daycare costs are ridiculous- $500 a month for toddlers and infants. For an assistant prof, that can eat up more of hir income than taxes.

    None of which excuses Fed Up’s colleague’s behavior. Ze may need to find another employee or career, if there’s no childcare available.

  7. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:33 am #

    Actually, H, and just for the record: my colleague’s commute is not because of her husband’s work, but because of their rent-controlled apartment. And knowing where I live, you know that this is not something one gives up lightly. But I take your point.

  8. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Jay and Perpetua–I’m all for some understanding, and a recognition that all of us (children or no) will have times in our lives & careers when for whatever reason, we won’t be as productive or as available as we ordinarily are. Some of us will suffer from grave accidents or illnesses, others will have responsibilities to elderly relatives that take lots of our time, besides the demands of young children. I’m not talking here about reasonable flexibility and understanding–I’m talking about people who are *planning* not to do their jobs. (I think you both see this–I’m just reiterating.)

    As to the availability of babysitters or day care, and the cost: from what I’ve observed, it can be had for a price, and all too often people are unwilling to pay a living wage for child care. I realize that price is steep for people trying to live on one income, but isn’t that something that people should scope out and consider before they have children? That said, I agree that our nation is totally backwards in expecting parents to solve all of these problems, and that we should have more guaranteed parental leave time and subsidized day care–but that’s not the world we live in right now.

  9. perpetua on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:41 am #

    PS I just need to add this, because the more I mull over the issues here the more strongly I’m feeling.

    I’d like to say something else – the tone in some of the posts here veers very close to “people, and esp women with children deserve no accommodations or help, they should do their jobs exactly like childless people/ men with SAHW, no aid should be advanced to them, and if they struggle, they shouldn’t have chosen to have children in the first place.” (And for an interesting and important take on this question, wander over to bitch phd and see her post on “why having a child is not a choice”.) This to me is a reinforcement of misogynist stereotypes about women and work that keeps women in the workplace as second class citizens. (Ie, the idea that if you do not conform absolutely to male capitalist models of labor, then you are lazy or unworthy, and therefore can be paid less and treated shabbily.) If you feel strongly about parenting and work, then support and advocate for extended paid parental leaves and increased accessibility to good, affordable day care.

  10. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:47 am #

    Perpetua, I disagree: having children is a choice, just as not having children is a choice. Even the vast, vast majority of American Catholics see children as a choice, since they admit to using birth control!

    I have never said that “women with children deserve no accomodations, or help.” I didn’t address my reply to the sex of the offender, but rather to the offense against collegiality I see in her behavior as Fed Up describes it. I think that professionals of both sexes need to figure out how to do what they want to do professionally and personally. In my opinion, it is regrettable that our nation does so little for families–but it’s also not fair chronically to ask our co-workers to do work that we don’t ask of other colleagues.

  11. life_of_a_fool on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Universities should have better support for parents (faculty, staff, and students), like on campus (free or inexpensive, and quality) day care. That wouldn’t help with everything — like sick kids — but would help day to day.

    I also agree with perpetua (and, really, I think historiann too, as you noted your good parental colleagues) that the important thing here is some people don’t want to fulfill the obligations of their job. Some of those can use their children as a legitimate-sounding excuse, but if they didn’t have kids, they’d find some other excuse. Of course parents have serious obligations, but most of them, in my experience, manage to fulfill their obligations with minimal annoyance to their co-workers. An occasional cancelled class, missed meeting, or teaching time slot they can’t cover doesn’t lead to the frustration in Fed Up’s email. And a chair’s response of “so and so covered this for you, so you can do this instead” seems reasonable, and I imagine most reasonable people would agree enthusiastically (emphasis on the “reasonable”). Chairs should be flexible, within reason and to the extend possible, but they also should enforce expectations where necessary.

  12. AndrewMc on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:49 am #

    The child-issue is part of a larger problem with colleagues who seem to view being in their offices or on-campus as an irritating problem. We have two colleagues who are never on campus unless they are teaching, or have a compelling meeting.

    The response? The new department head turns down their requests for any perks. An office opens up that sie wants? Sorry, that’s for people who are on campus. Extra travel money in the pot this year? Sorry, that goes first to people who are around the department full-time.

    I don’t know if it will help, but it certainly soothes those of us who are in our offices every day.

  13. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:52 am #

    life_of_a_fool: thanks. I think you said it better than I. This post is ultimately not about colleagues who are parents so much as colleagues who are shirkers. As you say, “the important thing here is some people don’t want to fulfill the obligations of their job. Some of those can use their children as a legitimate-sounding excuse, but if they didn’t have kids, they’d find some other excuse.”

    That’s my suspicion about Fed Up’s colleagues. Of course, I might be completely wrong! But to me the most important thing here is the behavior, not the parental (or non-parental) status of the colleague.

  14. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 9:56 am #

    AndrewMc–if you’re at a campus that expects that much face time, then it’s fair to reward those who provide it. In the end, your colleagues will decide which is more important.

    My campus isn’t big on face time, which is good, because our students aren’t, either! I’m considering giving up on office hours altogether, since students who need to talk to me will e-mail first anyway.

  15. James Stripes on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:03 am #

    When I was a single father with a child in early elementary school, I paid hundreds of dollars per month for a daycare that covered after school care and transportation. When my students demanded evening study sessions to prepare for exams, I sometimes took him with me. I did have occasional babysitters, such as the department secretary’s teenage daughter, and a few former students. Once during an evening review session, my six year old son grew weary of coloring and Lego, and stood at the white board writing. Giggles from the back of the room alerted me to the word he had just written on the board behind me: sex.

    My current employer has a clear policy that children are not welcome in classrooms. If my son was still young, ducking work might be necessary from time to time.

  16. Anastasia on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:04 am #

    I think this would be a lot more compelling if you focused on your own frustrations rather than making unwarranted inferences about parental motivations and ranting about what parents should be doing differently. As soon as you start advising parents, it becomes abundantly clear that you have no idea the difficulties parents face. Take, for instance, the idea that parents are out their refusing to find babysitters. I know I thought it would be easy before I had kids. It isn’t.

    I can’t see dictating a woman’s reproductive choices based on the fact that the structure of our work place still presumes either childlessness or the presence of a wife at home to keep house and raise the kids.

    I hear the frustration here and I think it’s valid, given your description. At the same time, the solutions proposed are unworkable and show a basic lack of understanding of the issues. On top of that, they are presented in a way that blames parents–apparently mothers in particular–for the fact that finding affordable quality childcare is extremely difficult. Why not join with parents to advocate for extended paid parental leave and access to affordable childcare, as perpetua suggests? At the very least…

  17. widgeon on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Despite having two young (school-age) children and a seventy-minute commute I view my job as a “job” (although with great perks and deeply satisfying). Several of my senior colleagues, however, see themselves as “intellectuals” and feel put upon when asked to perform service work. As a result I often pick up their slack. I would suggest “Fed Up” simply make clear what he/she is willing to do and let the chair or someone else with power figure out how to delegate more effectively. This tactic can lead to better mental health and is one I’ve tried to use recently.
    I have found one by-product of living far away and having kids is that colleagues assume I won’t be willing to drive out for social events and thus have never invited me to dinner or anything else. Ironically, those of us with commutes also stay in our offices longer–when I drive in it is for a full day, not a few hours.

  18. AndrewMc on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:18 am #

    @historiann: Yes, my school focuses more on teaching and student face time than on research–although T&P guidelines for my department are still “book and two articles” and we’re expected to conduct research. An odd dichotomy.

    I’ve had to bring my kids to work from time to time. The best was when I asked the class a question and my then-5-year-old raised his hand. I called on him and he said “I love you daddy.” Great student evals that semester. lol.

    When I was a grad student Paul Conkin told me “Never forget that this is your job. Treat it as such and you’ll do wel.”

  19. Feminist Avatar on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:22 am #

    The problem is tho’ that if women don’t have children we will quickly run out of students to teach- making at least part of our jobs redundant! So, in that sense, children are not a choice for society, even if they are for individual women. Plus, we need children to pay taxes when we retire, so we can continue to have a decent standard of living. So in this sense, children are not a choice. But, because children are increasingly seen as choice, society becomes increasingly child unfriendly and support for parents is increasingly withdrawn. In the UK, at least, it is no longer considered viable to have one earner families and in fact both parents are both effectively forced to work by economic policies which reduce child benefits and tax credits [as we style them] unless both parents are in work, and for that matter working more than 16 hours a week. So, it becomes problematic to suggest that working parents are a ‘choice’; and in the UK, with 50% of the working population being female, we can’t afford for mothers (let alone parents) to drop out of the workforce- even in a recession!

    None of which is to say that people should shirk their responsibilities- whatever their excuse. But as a short term measure, I think (if your are not the dept chair!) those of us who pick up slack in the dept need to be a bit more selfish. If you are doing you fair share, then let meetings be missed and talks go unattended. If I were Fed Up, I would email my colleagues saying I will not be at X, work it out between yourselves who will attend. And let the sh!t hit the fan.

  20. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:23 am #

    By the way, H: the picture that goes with this post is seriously freaking me out. Brrrrr…

  21. jc on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:31 am #

    “This week, there is a day that we really must have someone available for advising duty, according to our Dean.”

    Why isn’t the Dean working with the faculty to pick times that the students will fall in line for, rather than picking a time that the faculty has to fall in line for? It seems to me the inflexibility starts with the Dean.

  22. squadratomagico on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:32 am #

    I must say that I have not felt in the least put upon by colleagues with children — though in part, that may be because I work in a large department: the smaller the group, the higher the impact of collegial absences or restrictions.

    What irritates me is institutional “family-friendly policies” that only take account of parenthood and studiously ignore every other form of personal or family obligation. For instance, my husband is a cancer survivor. While his illness occurred in graduate school, had I been a faculty member at the time, it would have been very difficult to keep everything going at work, yet I would have been ineligible for any of OPU’s “family” programs because “family” in our culture equates solely to children. At OPU, if one is the primary caretaker for a child, one even can take advantage of a half-time work plan: teach half the classes, have half the research expectations, get half the salary. But if you are the primary caretaker of a parent with dementia? Or a seriously ill adult partner? Nada, zip, silch.

    Family friendly policies are almost always NOT family friendly, but kid friendly. I am a family too, though childless!

  23. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:34 am #

    Anasasia: who is this “you” you are addressing? I have no frustrations–as I say in my post, I work with some great colleagues. You show up to make uninformed and defensive accusations whenever we’re talking about parenthood and academia without adding much productive to the discussion. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am consistently an advocate for women in academia, whether they are mothers or not.

    This is a warning–please read the comments policy here. If you can’t refrain from insulting insinuations, then you’ll be banned.

  24. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:44 am #

    James and AndrewMc–in my experience, people bringing an occasional child to class with them (on school holidays, or in case of a mild illness) hasn’t been a big deal at my uni. In my classes, sometimes my students have to bring along their kids! I think it’s unfortunate that a university would “ban” children from the classroom–especially when they do little if anything to provide on-campus day care, as other commenters have suggested. (That’s also been my observation, too–campus day cares, where they exist, have long, long waiting lists.)

    Feminist Avatar’s comment makes a lot of sense: I’m all for subsidized creches/day care/after school care, and I think it would be a great service to the community at large if universities offered these services. (After all, most larger unis have ed schools and early childhood ed programs, right?) And I like the solution of child-free people putting up clear boundaries, too, although it’s unfortunate that not all Chairs will enforce work policies fairly.

    Squadrato, I agree with your analysis entirely. I once worked at a private uni with a woman who had nieces and nephews, but no children of her own. She felt very acutely the injustice that faculty members with children could send their kids to our uni tuition-free, but that she couldn’t bestow the same favor on her nephew. I think she had a point–why not let child-free people offer a tuition break to one young relative?

  25. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 10:47 am #

    Oh, and widgeon: sometimes a commute ain’t all bad, right? You may enjoy, as I do, those minutes to yourself without having to respond to anyone/anything and just zone out to the news or some tunes! And, good point about the commute making for longer days for you, too.

  26. PhilosopherP on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:09 am #

    My best advice is to decide on your business hours and stick to them.

    If your teaching schedule includes evening classes, you should be available no more than 8 hours that day… for me that would mean coming in at 1 pm — and refusing meetings before that time.

    Your business hours should include teaching, grading, office hours etc.. and be about 40 hours per week. If a request comes up outside of your business hours, either decline or adjust your hours that week to compensate. If you decline DO NOT EXPLAIN. Rather, you should just say you cannot make it then.

    Also, I’ve found it useful to reply quickly to the group ‘when can we meet’ e-mails… throw out three good times and you’ll be setting the meeting time.

    Folks with or without children should be treated the same — we all have an occasional emergency, but it sounds as if the complaint isn’t with occasional drama but rather with not fulfilling planned obligations.

  27. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:14 am #

    PhilosopherP: good advice. I think perhaps I erred in calling this post “What to do about colleagues who shirk work for family responsibilities,” when I should have called it “What to do with colleagues who shirk,” for whatever reason. The shirking is the problem–not the family responsibilities.

    As some commenters have suggested, faculty with young children aren’t the shirkers in their departments, it’s the senior coasters who are the problem!

  28. Janice on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:30 am #

    FedUp has my sympathies. From what I read, above, it sounds as if the female colleague is using her school-aged children to duck out of responsibilities and has been doing this regularly.

    Think about it from her perspective: why not? She’s obviously not been called on the carpet for it before, in any real way. I suspect the contrary, that she’s been rewarded due to her ability to preserve the time to research and write. When FedUp’s U rewards her for that with recognition, praise and promotion, what value is there for this academic to put out the effort to come into campus and advise students? A few nice words at a department meeting and, only maybe, a letter of thanks from the chair or dean in her file.

    What are the consequences, for her, of not going to the orientation? Annoying a department colleague or two maybe? But that annoyance won’t really hurt her much as she goes up for merit pay or promotion if she’s racked up another impressive run of publications.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending that anyone shirk such responsibilities. But I know that my focus on teaching and service has taken time away from research and publication. And that’s slowing me down on the timeline for promotion to full. No one’s going to promote me to full based on my service and teaching, here. So I’m hurting myself, professionally, by taking on these responsibilities that others refuse.

    Another thing — I see a lot of calls here for the chair to “do something”. Exactly what? I hate to say it, but in small departments, likely then at a small college or U, the chair has very little power to discipline colleagues. (My father ran his engineering department for years at a major U with the ability to determine raises. THAT was incentive for his faculty to toe the line. Here? My chair can only do course assignments and even those can’t effectively be done unilaterally.)

    A possible solution, going forward for FedUp’s department, might be to assess all of the regular responsibilities for the year in terms of service/face-time requirements and divide that up. So someone, besides the chair!, has to be on tap for freshman advising. Someone, besides the chair!, has to be the department’s library representative. Someone else has to be the back-up for faculty council. Someone has to be on tap for advising majors in the winter term and so on. Once you have a sense of all the various responsibilities that are out there, the department can “divvy up” these responsibilities. Then, when freshman advising time comes around, if FedUp is unavailable, that’s only an issue if FedUp has been set as the freshman advisor.

    This might also mean that FedUp’s LD colleague takes her service duties a bit more seriously since she’ll have concrete tasks to be responsible for within the department. (And so, if she can’t find a caregiver for her kids, she’ll either bring them along to have fun in her office while she advises or she can see about chivvying one of her other colleagues to be responsible for this.)

    Obviously, this system will only work if there’s clear communication all around. So when a responsibility pops up for the department’s high school liasion, say, the chair’s in on the loop to know that, for next’s week visit to High School “A”, it’ll be Colleague X rather than Y, who’s normally in charge of these endeavours.

    Good luck, FedUp and thanks, Historiann, for hosting this discussion. At some point, I’m going to have to blog, myself, about the challenges of being an academic and a parent of a special-needs child with very limited child-care options. When I can figure out how to do that without really blowing my child’s privacy, I’ll do it. Let’s just say that my life, juggling parenting and my job, even with an awesome spouse, is a lot more interesting than I would like it to be.

  29. Zippa on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:47 am #

    For the sake of little (no longer) undergrads like I am (was), I hope you will continue to keep some degree of office hours. Most of my best experiences with faculty members came from my passing by their offices on my way to drop something else off, or just passing through. I am aware that I was a rarity, but I loved being able to just stop in at a time when I knew it wasn’t inconvenient. If I needed something substantial I would contact first, but those impromptu conversations on topics I wished we’d had more lecture time to address were the best parts.

    I was also at a large public univ with drastically underfunded history/political science departments (the ones to which I belonged), and I always appreciated that I had faculty members who enjoyed their fields even if the jobs themselves were iffy.

    Nothing much to add to the relevant topic at hand, just had to throw my $.02 at the comment up above.

  30. Lance on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Since we’re obliged (with some good cause) to narrate our personal histories, let me preface this saying that I have two kids – 3 and 5 – one in Montessori and the other in Kindergarten. Both kids arrived after promotion. My partner, who put me through grad school and paid for our house, is a stay-at-home caregiver by choice. She was tired of working, she said, and ready to have children. Or was until this week, when, for the first time ever, we had both kids out of the house by 8:30. What she does next is, well, up to her.

    Despite this “optimal” arrangement (i.e., best for the academic, with maximum support and flexibility, but a full time, inchoate job for the caregiver), we have tried very hard to share responsibilities, drops offs, sick days, etc. When the daycare was inexplicably closed one day, and my wife had other plans, I cancelled my meetings, and wrote as best as I could from home. I handle drop offs and pick ups. And I leave meetings – even meetings with Chairs and Deans and Provosts – if I need to skip out for a pick up.

    Doctors visits are almost impossible for me, though. And sometimes, when my partner heads back to NYC to work for a week, I am all alone and it is terrifying.

    I am – by binding domestic agreement – not allowed to use the children or childcare as an excuse for anything. Ever. If I am late on a deadline, it isn’t because I have pick up someone, or stay home with a sick child, and bring a daughter to the office, but because of other choices I’ve made elsewhere. (Example: going to see Ponyo at a matinee w/kids *and* District 9 at night w/out; though that was a great choice).

    For these meager efforts – basically, the bare minimum we can expect from an attentive partner in a loving relationship – I am often singled out as a certain kind of male ideal. Of course, if I were a woman, this would certainly not be true. My gender, my scholarly profile (itself a product of my partner’s work, in so many ways), and my rank reverse the standard representation, however. We expect so little from academic fathers, and so much from academic mothers.

    I should also say that it helps immensely to be at an RI school, where the criteria for T & P and then P are simple: write books, and then more books. Easier, I say, because it helps to slow the bleed of service into our lives. Writing a book is a much more flexible thing than a 3pm meeting with the undergraduate curriculum committee. I can say no to anything, and (honestly) point to an article deadline. And no one looks at me strangely when I limit my commitment to teaching, and tell them that I have by two hours set aside for meetings with students and there is no chance for a “by appt.” set-up.

    None of this – nothing – would be possible without my partner. When she travels, the writing stops, the teaching is half-assed, and the service is bare minimum. At night, all I can do is sleep. I don’t know how anyone can do this alone.

  31. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Janice–thanks for your very sensible and informed comments. My department chair does annual faculty evaluations, and passes judgment on us in each area of our work: teaching, research, and service. It ain’t much, but at least there’s some accountability there, and in our department, that’s how our merit raises are figured. You’re right that service is way underrated and undervalued, and that our incentives are to shirk as much service as possible.

    I was thinking about your situation–as the parent of a special-needs child–and was thinking that having a chronically ill or special-needs child would be the one major exception to my rule that everyone in an academic department needs to pull hir weight. The ability to find appropriate child care or babysitting is largely contingent on having a physically and neurotypically “normal” child. In cases where a colleague has a disabled child (or other family member, per Squadrato’s comments about the definition of “family”), I have to say that I’d be inclined to be very lenient and very flexible about identifying where someone could contribute to the department in other ways.

    (For example: in a department where I was formerly employed, a woman on maternity leave was given some assessment data collection and data-entry tasks that she could do from home when it was convenient for her. Solutions like that might work to accomodate people whose attendance at meetings or other fixed obligations outside of teaching will be undependable.)

  32. Konibono on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    Interesting discussion. As both a father of a pre-school-age child and a recent administrator of a study abroad program, I’ve seen this issue from both sides. Luckily, in the case where I was admin, we worked things out among this small group of professors by accommodating the needs of the two professors with school-age kids. We didn’t bother with questions of their right or choice to have kids, we just dealt with it.

    As a full-time prof. again, I’m very lucky to share responsibility for my child with my spouse. That’s an important bit of luck, as children (including my own) often must now stay away from school at the slightest hint of a fever and then remain home for 24 fever-free hours without any medication. Oh, and the legal holidays even her daycare is closed when I have to teach and my spouse must work? We are very lucky–we had our child pre-registered for another option when one of the main local daycare places closed down. Other colleagues weren’t so lucky. And the new faculty members at our tiny college in our tiny town? Sometimes only internet/texting slang works: SOL.

    Everyone’s got things they “slack” for: it might be a sick parent, it might be a child, it might be a leaky basement, and it might be a tennis game. I’m not for abusing the leeway colleagues might give when one has kids, but I am for a little understanding (and maybe occasional offers of assistance).

  33. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    Lance–thanks for your great comment, and for your appreciation for your partner, but especially for this: We expect so little from academic fathers, and so much from academic mothers.

    Also, I don’t think everyone needs to put their kids–er–cards on the table. I deliberately don’t say whether or not I’m a parent–some of you may think I am, whereas others (like Anastasia) assume that I have no idea whatsoever what I’m talkng about. (Some of you know the awful, scandalous truth!)

    I have friends in academia who are mothers, and friends in academia who are neither mothers nor fathers. I have sympathized with all of their plights, and I’ve rejoiced when they get a few breaks along the way. I think all departments have to proceed fairly and balance people’s needs and interests as much as they can so long as they’re fulfilling the expectations of their contracts and their departments.

  34. Feminist Avatar on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    In my last dept, all service issues were divided amongst staff at the start of the year (before students came back)- sometimes these came with particular roles, aka graduate coordinator did the grad student meet-greets, sometimes they were more random events. But, the whole dept sat down and fought it out. And in a research heavy institute, the carrot (or the stick) was research leave- 6 months every 3 years- but the head of dept had to agree (and timetable it), so if you didn’t pull your weight, leave got postponed. Occasionally, staff could get away with less research if they were service (incl teaching) heavy. I think this is what people are calling for from the chair, not for them to do the work themselves. Of course, the lazy senior professor who has lost interest in research or no longer needs promotion could still get an easy ride, but no system is perfect and arranging service in a group does exert a certain amount of social pressure.

  35. Z on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    Well, what I don’t like are some attempts I’ve experienced at using kids, spouses, and partners to guilt trip others into doing the boring parts of work. Sure, some fulls just disappear, but at least they don’t try to guilt trip others before disappearing.

    Your correspondent should just do the service work she thinks is appropriate. Obviously another service obligation on that day prevents her from doing this one. Nothing to do but say no.

  36. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:18 pm #

    FA–good point. I think you’re right that if everyone sees how much work is to be done, then most people will figure out a way to pull their share of the load. (Or, they’ll at least see that they’re being accomodated in this way and don’t have as much standing to ask for favors in other respects–their choice.)

    And, welcome Konibono.

  37. Z on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    p.s. and let the dean deal with the fact that there’s nobody to advise on that day.

  38. Emma on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    At OPU, if one is the primary caretaker for a child, one even can take advantage of a half-time work plan: teach half the classes, have half the research expectations, get half the salary. But if you are the primary caretaker of a parent with dementia? Or a seriously ill adult partner? Nada, zip, silch.

    Family friendly policies are almost always NOT family friendly, but kid friendly. I am a family too, though childless!

    If you wish to address this with your workplace, and ask for a change of policy, one useful approach may be to couch it in terms of the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act: not offering the same benefits to somebody with a disabled spouse or parent(s) is likely a violation of the ADA and counter to the intent of the FMLA.

  39. Erica on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    I was thinking about this from the perspective of an industry-based job — I never, EVER would have been able to get out of standard responsibilities by claiming child-care problems. If I couldn’t arrange babysitting, I may not have been immediately tossed out the door, but I would have been on my way.

    There were a couple occasions where Spouse was out of town and I couldn’t sort out a friend to watch Daughter and they needed an engineer to stay until midnight (!) for a quality emergency. I explained the situation to my boss, and bartered with another engineer — he got a fat check of overtime pay AND I wrote up a lot of boring paperwork for him.

    Do parents need extra understanding, and sometimes slack, to deal with the numerous complex and annoying life disturbances that are associated with children? Yes. Any employer must understand that if it comes to a decision between work and abandoning a toddler alone at home, well, work’s not going to come first. But there are limits, and any employee should understand that. Colleagues — and bosses — can easily tell the difference between “co-worker whose children occasionally interfere with work, but who makes up for it” and “co-worker whose children seem to be an excuse for doing only the bare minimum.” I don’t think Fed Up would be complaining without a pattern of behavior (including canceling classes? OMGWTF!).

  40. Another Damned Medievalist on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    I’m intrigued by the idea that Fed Up, or any of the commenters, doesn’t understand the challenges of being a parent. Many of the bloggers I know are parents. I was a parent of a teenager (different challenges than little kids) in grad school, and am the child of a non-academic single mother. For me, that’s one of the things that makes me a little less sympathetic to FedUp’s colleague. My mom dealt with severe depression for years, and still mostly managed to get to her job every night, if she didn’t have any sick leave left. We were with sitters till I was 13, and then I was the sitter after school, and the baby was in daycare from 7 am to about 3, so my mom could get some sleep.

    It’s knowing what so many other women regularly go through that makes me less sympathetic to people who have the luxury of (mostly) setting their own schedules and still can’t make it work.

    Having said that, I think many of the commenters are right that this is about issues of people finding reasons not to do the part of the job AND people making lifestyle choices that make it hard to do the job they were hired to do. I have a colleague who lives just over an hour away, and zie is on campus from 10-7 most days. I have a different colleague who lives 15 miles from campus and informed us that zie can no longer do service job X because the schedule for X changed to a ‘day I don’t come to campus.’ Children/family/commuting issues aside, I think that a larger issue may be how people understand their jobs. It seems more and more common to hear about academics who don’t seem to think they need to be available.

  41. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    Prof. Z boils it all down: “Obviously another service obligation on that day prevents her from doing this one. Nothing to do but say no.” Yes–and the world will probably still spin on its axis!

    Thanks for contributing a voice from industry, Erica. And ADM–great point here: “It’s knowing what so many other women regularly go through that makes me less sympathetic to people who have the luxury of (mostly) setting their own schedules and still can’t make it work.” I’ll ask again the question I asked re: a comment from Notorious upthread: where are the parnters/fathers in all of this? Does Fed Up’s colleage not have another adult in the family who can step up before school starts for their kids again?

  42. undine on 17 Aug 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    Great post and great comments. Some commuters are on campus more than people who live in town, just as some parents are, so that’s not it. I think perpetua’s point gets at the heart of the matter: parents or not, full professors or not, commuters or not some faculty will seize on any excuse to shirk. It’s not about circumstances; it’s about “my time is more important than your time, so deal with it.”

    On a slight tangent: I’m curious about your comment up-thread and Zippa’s response saying, in effect, “say it ain’t so”: “I’m considering giving up on office hours altogether, since students who need to talk to me will e-mail first anyway.” Could you really do this?

  43. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    Undine, I won’t totally do away with office hours, but I’m tempted to because I get so little traffic. I’m around all day long, at least 3 days a week, and students who want to consult with me won’t have trouble tracking me down. Having official “office hours” ties me down and it means that I can’t pop out for a coffee or a library book when I need it. Some students need to see me, and I always make sure to schedule an appointment in the next week or so, if at all possible.

    Office hours were a convention invented long before e-mail, and probably before faculty had telephones in their offices, so I wonder what the point is. Maybe students like Zippa at other campuses really used them–ours don’t. Since students use technology first to contact us, I wonder what the point of office hours is, especially at a place like Baa Ram U., where students apparently take a blood oath not to talk to faculty outside of class.

  44. Another Damned Medievalist on 17 Aug 2009 at 1:53 pm #


    We are required to have office hours (one hour per week per each 3-credit class), but I have decided to schedule only 90 minutes at a time I’m almost always going to be in my office. Otherwise, it’s by appointment, and students who choose to drop by are aware that I may be busy and have to set something up with them for later. But since mine find me on facebook and IM me there, email me, and drop by anyway, I don’t worry about it too much.

  45. undine on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    Historiann, I like that idea. I’m around all day, too, on days when I’m on campus, and office hours are exactly the time when it occurs to me that I need a book right that minute.

  46. AndrewMc on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Speaking of maternity leave and policy, we recently had this boil up at my institution. We have no clear policy, and this has caused a huge fight among the faculty. The state policy is time off, unpaid.

    The practice in the liberal arts college in my university is that people load shift, and others pick up the slack by agreeing to teach people’s classes for them–with the pregnant person still drawing a salary and the person picking up the class getting some personal development money. We do the same for illness and other unusual situations.

    In the other colleges on campus, policies vary. So, in liberal arts we want to continue the “no firm policy” practice because we’re worried if there is a policy, it will be stricter. But in some colleges they want a more liberal policy than what the state gives.

    Touch call.

  47. AndrewMc on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    And speaking as a father, but not for fathers, in a department with a slew of recent kids, I don’t see a lot of difference in the demands. We all have spouses who are professionals. We work things out in or families and in our departments. We’re pretty informal in that regard.

    It’s the people who are chronically not in their offices who are the problem, not the ones who aren’t there for a few weeks or one semester because of a new child or an illness, or a book project, or whatever.

  48. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:22 pm #

    For people who are interested in reading previous discussions around motherhood and academia, please see:

    Maternity Leave: a request for strategies and advice

    To have it all, get a wife

    Just “Ask Amy”: you’re an idiot, pal.

    Who’s your daddy?, not about academia specifically but about the salary penalty mothers pay (and the attendant bonus that men with children get in their pay).

    Nancy Hewitt dishes on “The Leaky Pipeline”

  49. Digger on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    I have to agree that it’s the shirking, not the whys, that are annoying. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad if zie said, “I’m sorry, it’ll be hard for me make it that day… can I trade off with someone? Else, I’ll probably have to bring my kid.” I don’t see that as shirking, it’s being responsible to both family and job. Often folks are willing to shuffle things around if it’s a two-way street. And if they don’t feel like they’re being used.

    And, I’m also one of the weirdos (?) who dropped in on profs randomly during their office hours to shoot the breeze about various and sundry ideas. Some ended in a couple of minutes (and were more breeze than ideas), some ended in informal progress reports about my work, some ended in extended and occasionally heated hash-ups about methods and theories and whys. (On good days, some of these ended up over beer or coffee!) It would have been very weird to me to email my supervisor or other profs first “Hi, S/A/Dr. C, mind if I pop over to bounce some ideas around?”.

    That said, as an adjunct I am required to hold office hours. In 5 years of office hours, I think I’ve had students pop by maybe 3 times, and others schedule a visit at office hours perhaps another 3 times.

  50. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    I just feel trapped in office hours. I’m like a cat: I don’t necessarily WANT to go through the door, but I don’t want someone else closing it on me.

    Maybe I’ll sneak away when no one’s around, and see if anyone notices. . .

    (This is not an argument to shirk one’s job responsibilities!)

  51. Lance on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    I’ve really enjoyed this thread.

    I have noticed, to shift the topic somewhat, that when the subject of maternity/paternity leave for academics comes up, men benefit quite a bit more. Here, both are available, and so married academic couples can actually stagger their leaves to cover the full first year, which puts off daycare costs and is great for all. But in *some* cases, a few of my men-friends have used paternity leave more as paid research leave, and have even traveled abroad to do fieldwork, archival digging, or whatever. My women-friends, in contrast, typically breast-feed through the first year, so this isn’t possible. I’ve seen this often enough, so there is an undeniable pattern, for sure.

    Now back to the thread. Unless service is tied to the annual review, and unless the annual review has teeth (i.e. financial consequence for those who fare well, and no raise for those who don’t), there isn’t anything anyone can do. And if you find yourself pulling the rope for someone else (and not letting the Dean provide extra help/new hires/more staff/professional advising) then you are complicit, and should make peace with it. (This is Z’s point above, I think). We make our choices, our own happiness and unhappiness, and we should own it. Every-time I grumble about the silverback males in my department – usually when I am doing “their” work – I’m really just mad at myself for picking up the mess.

  52. Comrade PhysioProf on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    (1) Shirkers are shirkers, regardless of why they shirk. “Family responsibilities” is a red herring. As someone else pointed out, dead-wood washed-up dumbfuck tenured old-dudes tend to be the worst shirkers.

    (2) As far as enforcing boundaries and refusing to take on unfair burdens because you are (a) single, (b) no-kids, (c) live close to campus, or (d) whatthefuckever, my policy when declining to take on a task or duty is to never give an explicit reason. All I ever say is, “I would like to be able to do that, but it isn’t going to be possible.” If anyone ever pushes me, my only response is, “My existing responsibilities and duties do not permit me to take on that additional task/duty.”

    This is very useful, because it makes it very clear that a negotiation simply isn’t going to occur. The minute you provide an “excuse”, you open the door for a discussion of the validity of your “excuse” and the weighing of your “excuse” against the “excuses” of others.

    Of course, it takes some metaphorical balls to do this kind of thing, rather than to seek “permission” for your “excuse” not to take on a task/duty. But once you and your colleagues get used to it, it gets easier and easier. And it also becomes quite liberating, both for you and your colleagues.

    Finally, this only works if you are–in general–a team player and one who does take on her fair share of service tasks/duties. If you yourself are a shirker, then fuck you.

  53. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    Lance wrote, But in *some* cases, a few of my men-friends have used paternity leave more as paid research leave, and have even traveled abroad to do fieldwork, archival digging, or whatever. My women-friends, in contrast, typically breast-feed through the first year, so this isn’t possible. I’ve seen this often enough, so there is an undeniable pattern, for sure.

    I’ve heard of this happening, but I think any kind of parental leave is rare these days, so it’s probably only a few people who can even contemplate abusing the system. It’s annoying–but it strikes me that department Chairs and Deans should determine that leaving the country while on paid parental leave is FRAUD, and demand that the offender pay back the money or the time off. (After all, a faculty member who used her sabbatical to go to the playground and eat ice-cream cones with her kids every day would presumably be called to justify how she spent her time–why shouldn’t Professor Daddy Fraudmeister?)

    And, yes: we do make our own messes, and we have to live with them. The art of saying “NO” is a delicate but necessary one!

  54. Lance on 17 Aug 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    This is how it should be. But few care enough about the ethics of the day-to-day to make it halfway real. Accountability is a conservative buzzword these days, but that doesn’t mean it is a conservative concern.

    And I know way too many women who have used their sabbatical to care for newborns – especially adopted children, who don’t often fall under maternity leave policy. (Only recently here, in fact).

  55. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    CPP–it might in many environments take more than “some metaphorical balls” to do as you suggest, but I think it’s certainly worth a try. Even if women get more pushback for pushing back, it beats the alternative of being a dormat.

    I think your advice is good about not offering excuses. A lot of readers have mistaken my post as a commentary on the righteousness of the excuse, rather than as a commentary on the behavior in question. I take responsibility for that in calling my post “What to do about colleagues who shirk work for family responsiblities,” but in re-reading my post, it’s clear that I don’t think the kids are the problem. It’s the grownups who aren’t making provisions to get their work done.

  56. Digger on 17 Aug 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    Historiann… You could always stick a “Back in 5″ note on your door!

    I also agree with CPP… don’t give excuses. It works in social situations also “Sorry, I won’t be able to make it.” If pushed, “other obligations” (Even when said obligations are scheduled me-time). Once you start with excuses, everyone has a better one and/or a hook to try to make you feel like a heel.

  57. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    It’s true, Digger–I’ll do that and it will free me from my fluorescent-light-and-cinder-block cage!

  58. Susan on 17 Aug 2009 at 5:04 pm #

    It’s funny to read this thread on a day when I met with someone about home care for my husband, who is older and has cancer and a variety of other problems. I’ve got a schedule where I have to be on campus for meetings three days a week. There will occasionally be meetings and events I have to attend, but that’s something I can usually manage.

    Our campus has managed the fact that there are many people who live far away by using speakerphones in a lot of meetings. I’ve done meetings from hospital emergency rooms that way… (My advice: don’t if you don’t need to.)

    I wonder if one of the keys to this is that when many of us (and I include myself) talk, we say, “I need some time for my work”, by which we mean our scholarship. So our jobs don’t factor as our work…

  59. Rad Readr on 17 Aug 2009 at 5:38 pm #

    To pick up on Susan’s final point about certain parts of the job not counting as work, part of the problem is that we continue to use lousy language: SERVICE. Tedious meetings, committees, welcome-back events, commencement, responsibility for running the university! This isn’t service; it’s part of the job. So I agree with those who say, treat it like a job.

    The problem of people who don’t carry their weight goes beyond certain parents and even beyond certain full profs. People are able to do this because of the strange relationship we have with our own calendars. And the reality that chairs are not able to keep tabs on time and have relatively little power to do anything. But I do think a good chair can remind people that it’s important to be at this event or that meeting.

  60. Historiann on 17 Aug 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    Susan–I’m sorry to hear that you’re looking into home care, although I’m sure it will bring you peace of mind when you have to be away from home.

    Rad, great point: maybe “service” needs a marketing makeover. What would make it sound more appealing: Community Stewardship? Opportunities for Leadership? But in the end, as some other commenters have noted, unless it counts for more it won’t get more of our attention.

    In my former department, the Chair (who was an Associate Professor) raised this issue, and proposed that we rejigger our effort distribution to give more credit for service. It was self-interested in part, but he asked how we could expect people to pitch in and do the work unless we reward it more (or at least make neglecting it more painful, in terms of evaluations and raises)? In the end, the department (which was not a research intensive department) voted down his proposal. So, I am doubtful that this will change in my lifetime, unless universities from the top on down give the order that service outranks research.

    And that, my friends, ain’t gonna happen, until the Ph.D. mutates from being a research degree to being an administrative degree. (A D.B.A., correlative to an M.B.A., perhaps).

  61. Indyanna on 17 Aug 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    At risk of swimming against the tide of at least some of this fascinating thread, I’d say that the way to redeem service would be not to make it *sound* more appealing via re-branding, and especially not to enmesh it in a command and control apparatus, by reward or whatever. It would be to make it *be* more appealing, which might mean a lot less of it from time to time. Most academics complain a lot, me the foremost, and everyone complains about committees. But that fact doesn’t mean that what they do isn’t fairly often idiotic, more playing house than housekeeping. At places with contractually specified elements like fixed office hours, collective bargaining pay scales instead of salary exercises, and vague but permissive definitions of just what counts as or is required under the scholarship category, service can become the happily embraced refuge of people who don’t want to deal with peer review or with the lonely ambiguity of the empty page.

    Anyone who has been trapped in a room with ten insightful, creative, even visionary inquirers suddenly talking mush knows that committees tend to generate committeework. Service events are easy to schedule, easy to take attendance at, and their products, if any, don’t get reviewed in the journals. Figuring out who’s been effectively missing in action on the life of the mind side sometimes takes years.

    If we made all service voluntary, what got shirked on at certain levels would have to go, even if some kid didn’t get to be the Roswell Essay Prize Scholar that particular year. The “enterprise” itself would have to generate service ideas that could hold their own in the marketplace of creative energy. Plausibly worthy but in the end unattractive service ideas would fall by the wayside, just like some of our hopeful typescripts end up in the samizdat slushpile. Counterintuitive but quirkilly compelling ones would get traction and actually happen for a while, until they too fell by the wayside. Some years would just be dry service holes.

    Just a thought, teetering on a rant, but offered in the critical spirit. My last slack, I should say, was this spring, when I didn’t go to the departmental commencement, because, well, because I just didn’t feel like it. But I did do child-care duty so a colleague who did want to go could do so.

  62. Brian Ulrich on 17 Aug 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    At Colgate, I found that running to the library quickly was a good way to get a student to come and sit outside waiting for me to come back.

    My adviser at Wisconsin also had a great line he used to encourage undergrads to come to his office: “I close my door to keep my colleagues out, never my students.” This, at least, gave him a reputation as approachable. In our history department at Wisconsin, some people often held evening office hours at a local bar or coffeehouse. I did this leading up to papers, and had a steady stream of visitors who were busy during the day.

  63. Another Damned Medievalist on 17 Aug 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Susan — first, I’m sorry. Second, YES! I spent almost 4 hours of my Saturday attending a campus function, and when it was over, started worrying that I hadn’t done any work all day — and then caught myself and thought, “wait, that was 4 hours of me being on campus actively doing something I was asked to do by my boss — how is that not work?”

  64. Historiann on 18 Aug 2009 at 6:39 am #

    Indyanna–good point. I was mostly joking about re-branding “service!” But, I’m seriously doubtful that we could come to any kind of consensus about which “service” activities were useful and/or enjoyable. Some people relish hours-long meetings discussion curriculum revisions. Some people enjoy commencement, whereas others prefer to write long memos…

    Service is as varied as faculty are–perhaps the answer is one that operates on a micro-level: try to figure out what’s most enjoyable (or least painful) for you, and focus your efforts there. Even so, some aspects of service are like grading is to teaching: no one really likes it, but it’s gotta be done.

  65. Indyanna on 18 Aug 2009 at 10:08 am #

    And I was only kidding that we could or should make it voluntary, only wondering how it might mutate in an experimental environment where it was that. We could perhaps take a lesson from the undergraduate sphere. You don’t build a campus service culture by putting them in orange jump suits next to a trash-strewn highway and saying that someone else did it last year. You bring pizza, explicate the good cause, and mention that it will be a great opportunity to get covered with mud! :}

  66. Rad Readr on 18 Aug 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    Although you have probably moved on to the next post…we should brainstorm a bit. Rebranding or renaming…Service is

    duties, faculty responsibilities, campus work, tedious labor, university work, stuff

    Think of it as…research,teaching, and…

  67. Mamie on 18 Aug 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    Wow, great discussion, Historiann! Thanks for hosting. I’m sorry to get here so late. I’ve been stuck in my windowless office for two days, advising students, because it’s the week before classes start–which is probably what that poor dean meant. Someone’s gotta do it. (And someone will do it again tomorrow. How else will I shed my tan for an appropriately scholarly pallor?)

  68. onebadbint on 19 Aug 2009 at 12:45 am #

    Fascinating discussion. The well-meant advice I constantly got as junior faculty was that, for the sake of tenure and advancing my career, to avoid as much as possible anything like service, on-campus involvement, _and teaching_. I get that research is paramount in the decision, but that just didn’t feel like any way that I could do my job. So I disregarded that advice, maybe to my own detriment in some ways (but not others).

    I get the point made by Historiann and others that family responsibilities are a distraction from the main issue here of shirking. But it’s remarkable that the explicit criticism all focuses on the mother that the original writer mentions, and not the faculty father, who not only shirks the same duty, but _doesn’t even bother to reply_ by email about it!

  69. Historiann on 19 Aug 2009 at 7:04 am #

    onebad–I agree! Although it sounds like Fed Up has more of a history with the shirking female colleague, and has seen her history of cancelling classes to suit her children’s schedules, etc.

    I’m always interested, too, in the missing fathers in stories like these. Why do women enable their male partners like this, to the (possible) detriment of their own careers?

  70. Comrade PhysioProf on 19 Aug 2009 at 11:13 am #

    Why do women enable their male partners like this, to the (possible) detriment of their own careers?

    Why!?!?!? You’re kidding, right?

    Hint: Starts with a huge-ass motherfucking capital P!

  71. Historiann on 19 Aug 2009 at 11:27 am #

    CPP–yes, yes, I know the BIG answer to “why,” but I don’t understand why more women don’t (in the words of William F. Buckley) “stand athwart the tide of history and scream STOP!” (Or, I think he said something like that.)

    That is, patriarchy is powerful, but we all have free or free-ish will, and if well-educated women don’t start making more demands on their male partners, then what hope is there for the rest of the world? I think privileged women have a greater obligation to try to change things.

  72. Lalaroo on 20 Aug 2009 at 10:39 pm #

    I know I’m too late for the discussion, but I just wanted to elaborate on a point that you made earlier Historiann. A lot of parents on this thread have lamented the lack of “affordable” childcare. What is affordable to you? I work as a pre-school teacher for a full $8.75 an hour. This is what I like to call “not a living wage.” If my daycare made the childcare more “affordable” for the parents, you can sure as hell bet it’d mean a paycut for me. And you really do get what you pay for. My boss said at a meeting “Don’t mention to the parents that you’ve been peed on and spit up on, etc, because they pay us a lot of money for you to get peed/spit up on!” Well, they may pay you “a lot” of money, but I sure don’t get paid enough to get spit up on, peed on, cried at, and have tantrums thrown at without losing my ever-present smile! What I’m saying is, I’m less likely to be the eternally cheerful, never unpleasant, and always super-fun and creative daycare worker if I don’t make enough money to pay my bills. Not to mention the fact that none of the women working at the daycare could afford to enroll their own children in it without deep discounts. So paying less money for daycare is not something I can get behind.

    Sorry for the rant, Historiann!

  73. Historiann on 21 Aug 2009 at 7:09 am #

    Lalaroo–I really appreciate your perspective, so thanks for commenting. I have a lot of ideas about why caring for young children is so underpaid. I think it’s mostly that it’s traditionally women’s labor, but I also think there’s a weird shame and denial about the whole transaction that many middle-class parents feel. It’s like if they paid a decent wage for the work, that somehow makes what they’re paying for more visible as labor, when they don’t want to admit the extent to which they rely on other people’s help to raise their children.

    Why don’t we want to recognize child care as labor? Believe me, the child care workers I have known are SO much more knowledgable and skilled than I or most of my friends are about developmental milestones, appropriate toys and games, and when children should be encouraged to move on (from bottles, from diapers, from other relics of babyhood, etc.) Most of the parents I know are grateful for the patience and expertise of child-care workers like you, and I am entirely with you that you should be recognized and rewarded much better for the work you do.

  74. Lalaroo on 21 Aug 2009 at 7:44 am #

    I think that’s a really insightful point about the shame/denial that can be felt by parents. We still have a culture that is all too happy to shame parents, especially mothers, for having life outside of their children.And their are still a lot of people that think that putting your child in daycare is going to turn them into some kind of criminal psychopath, which is ridiculous, of course.

    I think it’s possible that having childcare be underpaid serves a bunch of purposes under patriarchy – if we admit it’s difficult and something that should be compensated well, then how can we marginalize SAHMs? It also serves to help keep a class divide between the parents and the providers, which can soothe parents’ anxiety about whether the caregiver is doing a better job than the parent, or whether the child prefers the caregiver. That class boundary can help parents feel more secure in their status as “better”, I think – you know, they’re just “the help”. Which is not to say that any of the parents I’ve had have treated me poorly or been dismissive – I don’t think this is overt so much as possibly subconscious, and certainly doesn’t apply to every parent. It just occurred to me when I read your comment.

  75. Tales of money, gender, and the ruling class: Nantucket, 1994 : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 21 Aug 2009 at 7:55 am #

    [...] had a little flashback to that trip to Nantucket when I read a comment by Lalaroo this morning on last week’s post about colleagues who shirk their work on the pretext of [...]

  76. Historiann on 21 Aug 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Lalaroo–you inspired today’s post, so I hope you’ll comment on that and will participate in the discussion if you can. I think you’re exactly right about how “having childcare be underpaid serves a bunch of purposes under patriarchy.” Excellent points.

  77. perpetua on 21 Aug 2009 at 10:55 am #

    I just wanted to say that I think what bothered me in the first part of the discussion was actually the OP itself, because it set up an argument that implied that most shirkers were people (read: women) with children. Or that shirking mothers is an epidemic.

    (Also, historiann, have you read the piece at bitch on having a child not being a choice? I had never thought of it that way before myself and was really startled by the brilliance of her argument – that society depends on procreation, socially, biologically, and economically. If we don’t think this is the case, then look at the pickle Japan is in, the gloom & doom economic forecasts, as well as the lengths the gov’t is going to to get women to have babies. Socially, we rely on having a next generation for a whole variety of functions. [Bitch isn't making some kind of creepy pro life antifeminist argument, but rather the opposite - that families deserve gov't support because all society benefits from a next generation.])

  78. Tom on 01 Sep 2012 at 6:35 am #

    When I hear the “I’ve got sick kids” excuse, this picture always appears in my mind:

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