Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just Say No (But Not To Me): Achieving Balance in Your Work

I wish I had a dollar for every time in my career at Zenith that, upon noticing or being told pointedly how many responsibilities I have, a senior colleague or administrator has said: "You just have to learn to say no."

It makes me want to punch them. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Sometimes it is said in a genuine attempt to be helpful: "Perhaps," my colleague is thinking, "TR doesn't know that she isn't expected to respond to every last living human being who asks her for something, and I need to reassure her that it would be OK to say no to many of the things people are asking her to do." Sometimes (and the older you get, the more likely it is that the message is delivered in this spirit) it is patronizing. The colleague is saying some version of, "No wonder you haven't finished that book yet -- don't blame the rest of us if you haven't learned time management skills, and if you choose to waste your energies on everything but your scholarship!" Sometimes the churlish colleague in question is someone who is working at least as hard as I am and hates being reminded of it; sometimes it is someone who comes to work two days a week between 1:00 and 4:00.

In either case, the message that if you are overworked you should Just Say No rests on three assumptions: that it is universally understood what constitutes a reasonable work load in one's institution, as well as a reasonable balance between teaching, colleagueship and scholarship (not); that your overload is really a compliment and a sign that you are a superb colleague (true dat); and that you should say no to everyone but the colleague in your presence who will probably ask you to do something in a week or so.

The dilemma escalates on the day you wake up and realize that your choices are not really the issue here, and that the work load in your institution is not distributed in any kind of an equitable, thoughtful or even well-managed way. In fact you have more students and advisees because other faculty have fewer; you serve on more committees because other people serve on fewer; you chair things because other people don't know how and/or don't wish to learn. Here's a news flash: when the active hand of management (something we academics deplore universally on the theory that the freer we are the better off everyone is) fails to organize our workplace equitably, committees, students, and advising have a tendency to distribute themselves, much as free radicals find a place to settle down and cause cancer after roaming the body for a spell. Some people do a ton of work -- others, not so much. I have colleagues who are at their desks five days a week; I have colleagues that come in once a week. I have colleagues who work into the summer to get everything done; I have colleagues who give an exam a week or so before the semester ends and leave the country.

If any attention is called by those who are working hardest to those who are making themselves unavailable, shrieks about academic freedom, child care, and commuting rend the land (despite the great number of people with small children, or who are in commuting relationships, who do manage to come to work.) At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream.

What is worse, instead of recognizing that there is a problem, those who are working hardest are often targeted as the problem. Either you walk through the Looking Glass, where you are reassured that people who have five advisees are doing just as much work as you, who have forty; or your forty advisees reveals you as a masochist and a complainer: "You just have to learn to say no, I'm afraid," you are told. But how many advisees should I have? you think. And what is supposed to happen to the advisees I got because their last advisor doesn't hold regular office hours? Or the students I got because, even though there were spaces in other classes, they weren't allowed to enroll because they were not there on the first day?

The Just Say No (to everyone but me) issue is a problem that, frankly, untenured people, adjuncts and visitors are not responsible for managing; and that achieving tenure can make worse, not better. If you belong to the untenured masses, it is not unreasonable -- nor does it represent a failure of maturity -- to choose a senior colleague, even better the department or program chair, to help you manage the demands on your time. How many advisees is reasonable? How many students should you take over the stated limit, if any? If you agree to non-departmental obligations when they coincide with intellectual, institutional or political interests of yours, will the department understand that it is part of your overall load, or will your colleagues add on departmental tasks regardless of your overall work load?

But I would like to emphasize that the Just Say No philosophy misses the larger point of how poorly understood and ill-managed the average work load of the average faculty member is. Many colleges and university faculties, committed as we are to a model of scholarship that is predominantly individualistic, spend little time thinking about what constitutes a reasonable work load, as well as how (and by who) it should be assigned, monitored and evaluated. What does remain constant are expectations about scholarly production: in other words, regardless of how many committees you are on, advisees you have, enrollments and/or overloads you are juggling, every person who is coming up for an evaluation -- whether it is promotion to tenure, to full professor or for annual merit raises -- is expected to have moved forward in hir scholarship in approximately the same way and to a similar standard of excellence.

Therefore, it is a not infrequent phenomenon that those who work hardest for the institution reap the fewest material benefits because they publish at a slower pace. Ironically, they often acquire tremendous respect from those other colleagues who are working equally hard, are viewed as really good citizens, capable people, and the sort who you really want to have around when solving a problem, running a tenure case, or starting up a new project. If you are an energetic, responsible teacher, you will also feel the love. Students will be drawn to you, and will beg to enroll in your classes: as a reward for your achievements in the classroom, you will have higher enrollments, more students wanting you as an advisor, and more recommendations to write.

The rewards inherent to being respected by others, and the feeling of being truly valuable to an enterprise, is seductive, and for good reason. Colleges and universities could not get the work done without people like you-- particularly since they are unwilling to set expectations for those who do less than their share of the teaching and advising, or who are indifferent to how others inside the university perceive them. And most important -- you can have a career as a writer without an academic appointment. But many of us fought our way through a difficult job market, often taking jobs that were less prestigious than we might have wanted, and in places we wouldn't live by choice, because we are committed to a teaching life. If you love students, when they also seem to love you, on what grounds would you send them away?

But -- do you need to learn to Just Say No? Alas, yes. But how would that happen?

Well first of all, I have to tell a brutal truth that administrators and faculty colleagues know but cannot, for a variety of reasons, publicly acknowledge: those of us who overwork are covering up for and enabling those who under perform. Most universities have no mechanism for forcing tenured people teach better, teach more, show up at office hours, give students responsible advice about their program of study, or do the committee work they have been assigned. Certainly they have no mechanism that is not going to make the entire faculty, especially those who are already overworked and fear the loss of the choices they do not yet exercise, from rising up and rending their garments. So what do you do, dear?

Teaching. Meet with your chair to establish a reasonable cap for your class that also bears some reasonable relationship to average enrollments in the department. If possible, ask if you can see last semester's final enrollments with the names of colleagues removed. Then stick to your cap, no matter what.

Major Advising. Ask your department's administrative assistant how many majors there are in the department, or in your field within the department, then divide by the number of faculty available to serve them that semester. If you are in a program as well, do the same thing. Add them together. Then call the registrar, find out how many upper-level students are registered in the college as a whole, and how many advisors are available; divide total number of students by total number of faculty. This is the critical number that you must not exceed by more than one or two students: trim your advising load in the department and/or program to meet this second sum by asking your chair to reassign students, or not taking on new advisees when the ones you have graduate.

Non-major Advising. This is a burden that is theoretically equitable (in other words, total number of first and, in the case of Zenith where students do not declare until the spring of their sophomore year, second-year students divided by advisors available.) But guess what happens? Starting on day two or three of advising, new students begin to vote with their feet, and this process continues as they begin to figure out what good advising is supposed to look like. If the resident advisors know your excellent reputation, or are actually your advisees, in their role of helping students settle in, they will encourage students who are getting haphazard or impersonal treatment to seek you out. Worse, your advisees will return to the dorm glowing about you while their hall mates are trying to decide whether to re-pack now and take a chance on community college. The glowing ones will helpfully redirect their friends your way. Once I had a (large) young man on Zenith's plucky football team assigned to me as a sophomore, and he came back to ask if I would mind talking to some of his friends, who had been more or less told by their advisors that football players were not worth their very valuable time. Needless to say, this made them feel crummy and unwanted. That year, I ended up advising the starting offensive line, a lovely group of (large) young men who went on to be very successful. Their former advisors, having behaved atrociously and unprofessionally, had fewer advisees.

Committees. I have a highly ideological, and controversial, position on this one. Committee assignments should be rotated, not elected, except in very rare cases. What I see at Zenith is two phenomena, at least one of which will be familiar to you. The first is that certain committees require certain skills, and rather than elect colleagues who have not demonstrated those skills yet, the faculty will repeatedly elect the same people to serve on these difficult, demanding committees. The second phenomenon is that scholars self-sort into categories marked "Competent" and "Incompetent," usually by choice. People with pride sort into "Competent," and people who value their time more than their reputations sort into "Incompetent." Demonstrating one's supposed incompetence is a strategy masked as involuntary helplessness: the incompetent establish their potentially Kryptonite contributions to any enterprise by being late, by missing meetings without explanation, by failing to do what they said they would and generally by demonstrating in word and deed that they are not to be trusted. However purposeful this behavior is, being incompetent assumes the kind of naturalness as a category that Foucault so eloquently introduced us to way back in the twentieth century. Conversely, people who are judged competent are seen to be naturally endowed with the ability to get vast amounts of work done gracefully and well.

This is an absurd situation, in my view, for at least one glaring reason: a colleague who is blowing off other colleagues is likely to be doing the same to hir students and advisees; furthermore, doing committee work is considerably less challenging than teaching and writing books, but we expect everyone to teach well and to write. Having done it twice, I can testify that the administrative responsibilities required to be a department or program chair, for example, meet the basic minimum standard of organization and responsibility required of a prep school senior; the politeness and concern for others of a camp counselor; the capacity to run a budget of the average propertied citizen; and the ability to process work in a timely fashion of an administrative assistant. It is harder to staff a company of Marines at Camp Pendleton than it is to run a department, and sergeants barely out of high school do it very, very well, even when being occasionally bombarded by rockets in Anbar Province.

How might we solve this problem? By creating a new ethic based on an assumption that we all share as educators: people are teachable. A special effort might be made to teach tenured faculty who are doing their jobs poorly to do them better, perhaps by assigning a peer to work with them who would convey by example and instruction the standard that needs to be met over time. People who resist raising their standard might be asked to undergo career counseling to help them transition to another line of work that would encourage them to -- well, come to work and do work when they are there.

But we also need to start from the ground up by recognizing that most institutions of higher education expect faculty to learn their jobs by osmosis. In recent years, there has been more attention to the most visible work we do, which is teaching, but little attention to all the institutional work faculty do that supports the teaching mission. Few institutions have any structured way of training faculty to perform the executive work that we so zealously claim as our privilege -- curriculum, hiring, tenure, budget -- to a high standard. I would suggest that all faculty in their first year be given a course off. In lieu of that course, they would attend seminars in which the workings of the university and its committees is explained to them, they would learn to write grants and make use of university resources designed to enhance their careers, and they would be asked at various points to shadow the work of an administrator, committee chair or department chair, as well as spend at least one complete day with the President and the Provost. This process should be repeated after tenure, with the added mandate of teaching newly senior faculty how to mentor junior colleagues responsibly, review colleagues for tenure and reappointment, manage a budget and balance their new responsibilities in the institution with the enhanced recognition and challenges they will be encountering as senior scholars. This would accomplish three things at least: it might relieve the mystery of how the university works for the newest faculty, it would allow new faculty to meet colleagues and administrators across the university and understand what they contribute to the teaching enterprise, and it would deliver a set of expectations about how to do one's work well.

So my advice is: you may need to say no, and you may need to figure out how to achieve an equitable work load by yourself, turning a deaf ear (and a deaf ego) to those who claim that only you can solve their problems, staff their committee, write their recommendations. But if you are in a position of power, start saying yes. Yes to institutional solutions to overloads that are controllable. Yes to raising expectations for some and lowering expectations for those who are working the hardest. And yes to a university that, in the end, will work better for everyone.

63 comments:

Susan said...

I love your idea about training people in the executive work we do. I think also merit assessments need to take seriously those whose service load is on the high end.

I wonder if part of the problem is also that the very things that draw many people to scholarship -- intense focus, introversion, etc. -- run counter to the skills needed for the management part of our jobs. My more sociable side is supported by service, so it's a good balance, but not everyone has that. But this means that not everyone will ace the service piece, but they can learn to do it.

Janice said...

Thanks for tackling a tough but important topic of academic workloads, TR! You're so right that "Just say no" is both patronizing and maddening. The work of the university won't go on if we all do that. The problem is that far too many professors do say no to many obligations (or carry them incompetently so as to forestall any future requests).

One of the most demoralizing moments of my academic career came last winter at a university workshop about service. When an administrator told us that "anything you do in the community counts as service" I was filled with despair. So other faculty members get to coach their kids' hockey team and have that count for service while I have to shoulder, yet again!, a heavy administrative duty that others avoid? There are many tasks necessary to make our institutions work, from student advising right on up to major administrative positions and faculty members should learn to cope with all of the basic duties.

In the meantime, I just have to suppress the urge to punch people who tell me that I need to learn to say no.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

I've long thought, and told people whose eyes don't immediately glaze over, that academe offers a series of bait and switches. You do well in college, then go to grad school, which seems the same (only harder) until you have to do qualifying exams and write a dissertation. Then, if you're lucky (since c. 1980, at least), you get a job, where you discover that teaching and committee work--for which you were not trained at all, or in the case of teaching, only minimally--occupy most of your time. If you show the least aptitude for committee work, you might soon find yourself in administration, for which you have not been trained at all. Fortunately many of us are quick studies; otherwise universities would be run even worse than they are. We do need more training. I've found that judicious reading of management books can be helpful, but mentoring is much more important.

You also learn not to say "no" in grad school (Ph.D. Comics is addressing that point right now), and it's hard to relearn it. My advice to my junior colleagues is if someone asks you to do something, don't say "no"; instead, say, "I'm doing X, Y, Z, Alpha, Beta, and Yod, and if you want me to do Gimel, which of the preceding do you think I should give up?" That's a way of saying "no" that forces an acknowledgement of everything else you're doing.

Whether I've been able to follow this advice myself is another question. Those who can't do, teach?

Shaz said...

Brilliantly written; unfortunately you've hit on some really difficult issues. Do you risk creating a department culture where everyone is out to 'bust' everyone else for not doing their job, or do you suck it up for those who don't do what they should? Are those problematic colleagues really going to change with education ? Not the ones I know. Sad, but true?

I suppose my Just Say No is, now that I'm tenured, that I do things I want to do or think are important (advocating on race/gender issues, promoting grad student funding etc). Still, I recognize that I may win in the world of Karma but lose in the world of fast publishing/promotion. So be it.

B.T. (Before Tenure), I ran service requests by a mentor to see what they thought, in light of what I was already doing. And I did, politley, say no sometimes.

I'm at a Public Research U where we undergo regular review. It is all about the research, but I have seen exceptional amounts of service rewarded. I have very occasionally seen lacking service punitively rewarded.

Seems to me institutions get what they really want and (espec A.T.) we can make our own decisions -- fully understanding the consequences -- about how we want to live our professional lives.

Katrina said...

"if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you?"

Agree with this one. Do you have a good response to the (typical) reply - "but my children will be paying for your retirement"?

More relevant though is that these kind of conversations tend to happen between women. Other females are supposed to want to pick up the slack for women with children, I guess.

The gendered aspect of the whole "just say no" thing is something that strikes me. Maybe it's not always true, but I've observed men being better at shutting the door, ignoring the email, not returning the calls, (essentially being quite rude, but effectively "saying No" to demands on their time), and not being judged for it, rather being excused. ("Oh, he's very busy")
Women are more likely to be judged as disorganised, or worse if they refuse a request.

(And your idea of academics self-selecting into "incompetent" is bleakly hilarious)

Doctor Cleveland said...

I wish I could find the voluntary incompetence funny. And the one thing I'd disagree with is the point about untenured folks asking their chair for cover. Too often it's the senior colleagues, and indeed the chair, telling untenured people "Learn to say now, except to this new project."

This is a brilliant blog post, and I may get extended excerpts of it tattooed upon my person.


I think that service needs to be rewarded. The huge enrollments should earn someone an assistant. The massive number of advisees should earn one course releases and leave time. The people taking on heavier and more delicate committee assignments should be given first choice of schedules. (To have a TTh schedule and no committees is a whole lot of luxury.) And of course, there should be service-based merit pay. And the resources for those rewards should ultimately come by reducing those that go to the free riders. (If you want to teach TTh between certain hours, and have a research assistant, how about a little elbow grease?)

GayProf said...

I am often frustrated that academic parents don't realize how entirely privileged that they are. Private businesses would most often dismiss an employee who opted not to do their job because they had a child.

Saying "no" is so much easier if you don't actually care about the direction of your unit or university. But for those of us who actually want to see the status quo changed, it means saying "yes" more than we would like (or should).

Joan said...

Excellent post. The paragraph starting with "This is an absurd situation" is brilliant.

I think the problem starts in graduate school when some students have advisors who encourage them to be active in the department (setting them up to be involved in service at the grad student level) and the rest have advisors who say "duck and run" (setting the stage for thinking there is no reason to do service except when forced).

Perhaps all faculty should be forced to reread Locke's social contract and set forth, from the date of hiring, what skills ("competencies") they have and will, therefore, contribute.

In the end, the divide is hard to bridge because those who care will serve and those who don't care will abdicate any and all responsibility unless their job depends on it, which is rarely the case in academe.

Susan said...

I wonder if there is also a problem about how we define "career". If your career was that you got a job someplace and stayed there, then the service makes sense. If your career is what you publish OUTSIDE, then the service doesn't make sense. And somehow, we haven't found a half-way point between the two that helps people see that even if their reputation rests on the publication, they will also have a reputation for service. Oh, and people do get it.

Victoria said...

Wonderful post and comments. Another problem I have found repeatedly is the reluctance faculty have to leave a written record/series of instructions for rotating positions such as DUS and DGS. The attitude is often, "Don't worry, you'll pick it up." Much of service work can be learned easily and competence is often simply keeping track of duties. But there is often no attempt to make this easy, and even deliberate undermining.

Ruthibell said...

"At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us,"

Yes, you certainly annoyed this one, even though I like much else about this post, and I usually love your blog. Are people with kids really the problem here? And note, when 'people with kids' are attacked, it's generally 'women with kids' that is heard. The rest of the post identifies much of the real problems of organizational culture, deliberate incompetence etc. I'm sure people with children are part of that, but I really don't think we're disproportionately so. Maybe we're just a disproportionately easy target.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Ruthi,

See, I knew it was a risk, even though -- as you point out -- my complaint about parents is drowned by the volume of my other complaints.

But that said, I don't think, because parents (mothers, as you correctly state) are overly demonized, we get to never say that there is a subgroup of parents who use their children as a convenient excuse to not go to meetings, teach the early shift, serve on search committees, come to anything after 4, or even sometimes come to work more than a couple days a week. Actually, it is often men, an even more complicated topic, since they then win all sorts of fulsome praise for being such engaged fathers, and everyone ignores it that they are not pulling their weight.

In the absence of universal day care, and the huge shift in work culture and resources that would support parenting, people find their own solutions. For some mothers (and fathers) it is to do everything, often at great cost to their health and well-being -- and yes, their scholarship. For others, it means cutting a private deal to take the time out of their salaried job. Which means offloading their work on others, getting the best teaching schedules routinely, and having meetings scheduled around them at great inconvenience to others.

For that group, who are not infrequently politically progressive women and men, to elevate the care of their children uber alles means to dump work on the rest of us. We are not talking about a day here and there when Johnny is sick, or there is an event at school: we are talking about a systemic shifting of salaried labor out of the workplace and into the home. Many of these people have a partner in the non-academic world whose schedule is said to be inflexible: if they were, for example, attorneys, this would not cut the mustard. But as academics, they pull down a full-time salary for working less than full time -- while the childless, the single, and responsible folk with children are left holding the bag.

Having children and holding down a full-time academic job is a huge burden: I recognize that. It's one of the reasons why I didn't have children.

To ask everyone to do their job, and make arrangements for child care so that they can shoulder a burden equal to the rest of us, is part of what equality means, I'm afraid. And most parents respect that, in my experience.

HistoryMaven said...

One of the reasons I left my tenured position this year was because the departmental climate was controlled by a few individuals who refused, absolutely refused, to have anyone else but themselves chair or form or undertake committee work. Money grubbers all, they raked in the merit pay without really producing any scholarship of note nor winning teaching kudos at a regional comprehensive public university.

The larger problem, though, was that they controlled information and its flow through the department (and for that matter, between the department and the college and the administration).

Ruthibell said...

Thanks for responding, TR. There is an old post on Bitch PhD where she describes the situation of academic parents (in fact mostly mothers) as the 'canary in the coal mine'. What she said there, roughly, was that: If the job is not possible to do while caring for children without either a) driving yourself into a completely desperate state--or, as you put it TR 'often at great cost to their health and well-being', or b) ending up not doing the bit of the job that is most rewarded, and for many, most rewarding, ie research or as you put it '-- and yes, their scholarship' or c) ending up with your colleagues feel like you're slacking, there is something seriously wrong with the job.

It's a difficult debate to have because it's unclear which behaviours people object to. I pick up my kids at 3.10 pm from school one day a week, and, I drop them off at 8.50 one or two days a week, so I'm not available for meetings or teaching then. So I could easily be one of the people who annoy you, TR. I probably work fewer hours than many of my colleagues who don't have children. But I don't work less than I'm contracted to do (which is 40 hours a week), or do less of my share of 'service' or teaching. Many academics work ludicrously long hours, hours that are really impossible to work if you're a parent. It's generally not their fault--we're all being asked to shoulder much too high a burden. But if their hours then set the bar for everyone else, it's a problem for anyone with outside commitments, whether children or anything else. Should academic careers be for those who choose not to have children only? The perception that that's the case, and the reality of the way the academic world is organized to make it harder for people with children, is one reason that there are still relatively few women in academia, especially at senior levels. See recent discussion at Dr Crazy's blog.

Tenured Radical said...

Nice elaboration Ruthi: no, you wouldn't be one of the people who annoy me, and yes, you are right, academics have a tendency not to have boundaries between work and home, boundaries which children force, often in a good way. The people ho annoy me can *never* teach at 9, until their children are perhaps in college, because they need to put them on the bus personally. Every day. So that is 10-12 years of never teaching early. Ditto end of day.

What I do object to is (and you didn't do this) is being told I am a bad feminist, or that I am demonizing children when, as a single person, my childlessness becomes a logical reason to reorganize my life, or take on extra burdens, because other people *do* have children. America is a weird place, where we are ideologically child-centric, but practically speaking, there are few structural supports for parenting, and little oversight as to how institutional resources can be fairly distributed between parents and non-parents; singles and the legally encoupled.

Gibier said...

An interesting development of the "Just say no": someone told me "you do not have to spend so much time on it", talking about a 100 page thesis out of my area of research that I was asked to review, the second this year, in addition of four thesis in my area.

The tone and context made it clear that I did not have to read the whole thesis. I guess the next step is to start to ignore some emails, to keep my door closed, to work at home a few days a week, in order to get the work I want done, and avoid the work I don't wand to do. Now I understand why most people have their door closed in my corridor.

Historiann said...

Great post and discussion. And everyone kept their shorts on about the parenting-while-academic issue. Kudos!

In my first year on the tenure track at my first job, the department there initiated (at the behest of the chair of the department) a conversation about seriously shifting the structure of our annual evaluations and merit pay to reward service more. (This is a department that I wasn't happy in for very good reasons, but I give my former colleagues credit for having the conversation.) Although very few people in that department are what we would consider extremely active scholars--there are a lot of women and some men stalled at Associate Prof.--the department rejected the chair's proposal. I can't remember what the specifics of the conversation were, but in the end, everyone pretty much agreed that research is what makes us "special" (i.e. unlike High School or community college teachers), so that should have pride of place in our incentive structure.

It's amazing how embedded that--what would you call it?--prejudice? snobbery?--is, even among scholars who don't have the time or the resources to be very active. (This is a department with a 3-3 load and high expectations for teaching success.) My guess is that we're all going to hear that we should "just say no" for the rest of our careers, unless and until we participate in dismantling the current incentives that govern our professional advancement. My bet is that a lot of people will smile ruefully as they read this post, but that few if any of us will do anything about it.

As for Ruthi's compelling question as to whether or not something is wrong with the job if people with children can't do it: nonsense! Men do it all of the time! Heterosexualist women need to emulate their male colleagues more. They need to choose partners who will play the traditional wifely role--or find a man who makes so much money you can outsource the child care to the degree that you need. I just spent the weekend with a sister-in-law who works in consulting, and is away from home 4 days a week, and works 14-16 hour days 5 days a week. She's also working most weekends, constantly on e-mail and the Crackberry. Now, that's a demanding (and even soul-sucking and health-compromising) job. I see a lot of mornings at 4 and 5 a.m., but I'm not working straight until 7 or 9 or 10 p.m. GayProf is right--our jobs have their challenges and anxieties, but compared to a lot of other professionals, we're on easy street.

Ruthibell said...

Sorry, historiann, not nonsense. Men do it all the time because they can due to patriarchy. Women find it harder to find a partner who will subordinate his or her career to theirs than men do. This is not a coincidence. (And I read your blog historiann, I know you know that!) In my case, my partner's career is equally important to mine, and anyway she wouldn't want to fill a wifely role.

As for 'outsourcing' all the childcare--yes, it can be done with enough money, but most people who have children want to spend time with them during the week. It is good for children, and parents, that that happens, and it shouldn't be impossible for both parents in a couple to see their kids. Nor should it be impossible to be a single parent and an academic (indeed, I know several women who are doing that).

I also don't think it's helpful to hold up examples of completely inhumane working practices that are based around the assumption that everyone has a wife and/or employs near-full-time domestic labour and say we're doing so much better. Yes, we are, but those examples are a big part of the problem too.

Ruthibell said...

PS Not only 'heterosexualist' women have children.

Susan said...

First, i too get tired of the slackers who don't pull a fair load. The admin is to blame for not dealing with them.

I also get tired of the martyrs who have no outside life and CLAIM it's because they are always at the college working when others aren't. They LOVE to appear so needed and busy and, in their minds, better.

Believe me, if you quit or died tomorrow, life would go on, someone would pick up the tasks you dutifully take on.

When you make choices, there are consequences. Perhaps you should revisit your choices.

Robert Self said...

I like this discussion. There are multiple, embedded issues, including the many ways that feminism gets mobilized inside the academy.

But, above all, I am compelled by the image of Klonopin in my ice cream when I'm 90+ May we all be so lucky!

Anonymous said...

At the risk of prolonging this both painful and fascinating conversation, I have to point out that lots of folks have implied, but oddly not stated, that people without kids duck out of work just as people with kids do. It just seems somehow more infurating to some folks when people use their kids as an excuse, as opposed to not giving any excuse at all.

As so many here know, the broader problem (with parenting, with service, with lots of inequality generally) is having a narrow definition of work. All sorts of unpaid labor (indeed, unpaid labor by definition) does not count as "work." And so coaching a kid's hockey game or volunteering in a community shelter or putting your child on the school bus in the morning does not count as work in the same way that advising does not count as work. The same dynamics that make it difficult to be an academic and a parent (or for that matter, an academic and a child caring for an aging parent, a partner caring for another partner, a good friend caring for another friend . . .) also make it difficult to imagine rewarding "service." Maybe we should change the name . . .

Tenured Radical said...

That was such an intelligent comment I wish you were not anonymous. And just to underline your point, although there are plenty of men who are selfless when it comes to service, plenty of women who can;t be found, and plenty of parents on either side, service is (particularly when it comes to work done for students) highly feminized, and undervalued, labor.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I love this -- I posted some thoughts on one aspect of the issue a while back http://blogenspiel.blogspot.com/2009/08/some-thoughts-on-service.html and have talked about it before, but it is usually more in the 'why am I subsidizing your writing time' way. I have to admit, I like the suggestions for training and taking away the excuses.

Off-ladder said...

As one who chose not to go tenure track specifically because I knew I couldn't work 70 hrs a week and raise children they way I wanted, may I make a radical suggestion?

The 40 hr a week academic job.

It's not like there is a shortage of PhD's who want jobs in academia. But because some are willing to work 70-80 hrs a week, they allow the expectations of tenure to be set based on that 70-80 hr workweek. Isn't that exploitation?

Isn't that what unions were invented for?

How about 1.7x more FTEs working 40 hrs a week, and having lives (that's Lives, not Wives) on the side?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Argh -- forgot the html : here is that link.

And also, as someone who is frequently asked to rearrange her schedule for her colleagues' childcare needs -- and we are talking about colleagues of both sexes -- I'm glad you mentioned it. Ruthiann and others are right in that there is some problem with the system, but I disagree that we are contracted for 40 hours a week. I've never had a contract that specified hours. Mine specify *duties* to be performed. That means teaching and all the requisite prep and grading (which is about 12 hours in class plus about 12-18 hours a week for me when I teach 4 classes, three preps, depending on the reading assignments, etc.), advising, office hours, meetings ... and trying to get my own research and writing done. It never occurred to me that I could get everything I need to do done in 40 hours a week -- unless you factor in the weeks without classes. Then it pretty much does work out to 40, with about 2-3 weeks vacation.

bitchphd said...

For that group, who are not infrequently politically progressive women and men, to elevate the care of their children uber alles means to dump work on the rest of us. We are not talking about a day here and there when Johnny is sick, or there is an event at school: we are talking about a systemic shifting of salaried labor out of the workplace and into the home.

Right, but as you're pointing out, the problem isn't the parents as such. It's that (1) we don't, as a society, really have a solution to the kids/work conflict yet; and (2) given that most parents do manage to juggle without dumping work on others, parenting/kids aren't the issue--they are an excuse. The issue, then, is slacker colleagues, no matter *what* their excuse is.

So yeah, as you expected, the "working parents who dump their work on their childless colleagues" thing does annoy me (as a parent), to the detriment of the rest of what you're saying, because it's buying into a worn (and sexist) cliche about the inadequacy of mommies as workers rather than focusing on what, by your own admission, the real problem is, which is colleagues who take advantage of the flexibility of academia to do less than their fair share--period.

I agree that the problem of balancing work responsibilities with childcare responsibilities in ways that are equitable to all is a conversation we all (parents and non-parents) need to have. I think it's a conversation that's going to go a lot better if it doesn't start out by begging the question of who is doing whose work.

Stephen said...

Off-Ladder, 12.32 pm: "It's not like there is a shortage of PhD's who want jobs in academia. But because some are willing to work 70-80 hrs a week, they allow the expectations of tenure to be set based on that 70-80 hr workweek. Isn't that exploitation?"

No, that's a tradeoff. It's difficult to enforce an agreement for everybody to stop work after 35 or 40 hours because somebody will be willing to put in the 50 to get ahead, and the dynamic generalizes to 70 or 80.

Being outworked by others, or participating in a positional arms race in which the workload goes to 50 or 60 or 80 hours (something not limited to higher education, see, e.g. law firms and investment banks) is a different phenomenon from avoiding the boring or unpleasant parts of the job not necessarily to be producing prize-winning research, which I perceive as the gravamen of Tenured Radical's post.

Elizabeth said...

The issue, then, is slacker colleagues, no matter *what* their excuse is.

Absolutely. Talking about childcare is a red herring, distracting us from the real problem. Who wins when women can be coaxed into attacking each other? Not any women, that's for sure.

(I'm the only current parent in my department. One male and one female colleague each have adult children. Not only have I never been allowed to use my children as an excuse to get out of anything, I have not been allowed any consideration whatsoever for the reality of my life. If any schedule is inconvenient or even impossible for me, too bad, sucks to be me...)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Reading back over the comments, and as someone who resents like hell my colleagues who ask me to reschedule meetings because they need to pick up the kids, or who refuse to work on campus outside their teaching and office hours, because they can't find a good sitter, or who can never come to department-sponsored speakers, graduation, honors day, or our mandatory week of meetings because there are conflicts with their family plans -- and yet still manage to get their research and writing done, because not coming in gives them a solid 6 hours a day with no interruptions (while the students who are looking for them come to me ...) don't piss me off because they have kids, or even that they place their families before work.

It's because they are using their kids as an excuse to not do all of their work. Because really, when I think of my colleagues, IRL and online, who have kids, usually they are in Elizabeth's position -- especially in larger departments. But the problem is that there *are* colleagues who use their kids to mask their slacking, and for those of us who think kids are important, we *can* get easily pulled after the red herring, because it's so frustrating to be in the position of either taking on the extra work or being the bad guy.

As an interesting-ish aside, most of the people I know who do this are men, but not all.

Anonymous said...

"Do you have a good response to the (typical) reply - "but my children will be paying for your retirement"?"

Actually, you know, children are very good for society and economy, especially the ones who get to see their parents a lot. You could read up on it. Just sayin'.

Every person who is juggling a demanding job and family is working very hard too. Try thinking through a complex research issue after a night of broken sleep cleaning up vomit.

Or you could do it as I have, which is scale back to a fractional position but somehow still end up doing a full workload (by fitting it into the cracks of the day / never taking lunch breaks /working when children are sleeping / ignoring them when they really need my attention). So I get LESS money, SAME crushing workload, and I ALSO get the death stares for never coming in for Friday meetings.

Children aren't the problem. The system is.

Apart from that, this is an awesome, awesome post.

Anonymous said...

Just get back to work and stop reading this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Well... if people didn't have children, teachers would be out of work.

And most of the time, these comments leave out the world of single parents, where there really is no one else to meet the bus, or pick up the kid when something goes wrong.

And most, though not all parents I know work all the harder to make themselves available on other occasions.

And ten or so years of doing double duty often means that they work even harder once the kids are gone because they're so accustomed to what is in effect double and triple over-time in terms of work loads.

Tenured Radical said...

I just want to point out an interesting sociological fact that I am not attaching a value to: out of a very long post, in which children and parenting are barely mentioned -- the comments section is once again obsessing about everyone's children. This, my friends, is what the childless and those who go to great expense and trouble to secure adequate childcare, are talking about. I'm not saying the comments aren't useful, constructive and insightful, but that they are really disproportionate to the role anything having to do with children is playing in this post. My main question is, how would you say no to excess work on your own behalf, not on behalf of your child?

I think it has been said more than once that the vast majority of parents are fine colleagues; and that the vast majority of people who use children as an excuse would find another excuse if they didn't have children. But it is the phenomenon demonstrated in this comments section that makes some folks roll their eyes and say, oh my god, with all the things there are to talk about how do your children come to take such a prominent role in thinking about our workplace?

Breaking with the children uber alles position should not lead to complaints that people don't want you to have them, are hostile to children, think a world without children would be perfect, or are unfeeling when it comes to the burdens single parents bear. But it does lead to what I think is the harder analytical point: that many of us feel unable to claim time for ourselves. When time is claimed for children it can be an oblique way of claiming time for ourselves, but framing it as an unavoidable childcare mandate which "everyone" ought to be sympathetic to.

Elizabeth said...

My main question is, how would you say no to excess work on your own behalf, not on behalf of your child?

Much better question. Good job.

Off-ladder said...

I agree with you TR -- but it's the whole canary in the coal mine issue again. Some parents may be the ones who make most noise about the 70 hr a week habits leading to unreasonable expectations, but it is a sign that many more are suffering from it more quietly.

If there were 1.7x more FTEs, there would be only 58% as many advisees per faculty, on average.

(yes, I know, that 1. it's the lack of averageness of the different FTE's advising loads that rankles, and 2. it would take a change in priority for $$, but that's a separate issue.)

EliRabett said...

It is up to the Chair and Dean to enforce workload. While they may appear not to be able to do so they do have levers. Teaching loads, office space, raises to name three. Ten years without a raise cuts a salary in half.

Winifred said...

I am so fascinated by where this comment thread went! Is the "using your kids as an excuse to never come in" confined mainly to the tenured? I have not encountered this in my division at all--I interviewed 7 months pregnant and started the TT with a 4 month old--but most of us with kids are pre-tenure. (This is at an R1.)

I spent two years in the real world between college and my graduate degree. I had two different jobs, at the first one my boss had a 6 month old when I started, at the second my boss got an expensive puppy when I started. I learned a lot about how NOT to manage children/pets through these experiences and I hope that I never make my colleagues feel like I did. Nonetheless, if you are going to schedule last minute meetings after 5pm, I might not be able to come.

I like this, too:
My main question is, how would you say no to excess work on your own behalf, not on behalf of your child?

"I will not come to the meeting you called at 5pm with 4 hours notice *for me*, not just because I have carpool with my husband and son and cannot get home if I stay past 5."

Another Damned Medievalist said...

As I mentioned at Dr. Crazy's blog, I wonder how much of this differs between R1s and 'teaching' institutions. For example, I *am* a chair, and I have absolutely no control or leverage, except perhaps for allocating budget monies. But because there are only four people in my department, I would be foolish to be vindictive with that, because I won't always be chair.

My institution doesn't do merit increases. We all get the same COLA every year. People seldom change offices, because there would have to be office space available to move people to! Teaching loads are all the same. I suppose that people could get less travel support, but that's shooting everybody in the foot, isn't it?

Doctor Cleveland said...

I'd echo ADM's point, and say that situations vary from institution to institution and department to department.

I can imagine, for example, places less research-oriented than Zenith where the primary split isn't between people who try to balance their research with service load and people who shirk the service to keep researching. Lower down the food chain, the problem can easily become that the people who don't do much service also don't have much of a research agenda either. (I've heard such places described to me, in horrifying detail.)

And in some such places, there is no real leverage. After all, the merit pay (however it's sliced) is seldom much considering the work involved. A secure salary and cost of living increases for what's in effect a reduced workload might seem more attractive than working 25 more hours a week to get a $1500 raise (or simply a *chance* at such a raise).

Plain(s)feminist said...

the comments section is once again obsessing about everyone's children. This, my friends, is what the childless and those who go to great expense and trouble to secure adequate childcare, are talking about.

...and why is that? Because what you wrote in your post the most negative, harmful, and misleading stereotypes about parents in the work force:
At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time.

What you wrote in your comments, in which you admitted that most parents pull their own weight and allowed that men are often the ones using their children as an excuse, does not come through in your post at all. As an academic mother, I read along, nodding my head, until I got to the part where you sucker-punched me.

(You also completely ignore in your post the fact that many, many women do not get to make the choices about having children that you (and I) have had the luxury of making.)

It's funny; many of my colleagues have been mothers, and together, we have managed to pull our weight and to help out each other with emergency child care so that we could teach 9am or evening classes. Most of these were adjuncts because most academic mothers are adjuncts. This should suggest a larger problem with the system, a problem that you have analyzed very nicely with the exception of your "blame it on the parents" moment.

When I think of the colleagues and teachers I have had who have underperformed and encouraged, through incompetence, their students to find other advisors, these have not been people with children. The faculty members I have known who did not show up for office hours did not have children. The faculty members I have known who did not serve on committees did not have children.

Does this mean that you never get to criticise those parents who don't pull their weight? Of course not. But what you wrote in your initial post was offensive, and instead of accepting that you, perhaps unwittingly, jumped into a very sensitive and longstanding, heated debate, you instead implied that your commenters' "obsession" with this issue was selfish and myopic.

What you state as your real question - how would you say no to excess work on your own behalf, not on behalf of your child? - continues to assume that parents are doing something wrong, already. Isn't the real question, simply, "how would you say no to excess work?" And what's wrong with, "I am just swamped - I'm sorry"? Or, "You know, I really need to prioritize in order to get this book done, so I'm going to have to say no. I'm so sorry."?

The question isn't how to say no. It's how to feel *comfortable* saying no.

Tenured Radical said...

Plain(s) Feminist: Do you have the slightest idea what a bullying and myopic comment this is? Or that by taking my words out of context you have utterly altered their meaning? Or how unbelievably intolerant you sound? If you are going to go berserk over a couple lines in a multi-paragraph post that you don't find supportive, why not throw out the Bible because Leviticus sucks eggs too?

And no, I'm really not worried about the people who haven't had the "privilege" of choosing not to have children. I think that is utterly asinine, and for all you know I am completely sterile and would have had to adopt or steal a child.

Anonymous said...

Please don't be so hard on Plain(s) Feminist, TR. She has many a point, and this is not the first time that I have noticed an embedded segment in one of your posts with the following kind of progression, which is exactly what pissed P(s) feminist off:
a) "now don't get me wrong, I like population subgroup X"
b) some of my best friends are "population subgroup X"
c) but the premises under which some of population subgroup X operates are asinine (sometime this conclusion is not directly stated but is rather implied)

P(s)Feminist raises some very good points that the childfree among us might do well to try to understand.

And she is right. For those of use who have trouble saying no, and then who resent those who are able to (for whatever reason), we had better figure out how to do so before we blow our stacks.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Plain(s) Feminist: Do you have the slightest idea what a bullying and myopic comment this is? Or that by taking my words out of context you have utterly altered their meaning?

I don't believe I have either taken your words out of context or altered their meaning. You felt that people were "obsessing" about this issue. I think the reason is because that small part of your post was offensive. I get that you don't think so, but that doesn't mean that it isn't.

Or how unbelievably intolerant you sound?
If that's true, then I apologize. I don't believe that to be the case. You used a generalization, and again, a particularly sensitive negative stereotype. And then you wondered why people were talking so much about this issue, and you appeared to dismiss any concerns by implying that the parents who were raising them (and I don't think all of them are parents) were hogging the discussion or selfishly focusing it to their own ends.

And no, I'm really not worried about the people who haven't had the "privilege" of choosing not to have children. I think that is utterly asinine, and for all you know I am completely sterile and would have had to adopt or steal a child.

Your earlier comment certainly implied that you made a conscious choice not to be a parent:
Having children and holding down a full-time academic job is a huge burden: I recognize that. It's one of the reasons why I didn't have children.
This is the comment that I was responding to when I said that not everyone gets to choose not to have children. I have heard a lot of people say that they made choices not to have children and should therefore not have to deal with the fallout from other people's choices to have children. I thought that you were saying something along those lines. My comment obviously struck a nerve with you, and I'm sorry for that. However, there indeed are, whether or not you want to accept it, plenty of women who did not get to choose not to have children (just as there are plenty of women who did not get to choose to have children). Maybe you don't know that you know any in the former category, but I do.

In any case, I'm sorry that I caused you to feel bullied. That was not my intent.

Thank you, Anonymous.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous: you are so right about that rhetorical flourish, but that's what writers do - it's called style. Being a misanthrope about the glories of child rearing isn't an open invitation to berate me. PF can be as pissed off as she likes, but it doesn't make her right, nor does it justify putting motherhood front, line and center in comments about a post that wasn't about motherhood. Her narcissism is pissing *me* off.

My last comment on this, Plain(s) feminist, is that you shouldn't apologize when you clearly believe you have nothing to apologize for. The nerve you touched is touched is not about the children I didn't have, or even your presumptuousness that I have had the "privilege" to choose not to have them. The nerve you touched is activated when someone insists that her own point of view is the exclusively correct one, fills up my blog with it, and behaves as though others who do not share her belief that parenthood is always a privileged status they need to be forcefully enlightened until they do.

And I don't *feel* bullied: I feel pissed off at you because you bullied me .

Plain(s)feminist said...

So, to be clear:

You can make any comment you like about any group of people, but if they don't like it and say so, they are being narcissistic. I've left, now, 3 of 46 comments (including this one) and you say I've "filled up your blog."

Just for the record, I do not believe, nor have I ever said in the comments here or in any of my own posts on parenting, that "parenthood is always a privileged status".

But, you've already ended the conversation, which is an effective way to shut someone up who doesn't agree with you.

GayProf said...

Oh, I love the quote out of context game! Here is what I heard from Tenured Radical:

I . . .would. . . steal a child.

What??? You are planning on stealing children. Really, Tenured Radical, have you no shame??

Anonymous said...

"Soon" is worse than "No." As a grad Student I had a professor repeatedly say they would read my dissertation proposal and consider serving on my committee "soon." I wasted an entire semester regularly, politely asking them is they had read it yet. Meanwhile, i'm paying tuition and falling behind.

They never did get to it and I began the next semester seeking a different member.

Tenured Radical said...

Gayprof:

I steal them and then I sell them to cloning centers.

dave said...

TR, if you think PF "bullied" you, you need to get out more. To use a word like that for a couple of para's of civil discourse suggests, perhaps unfairly, that you do not know what bullying is. I doubt that, but why take the chance?

LadyProf said...

To get back on track: women faculty are, in my experience and observation, routinely expected to do considerably more service than men, with fewer rewards. At my institution, once gaining tenure a man is automatically either (a) excused from toil or (b) given admin tasks with power over other people. Tenured women, myself included, toil as subordinates and order-takers. Same phenomenon at other schools. If I started to say no more often, I'd instantly be labeled difficult, selfish, arrogant, a prima donna, on and on.

Siva Vaidhyanathan said...

I really dug your workload essay and passed it on to many junior colleagues.

I do hope you consider qualifying one point, though. On the time-management burdens of caring for young children, you seemed unnecessarily flippant and derisive. The crack about "You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home" was not helpful. And it alienates those of us who had children for quite different reasons: because we would like to help them navigate the world to a better place.

Certainly, you are taxed to care for others' children. It's not just the service time at work. It's the school taxes you pay and the health insurance you pay for but use far less than people with children do. In fact, you pay a substantial amount of time and money to support the continuation of the species. And we should be more grateful to you.

But if we were in Europe your tax would be even higher -- literally. Yet in Europe, it's clear, the childless benefit even more from having healthy, happy children in their societies. When children are young, healthy, working adults subsidize their welfare. When adults grow old, the former children subsidize their welfare. It's not only a really good system. It's the only reasonable system.

Even over here, some day someone will have to pay for your nursing home, hospice, Medicaid, and social security. Only the rich among us can shoulder the costs of old age without help. It's not "the government" that takes care of us when we are old. It's the working adults of the world -- those former children whom you helped care for, feed, and educate through your time and money.

So while your point is well taken, the target of your complaints should not be parents of young children. As you wrote, we do not retreat from service labor equally. But let's be clear. We all have a stake in the well being of every child, whether we asked for them or not.

Anonymoose said...

Great post & discussion (and I'll even ignore the slams against parents from the childless), but I wanted to get at what I think are some of the dynamics of the unequal workload spread.

When I began a TT job, I went ahead and said "yes" to everything, assuming that this would create general goodwill and demonstrate my usefulness. Probably like most of us.

But here's what really happens, I think: by saying "yes" to something, you create an impression not that you're taking one for the team but that you really don't mind doing the thing you've agreed to do. And so, hey, why not ask you again next time? There's no memory that you might have complained, that you pleaded not to have to do this again until after the book was out, etc.

The best strategy, for me, is in a way to give in to this assumption: to say "yes" to the extra things I actually *don't* mind doing all that much, since I won't get *any* extra karma from taking on the tasks that I find least rewarding and most burdensome. If I feel I need to explain why I can't take on more--I can at least point to what I am doing.

Also, it helps to be tenured now.

Anonymous said...

Good post, except for the part about parents and kids. What kind of "radical" would attack working parents trying to balance home life and work life? The issue, ultimately, is childcare, which universities and colleges (and other work places), should provide as a discounted or free on-site (or nearby) service. It would increase productivity and allow working parents flexibility--and the ability to properly interact with their children during the day.

This is way more complicated than you portray it: the increase in homes with two working parents (or single parent homes), hard economic times demanding more and more time at work, etc....

Tenured Radical said...

What kind of "radical" would attack working parents trying to balance home life and work life?

Indeed. Radicals are well known for their temperance and unwillingness to provoke the innocent as they pursue intelligent discussion of structural issues. Shame, shame.

OK, enough of my humor. It's caused enough trouble.

First thought. Just because Plain(s) Feminist said I was attacking a whole category of workers doesn't mean I was; I continue to maintain that I was not. That is her opinion, and I disagree with her that my post was parentophobic because I merely referred to a parallel situation that exists alongside the difficulties faced by working parents: the schedules of parents tend to be respected; the schedules of single people and the childless are assumed to be flexible. Both things can be true, and I don't see why some parents refuse to get this. Single people don't love it when coupled people claim they must defer to a spouse's schedule in arranging their worklives; the childless resent it when they are told that a colleague must always do x for a child because a spouse's schedule "isn't flexible like mine is." I cannot tell you how often I have heard that. And why is hir schedule flexible? Because the childless have no equally virtuous and inviolable excuse, and their arms can be more easily twisted.

I would like to point out (again) that I qualified my (brief) statement about using one's child as an excuse. I said that most parents are hard working and responsible and do not use their children to dodge work. Furthermore, a critical reading of the post reveals that other categories of folk (such as tenured people) come in for greater criticism.

Siva notes that I was snide. That is true, and probably at the heart of the matter here. I find it difficult to resist being snide, and if I were Rachel Maddow everyone would love me for it. And yet, because one's friends can always be relied upon for honesty I must admit error here. But readers, be honest: it is not that what I said is categorically untrue. It is the contempt for parenting as a praxis that you inferred from it, and the sexist stigma that has always dogged women workers that is at issue. Snideness does leave me open to the misinterpretation that it is I, not centuries of patriarchy, that am responsible for applying that stigma to hard-working women, so I must admit error here as well.

To go a little deeper as to where my snideness may have come from, (I am in therapy after all): the assumption that childless people are always available causes great resentment too, and sometimes infers contempt for those who have not chosen (or, as PlainsFeminist primly corrected me, have had the privilege of not choosing) a hetero- or homonormative family structure. As one homonormative colleague, en route to baby #1 said to me once with great and sincere curiosity: "What do couples even talk about after ten years if they don't have children?" That you, dear reader, do not feel that contempt towards me makes this condition for the childless no less pervasive. Perhaps those who are *not* childless have never experienced the expectation that their needs and desires are less important than those who have children, just as the childless have not experienced the nature of your burdens?

Another thought: the politics of this discussion. Since when did it become ok to say that (drumroll) men can be categorically critiqued for dodging labor (this is a theme that goes relatively unquestioned around the blogosphere, and in these comments, and I see no one leaping to the defence of "men") but parents are categorically exempt from scrutiny no matter what? If parents are always given the benefit of the doubt, even when they are people who behaved the same way when childless, then everyone should be exempt from scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Let me also say that all the laziest people in my department--without exception--are either old men or the barren of either gender.

When my barren colleagues complain about their impossible schedules, I just laugh inwardly.

Tenured Radical said...

Barren? What an odious term to use for the child-free.

Plain(s)feminist said...

or, as PlainsFeminist primly corrected me, have had the privilege of not choosing) a hetero- or homonormative family structure

I didn't say that.

I said that not everyone has the privilege of choosing to have or not have children. That is not quite the same thing.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I like your description of the intentionally incompetent. There is clearly a self-reinforcing symmetry breaking that occurs when people start out as faculty members.

Those who are naturally conscientious, organized, and who care about the success of the larger entities around them--departments, programs, schools, institutions, professional societies, etc--gravitate towards service because they are good at it and find it personally rewarding. Those who are naturally lazy, disorganized, and selfish gravitate away from service, leaving more of it to the former group.

In terms of the mechanics of saying no and the social process of allocating service effort, I think the best way to arrange these things is to create an institutional culture where "excuses" are neither sought nor offered. If you are carrying your weight, then no excuse is needed to say no to additional duties. And if you are not carrying your weight, then no excuse suffices.

Eliminating the culture of excuse eliminates the calculus of competing excuses.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post. Having read all of these comments through, I must say I am somewhat befuddled by TR's anger at PF, but think that it is evidence of the divisiveness that comes from the very unreasonable expectations placed on "team-playing" faculty (of whom a majority are women). I think that a lot of people, parents or otherwise, TR, are taking issue with that line of your post because children really for many are a way of claiming a "life," of saying"no" in a way that at least some people will listen to. And a lot of those people who use their kids to claim a "life" are still pulling a heavy load. 80% of our (R1, large) department's administrative posts are held by parents of children under the age of 10. I'd add that currently that same 80% are women. I sat on a salary review committee and discovered (surprise, surprise) that the majority of service is done by early- and mid-career women. I think the earlier comment that this is about women rings true for many of us. That is not to say that male colleagues do not pull their load, but that many of them are *not asked to*. I remember being told that one of my colleagues "couldn't" do some service job "because he was focused on his research program." I was asked to do that service job. We were both pre-tenure, both writing our books. I've published as much as he has. I have done at least twice as much service. WTF?

The reward for good work is more work. The answer? Strategic incompetence. Burn the dinner and no one asks you to cook. :)

Anonymous said...

...And of course, lest we go down the path of saying those able to use the "excuse" of kids are privileged, I will say that yes, parenthood is a privilege, but those without kids (myself included) often WILDLY underestimate the burden. I was the person to complain LOUDLY about my parent-colleagues "whining".... until I became one (and still do a ****load of service, research, and teaching, and "can't say no"). When you rankle at the parent excuse, think: if you had a colleague who was caring for an infirm partner, would you give them a break? Ultimately, I want to avoid that line of argument. Ultimately, to paraphrase/badly quote Cheryl Clarke in This Bridge, let's stop fighting for our place at the bottom, because there isn't enough room. Let's all find a way to say "no" that is related to our work expectations--then no one will have to appeal to extra-work excuses to have lives and breathing room.

Anonymous said...

....I.e., finally: I agree with your solutions. But the path of least resistance for administrators is to keep asking the competent.

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