Thursday, March 10, 2011

update on family friendly policies

I mentioned in an earlier post that Tiny U implemented a new policy to keep families from accompanying faculty who are teaching Summer Programs off campus (like Study Abroad, fieldschools, etc.) I wrote a memo of (respectful) protest, and got most of the faculty who had led summer programs in the last decade to sign it.

The response was both good and...less good. On the good side: family members can now accompany faculty on summer programs, as long as a) their presence is disclosed; b) they don't cost the university any money; c) they sign a legal waiver; and d)there are contingency plans in place for any personal problems that may crop up.

Mission Accomplished!!

Before I put on the flight suit and bound across the flight deck to declare victory, however, I want to mention the less good aspects of the situation.

I had a meeting with the Academic Vice President (AVP), and her responses to this issue makes it clear that she's willing to work with us (yay!) but she doesn't really "get it". For example, she expressed concern that if an accompanying child was hospitalized, then the faculty member may not be willing to move on to the next leg of a study abroad trip. I responded that it wouldn't matter if my children accompanied me to the field or not; if one of my kids was hospitalized, even back in Tiny Town, I'd be on the next flight home. Her response? "I'm nervous about letting you take our students abroad, if you tell me that your first priority would be to your own kids, and you'd just abandon the students and run straight home."

Here's the thing: My students are a great responsibility, and I take that seriously, but my children are my life. They will always come first. If that's a problem, then I shouldn't be teaching at all, end of story. In fact, no parent should be teaching, and particularly no mothers without stay-at-home spouses. Are we honestly saying that no woman with kids should be allowed in the workplace? I didn't think so!

There were some additional tidbits during the conversation that concerned me. For example, the AVP expressing some concern that faculty would have to choose between the health and welfare of their own children and of the students. It's an argument against parents, made by someone who has never been a parent. First of all, there's nothing to choose. Of course I would pick my children, if I had to make some kind of Sophie's Choice on a study abroad trip (at which point, we would all have a lot more things to worry about than whether or not an unpaid spouse is in tow!) But that idea is ludicrous. Short of landing in the middle of complete chaos, there are backup plans and safety nets for all of our study abroad programs. Nobody expresses concern that the faculty member would have to make a difficult choice between her own health and welfare and those of her students. Why would a parent's choice be so much more problematic?

Annoyances aside, this was a substantial victory for family-friendly policy at Tiny U. I'm thrilled.


  1. This is fantastic! Well, mostly! As you point out, we are really just talking about what happens during a Study Abroad trip if the instructor has a personal emergency. That's what a back-up plan is for, because of course you are not going to just abandon the students, even if you do need to go home!

    Alternately, they could just hire people with no surviving parents, no siblings, and no romantic partners so as to minimize possible disruptions during a trip. Maybe we had better rule out those with friends and pets too. Ideally instructors will be indestructible and immortal as well. Or wait, the school COULD SIMPLY REQUIRE A BACK-UP PLAN IN THE CASE OF EMERGENCY. . . MB

  2. Exactly! The idea that emergencies are somehow exclusive to mothers, or that mothers are less able to handle them, drives me nuts! Still, this is all win, from a practical perspective. We got the policy changed, and we couldn't be happier.