Faculty at my institution are upset over the family unfriendliness of the academic schedule. A particular sticking point is that numerous events at the University begin after 5 p.m. – these are lectures, beginning of the year events, graduate recruitment events, and even job talks (leaving aside the necessity to go out to dinner with seminar speakers one hosts and job candidates if one is on the search committee). For many faculty, an early evening event is on their schedule at least once a week. This is particularly frustrating to dual-academic partners and faculty with young children.
A survey was sent out to the faculty, and various potential solutions were brought forward. Many faculty would like the University to provide sitters at evening events or set up a drop-in sitting facility. Multiple requests were made for a more lenient Travel Fund for Dependent Care: each faculty member can apply for up to $500 once a year to bring a non-family sitter on a trip, but many argued it would be preferable to have this fund to applicable to non-travel situations (i.e., paying for a sitter when both partners are on search committees and need to spend evenings away from home). But far and away the greatest request was for an end to programming after 5 p.m. As one colleague put it, “In my ideal world, no one would expect faculty to be available after 5 p.m. for professional events.”
Many faculty feel acute pressure to be available in the evenings. These faculty tend to be junior faculty in small departments and faculty at all levels who have multi-disciplinary affiliations (often with cross-departmental centers or interdisciplinary graduate programs). Who feels the least pressure to attend evening events? Those in STEM departments, at all levels. For example, in my department, seminars and faculty meetings are always noon to 1 and any event after 4 pm includes children/partners with no perceivable penalty to missing those late afternoon/evening events. A colleague in the Humanities concluded that STEM family-friendly timing of programming likely stems (ha ha) from the longstanding awareness that gender diversity should be promoted in STEM fields. But I think it’s more complex than that: so how is it that STEM fields at my institution seem to have gotten this right?
Is it because we have research groups, and we generally minimize department-level programming in favor of spending more time in the lab? Based on a small sample size of two departments (mine and one in the Humanities) I found that the male full professors in the Humanities department overwhelmingly have wives whose careers took a back seat when they had children or who never worked outside the home, while the male full professors in my department all have professional wives (physicians, teachers, nurses, lawyers). Senior women in both departments were unlikely to have children but likely to have professional partners. I wonder whether STEM faculty tend to belong to two-career families, making evenings more sacrosanct?
Two insidious imbalances among faculty were brought to light by this survey. First, minority faculty answering the survey tended to have multiple academic affiliations and thus may feel obligated to attend more evening events than non-minority faculty. Anecdotally, I have heard minority colleagues mention feeling pressure to attend alumni events or events for parents to help showcase diversity in their department or at the university in general. For female faculty of color, the burden seemed particularly heavy; multiple faculty mentioned feeling worried about the consequences of saying no when asked to headline an evening event by their senior colleagues.
The second insidious imbalance? Teaching load and, interestingly, length of time in class. Colleagues primarily teaching seminars, which meet once a week for 2.5 hours, felt much more frustrated about events scheduled in their day than colleagues whose teaching took place over multiple blocks per class per week (i.e., 90-minute sessions twice a week, or 3 50-minute sessions per week). Classes in the Humanities are generally in seminar format at my institution, while those in the sciences are not. And there’s the issue of colleagues outside STEM fields teaching much more than STEM faculty at my institution: the STEM load tends to be a class per semester, compared to two classes per semester in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Is it that STEM departments have more time to set meetings/events during the day simply because we are teaching less? TSW readers in STEM fields with heavier teaching loads and who teach labs (which can be very long): do you find your evenings getting eaten up with required departmental events like lectures?
This conversation at my institution particularly centers around the challenges of having young children. As the parent of a young child, I think that’s very shortsighted. The encroachment of work responsibilities into all 24 hours of the day (with the email-based world we work in) is instead a problem for all people: men, women, single people, partnered people, people caring for elders, people caring for children. I feel for my colleagues who are worried their tenure chances would be reduced by not attending numerous evening events and reducing travel. When promotion hinges in part on being perceived as collegial and engaging in service at multiple levels, how can colleagues keep in mind the value of time spent alone (or at least not working)?