The Value of Children
Should the university partner with parenting faculty?
By Carol J. Rowland Hogue, Jules and Deen Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health


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Stopping the Tenure-Clock for Emory's Junior Faculty
Would family friendly delays be fair for all?

By Allison O. Adams, Academic Exchange, March-April 1999

Since becoming a mother in 1988, I have defined myself as a person with a dual career—mother and epidemiologist. I was forty-two years old when I took on motherhood, well past the concerns of tenure and promotion. In fact, early in our academic careers, my husband and I consciously practiced what legal scholar Joan Williams and labor studies scholar Robert Drago call “bias avoidance.” In order to live up to the “ideal worker” norm (that “substantial non-work commitments are neither expected nor tolerated as people work their way up career ladders in the U.S.”), we postponed childbearing until we were well on our way professionally.

Then we discovered that we had waited too long to produce a biological child. After years of infertility treatment (during which we continued our first careers, attaining tenure and promotion along the way), we eventually turned to adoption, and our dear Elizabeth came into our lives about two weeks before I assumed the presidency of the Society for Epidemiologic Research (SER). One of the proudest moments of my life was introducing my husband and baby at the beginning of my presidential address at the ser annual meeting in 1988.

By that time, I had left academia for work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (where I was not given maternity leave because I was adopting—but things changed later). When I eagerly returned to academia in fall 1992, a large part of my motivation was to involve myself more in my kindergartner’s life. I negotiated with the dean of the School of Public Health to become a full-time, but part-time paid, full professor with tenure, so that I could share afternoon and evening child-rearing responsibilities with my husband. This arrangement continued for a few years, until we didn’t need it any more.

Our approach to early child-rearing worked for us personally, and I do not regret it. I could tell, however, that trying to balance two careers was adversely affecting both my husband’s and my professional careers in subtle but measurable ways. These effects included reduced numbers of publications, limited ability to network in our home institutions and at professional meetings, and even perhaps suffering a “negative halo” from colleagues and supervisors who might have felt we should not have strayed so far from the “ideal worker” norm. Now that Lizzie is in high school, we as parents have more flexibility to pursue our joint parenting career and our separate academic careers. Our experiences have led me to ponder what role universities should be playing as members of the “village” that cares for its children.

In 1998, for the first time in the U.S., a national survey found that both parents were employed outside the home in a majority of two-parent households In contrast, in 1976, the first year for which figures are available (and, coincidentally, the year we began trying to have a child), only one-third of two-parent households included two employed parents. Among college-educated women, the trend is even more striking. Nearly seven in ten women with a baby younger than one year were employed in 1998. In commenting on these figures, Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, said “It’s time to move beyond, ‘Is it good, is it bad?’ and get to, ‘How do we make it work?’”

Right now, most of the struggle to integrate three careers into a two-adult household (or two careers into a one-adult household when a single parent is following both a work and a family career) plays out privately at home. Parents try to figure out childcare arrangements, harness technological innovation like cell phones and electronic communications, and make the compromises they feel they can. As it stands now, working parents with children face a particular set of issues that impinge on their ability to be the best parents they want to be and to achieve their employment career goals.

A series of working papers published by the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center of Cornell University paint an interesting picture of working adults. Parents
who are least satisfied with success in both parenting and work are younger, with younger children—in academia, the ages when most are seeking promotion and tenure. To handle the domestic demands of households with small children, working wives often seek alternative work arrangements, such as part-time employment, that impair their chances of success at work. Sociologists Penny Becker and Phyllis Moen, in a very thoughtful essay titled “Scaling Back: Dual-Career Couples’ Work-Family Strategies,” find that parents are making individual decisions that "place limits on the way that paid work structures their family lives; but they are doing so within powerful, and often intransigent, structural and society-cultural constraints. Their strategies make sense in light of existing structural lags at work and in communities, with arrangements . . . predicated on the traditional breadwinner/homemaker model. And the costs, from a life course perspective, of scaling back in the short-term are too often found in long-term deficiencies in occupational and economic attainment (including the absence of pensions) and prospects for the future, costs typically borne by women. "

Taken together, these data suggest that academic institutions should re-examine definitions of success and career paths. Moen and colleagues call for “new arrangements and new metaphors to replace existing lock step occupation lattices and ladders” to “facilitate the successful integration of two careers along with a family ‘career.’”

Emory University made a major stride in this direction in April 2000, when the Board of Trustees approved revisions in policies regarding temporarily stopping the tenure clock, and for maternity and parental leave. These actions were the culmination of years of debate, beginning with the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which issued its recommendations in 1998, followed by an article in the inaugural issue of the Academic Exchange in 1999, and further study and recommendations of an ad hoc committee of the Faculty Council in 2000. The tenure policy allows junior faculty to request a delay of their tenure review for up to two years for a variety of family-related issues. Emory’s parental leave policy applies to any full-time faculty member who is the “primary care-giver,”—that is, who “has primary child-rearing responsibility for his or her child. It is not intended to extend to a parent whose child is primarily in the care of a spouse or other care-giver.” The primary care-giver may request the equivalent of one semester of teaching relief with full pay over an academic year, and, under special circumstances, may extend parental leave for another semester at a reduced level of compensation. Maternity leave permits paid leave up to six months for the health-related issues of birth mothers.

These measures are important, but they fall far short of recognizing and valuing the time required to rear a child. Two years ago, in an article published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Drago and Williams pointed out that child rearing lasts for twenty years—not one semester, and is better viewed as a long-term commitment than as a disease. To value children and child rearing among faculty, Drago and Williams proposed a half-time tenure clock for faculty members with care-giving responsibilities for children or elderly or ill family members. Faculty who would request that the tenure clock be slowed to half time would take a concomitant reduction in salary, benefits, and advancement. There would be a maximum time for a tenure decision, perhaps set at twelve years. Drago and Williams claim that a half-time tenure track would pose no additional costs to a university, particularly if the cost-savings were passed back to the affected departments.

The half-time tenure clock is one example of creative involvement of the university and parents in parenting. There are other possibilities that could be included with this approach or tried on their own. For example, Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center sociologists Moen and Shin-Kap Han predict in their paper, “Couple Careers: Men’s and Women’s Pathways Through Work and Marriage in the United States,” that “family considerations will increasingly impose themselves upon the career paths of both men and women.” They suggest that couples, families, or households—rather than individuals—become “the appropriate unit of analysis in modeling career paths.” Nowadays, academic institutions often recruit both husband and wife, but then each is evaluated individually. What would happen if the family unit became the evaluation unit for promotion and tenure? If so, could standards for good parenting be included in performance measures? How would such standards be evaluated?

The notion that the university is a partner in its faculty members’ parenting offers fertile ground for in-depth, interdisciplinary discussions throughout academia, in science, business, religion, law, and the humanities. Areas for further exploration include the meaning of work and time stewardship, the meaning of parenthood, and developmental needs of children. Some would argue that the university has no business involving itself in child rearing. Equity issues abound for faculty without children who may feel unequally treated when called upon to teach early or late classes, or who may not financially benefit from child-friendly fringe benefits such as on-campus childcare centers. I think we need to discuss all concerns openly as we try to articulate the university’s role in supporting those who have taken on the responsibility of rearing the next generation of university students.

If we put our minds to the issue, I am sure we could come up with equitable ideas and recommendations. I believe if we can revalue child-rearing careers and elevate them to the level of employment careers, the resulting solutions would be beneficial to academic institutions and their surrounding communities. Our solutions might serve not only as new paradigms for success of our own employees, but also as new paradigms for success of academic institutions as a whole.

Academic institutions are under great pressure to demonstrate their worth in an increasingly bottom-line-oriented society. What better way to demonstrate worth than by pointing the way to more successful lives for working adults, including those who work to nurture the next generation—modeling an environment that could be adapted to other work settings and exported to rapidly modernizing cultures.

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