15 Ways to Take Your Furlough/Voluntary Pay Cut #12
"Teach Your Children Well"

Monday, March 22, 2010

posted under , , , , by Unit for Criticism

[In the next in our "15 Ways to Take Your Furlough/Voluntary Pay Cut" series, Kate Clancy, assistant professor in Anthropology, considers work in higher education from the perspective of parenting.]

"Teach Your Children Well"

Written by Kate Clancy (Anthropology)


My husband and I are both assistant professors and scientists. We both have laboratories, mentor a large number of students, and need to be in the office all the time. We have a beautiful daughter who is about to turn two, and have Monday through Friday full time daycare. In addition to the forty-five hours of work we get out of childcare, we trade off on Sundays (I work mornings, he works afternoons) and we work most nights once our daughter is asleep.

Our lives aren’t that flexible. We work all the time. Despite this, I am quite happy with my job – I feel free to pursue any research I find interesting; I teach bright students who, for the most part, are willing and eager to go along with all of my wacky ideas about active, democratic learning. I feel well supported by colleagues in my department, and in organizing for the Campus Faculty Association I have met a whole new set of wonderful peers and mentors across the university.

Recently a writer for a local website for mothers interviewed me, wanting my take on the furloughs. When the writer and I spoke by phone, I learned the angle she wanted the story to take: she saw the furlough as an opportunity any mom would jump at, as a way to spend more time with her kids. She wanted to know what my daughter and I would be doing together.

Did I miss the part where I could (and would) furlough my day care provider? Because we all know we don’t get that money back. Listen, I love my daughter and I have dropped every hobby I once had so I could maximize my time with her. But what are we teaching our kids if a furlough day turns into a field trip? I don’t want to teach my daughter that when my employer docks my pay despite excellent performance, that I should paste on a smile and head to the zoo (or worse, that I should work invisibly and without pay). That means I am taking my furlough in a way that maximizes, not minimizes impact. I am not going to be another working parent whose work life balance is invisible or disingenuous.

There is something I want both my daughter and my colleagues to learn, and that is to fight. This job encourages passivity. We all feel so lucky, after years of apprenticeship, to be one of those select few to have “made it” to the Holy Grail tenure-line job. We wonder how we got here, whether we are impostors after all, whether our colleagues will find out about us in classroom observations, grant proposals, or our tenure review. Before the relative privilege of a tenure-track faculty position comes years of huge risk with no promise of a financially or professionally secure life. And so we wait for the next moment, the next year, the next promotion, to speak up or stand up. We decide, in our offices, eating our lunches at our desks alone, that we’re doing okay and can just ride this crisis out. We forget that operating in isolation, while comfortable, is not actually scholarly. In an age of interdisciplinary scholarship, staying out of this mess will produce lower quality work than building relationships with colleagues and facing it.

I want my daughter to be a giant pain in the ass. I want her to know her worth. I want to teach her that when you stand up for yourself and get involved in local issues, that the effects on your psyche are permanent and that the effects on your local environment are long-ranging and long-lasting. My daughter watches my face for every emotion; she imitates my behavior and gauges my reaction to the world around us. If I slink away and take my pay cut and hide in my darkened office working on my furlough days, my daughter will learn passivity. If I stick around, get my colleagues to join the union, if I pass on these stories to her the way my dad passed on his about working with Vietnamese refugees, or the times my mother told me about how she stood up to her parents’ racism, I will be providing examples of what it means to stand up in conditions of uncertainty and risk. And I will show her it is possible to be relaxed while defying forces of injustice, and that even if they do their worst, everything will have been all right. I am a better scholar, mentor, teacher and parent when I help to make this fight public.

TA lines and contingent faculty are being cut despite their enormously important contributions to this campus; department budgets are slashed; student fees are on the rise; and I have a feeling tuition waivers for employees’ kids will be gone soon too. But this job and this life, the idea of a university that provides stable jobs and a quality education for the people of Illinois, for this, we must make time.

We have two of a total of four common furlough days left. On February 15th we met for a teach-in and on March 4th we joined campuses all over the country in solidarity. On the next common furlough day, April 6th, we will meet to organize this campus, and on April 21st to storm Springfield. So, two more days when I will not work, two more days that my daughter will be in childcare, two more days I will devote to the work we need to do to restructure this university.

The zoo will wait, though my heart aches to say it, because this fight helps to secure a good life for my daughter. This is the story I will pass on to her one day, because this is the life I want to model for her.

5 comments

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5 comments:

KBHC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unit for Criticism said...

Deleted comment was a request for an edit.

Lauren said...

Thanks very much, Kate. I think you are right about passivity and I'm not exactly sure why that is. OTOH, I'm hoping that passivity on our campus is in the process of reaching an all time low!

Reasonable Sandra said...

This was really an enlightened point of view. Being non-academic and loving my more flexible entrepreneurial lifestyle, I was thinking on the same lines as the mom-website-author...take some time off already and enjoy it!

But I see your point, especially if you are not, on other occasions one of those who bitches constantly about how many hours they have to work.

KBHC said...

Thanks, Lauren and Sandra. Lauren, I'm with you -- the number of emails I've gotten about this piece have attested to it! Organizing is "in" :).

Sandra, I probably do complain about all the hours I have to work sometimes, I'm not immune! But to take time off is to make invisible all the cuts at this university, and it means towing the party line that we can somehow do more with less. I am hoping that by making these cuts more visible we can show the risks we take when we don't make more of a public commitment to higher education... not just for the sake of my job, but for the sake of our students and, as cheesy as it may sound, our kids. Mine is still young enough to hang on my every word and action, and I am very conscious of the impact I have because of it.

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