Balancing Work and Caregiving: A Best Practices Teach-In Summary

Throughout 2021-2022, United Academics and members from the CSWS Caregiver Campaign continued their collaborative efforts to push the University of Oregon administration to address issues of equity and inclusion for UO faculty struggling to balance the demands of caregiving while fulfilling their employment expectations. On April 27, we hosted a joint zoom teach-in with 43 attendees. The contents of this report lay out the scope of the issues but also provide hands-on practical strategies to address challenges that have existed long before the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is a video recording of the Teach-In available on the CSWS website, as well as the UA caucus webpage. If you have any questions please feel free to contact [email protected], with subject heading caregiving… 

Maria Escallón: A Statement on Caregiving

When we think about carework and caregiving, many of us automatically think of nurses, doctors, domestic workers, nannies, nursing home staff, and others who provide care for children, individuals with disabilities, aging adults, or those with medical needs. But for many of us, caregiving is a daily part of our lives, part of our unpaid labor, that we ordinarily take on as members of our families, our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, tribes, & churches. Some, have chosen their caregiving roles, others, have found themselves caring for someone, or receiving care in different moments of their lives.

Many of us care for our children, others for their aging parents, and others for family and loved ones with disabilities or who need medical care. Beyond our immediate circles, many of us care for extensive, non-local networks of friends and family, and some, even care for strangers living hundreds of miles away.

Caregiving may look very different for each of us, and involve anything like providing financial resources in times of need, problem-solving, sending remittances, giving emotional support, transport, inter-generational advice, or access to technology, just to give a few examples.

There are more of us who are caregivers than what we imagine. In the US alone there are over 43 million unpaid family caregivers caring for someone at home. According to recent estimates, one in three people in the US are in active caregiving relationships.

Today, we invite you to think of caregivers and caregiving expansively. In the context of our academic workplace, remember that caregiving is not just about parents or families in any traditional sense. By caregivers we mean anyone who regularly, and often without financial compensation, looks after a child, a dependent, a sick, elderly, or any individual experiencing disability.

Though caregiving has important gender implications, it is not solely a women’s issue. Though carework inequities have been highlighted by the pandemic, they are not a new, nor a temporary crisis. We all need and depend on care, for us, for our communities, for our workplace. Without a single exception, we all have been cared for by someone, and most probably, will be called on to care for somebody at some point in our lives.

Today, we invite you to change our narrative about care, as something that we choose, that it's our individual responsibility, that happens inside our home, and that we need to deal with alone. As the pandemic changed our lives and zoom meetings made our messy living rooms, our wondering cats, our partners in pajamas, and our screaming children visible to all, here we want to make caregivers and carework visible as well, reflecting on our personal challenges and the institutional responsibilities of our workplace. We are calling on you to recognize your caregiving roles, and if you are not there yet, to learn how you can be a caregiver ally.

We invite you to reflect on your current caregiving challenges, but please don’t stop there. We want to strategize solutions with you recognizing our differences and our different goals and needs. We invite you to imagine, to imagine with us what our work could look like if rather than a private burden or a public liability, caregiving was seen as an opportunity to build a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Like me, many of you moved away from your families and friends to work here at UO. Let’s use this time together to think, to talk, and to plan, and most importantly, to realize that here, with all of us present in this small virtual room, we are creating our new caregiving community.

Break Out Rooms Part I: Caregiving Challenges and Supports

In groups of 4-5 participants discussed and recorded their group’s discussion on Teach-In Google slides

In your groups please respond to the following two questions and put your responses on your group’s slide.

  1. What is one major struggle you experienced regarding caregiving? Or, what is something you saw a caretaking colleague or student struggle with?
  2. Can you share any examples of a positive or supportive experience around caregiving at the university. This could be something you experienced personally, or saw, or heard about from others at the UO OR other universities.

Major Summation of Themes from Break-Out Rooms Part 1 - Struggles and Challenges

Theme 1 Structural Obstacles

  • Can’t take advantage of in-residence fellowships that require relocation. 
  • Cannot explain caregiving challenges in P&T or Review documents.
  • Elder care/care for parents with chronic health conditions not considered outside of FMLA. 
  • Sandwich generation, juggling childcare and eldercare. 
  • Closed nursing facilities. 
  • Lack of adequate available childcare and after school care (most repeated)
  • Existing available caregiver list is inadequate.
  • No backup childcare during closures, which can be for extensive periods of time. 
  • Existing quality child care is not affordable for many faculty salaries (NTTF and TTF). 
  • Additional expenses for substitute care when dependents are sick or other emergencies.
  • Additional expense for childcare when child care centers close (paying twice). 
  • Issue of safety for families of color and families with kids with disabilities, need quality childcare with concrete understanding of difference. 
  • Lack of childcare options for children with disabilities. 
  • Lack of university flexibility:
    • Forcing faculty to teach in-person with no mask mandate with newborns and unvaccinated children in the household. 
  • Poor mental health coverage by Providence insurance. 
  • Faculty juggling too many things all at once with little on-going flexibility.
  • Changes in living arrangements: faculty caring for parents, extended family members in home. 

Theme 2 Cultural 

  • Taboo to talk about caregiving responsibilities and or conflicts regarding department responsibilities. 
  • Lack of openness to talk about caregiving for health, mental health, addiction and recovery, the lingering health and mental health impacts of childbirth, etc… within departments and colleges. 
  • Lack of visibility for caregivers - seen as an individual private problem. 
  • Need to create cultures of respect around caregiving (e.g. ending meetings on time, expecting someone else in the household can cover caregiving, scheduling evening events, etc..)
  • Concerns about entrenched silences in units. Need to expand notions of community and allyship. People without caregiving responsibilities often seem put off by discussions of caregiving. 
  • So much variation across units in terms of understanding and recognition of caregiving challenges.

Examples of Positive or Supportive Experiences

  • Parent communities pulling together to help each other out. Parenting circles and networks. 
  • Started a “Teams-Channel” to create a list of students, resources, sharing findings and a list of caregivers (but took a lot of time).
  • During the pandemic there was broader understanding for scheduling changes and flexibility in some departments. 
  • Moved visiting lectures between 9-5 so didn’t have to pay for additional childcare. 
  • More senior folks in some departments took the lead on recognizing the structural obstacles for largely junior faculty juggling caregiving responsibilities and still maintaining work productivity. 
  • Saw moments of awareness during pandemic, and solidarity with caregivers. 
  • Triage mindset, establishing new priorities based on what is humanly feasible. 
  • Seeing other institutions implement employee involved decision making over the working conditions that so deeply impacted their own lives.

United Academics 2022 Caregiving Article: Debbie Green

United Academics original proposed article was presented on April 27, 2022 during collective bargaining. On June 17, 2022, we arrived at a tentative agreement with the administration on our CBA, completing this round of negotiations! The TA'd Caregiving Article and all others can be found on UA's bargaining webpage.

Break Out Rooms Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here? 

In groups of 4-5 participants discussed and recorded their group’s discussion on Teach-In Google slides.

In your groups please discuss the following question:

  1. Name two concrete actions you can take - What are things that you could do to support these issues moving forward… (as a faculty, ally, dept head)- write on slides OR name actions that could be taken by organizations (such as UA, CSWS, others) on campus (or the university administration as a whole) that would support these issues, improve conditions on campus for caretakers.
  2. Imagining the best case scenario around caregiving at the UO, what would it look like, feel like? (This isn’t practical question of what could happen now, but what the ultimate goal would be). Think aspirationally. 

Major Themes from Discussion Groups

Concrete Actions

  • Construct a manifesto, value statement about care as a human right. University wide, also at local level. People we care for have a right to our care, and we have a right to give care.
  • Make caregiving more visible, challenge the silence and invisibility. 
  • Create care committees in units. Recognizing caregiving when determining workload. 
  • More flexibility and recognition of caregiving responsibilities in unit scheduling. 
  • Emphasize the importance of offering amenities of care so people stay and don’t move, as is happening in businesses. Make economic sense.
  • Put considerations of carework into departmental documents about tenure and promotion. Carework statement. Make this a coordinated effort by many departments to put this in their tenure and promotion guidelines.
  • Conduct a caregiving inventory for faculty run through DEI.
  • Develop an emergency action plan - people in depts are cross trained to do the work. Cross training so when there is an emergency things are not in one person’s place. 
  • Institutionalizing the discussion around caregiving as a necessary consideration. 
  • Unit heads work to promote a culture of support among faculty.
  • More leadership positions by people who are caretakers, who are informed about the issues and policies.
  • Bringing caregiver issues to the state level, providing testimony and data. 
  • Keep expanding on how we understand care, away from a zero-sum framework that creates divisions about who gets what. 
  • Recognizing that equity for caregivers is not preferential treatment, equity for caregivers begins with the understanding that equity does not exist for caregivers in academia. 
  • Contribute resources recognizing the differences between NTTF, protem, and TTF, etc… positions and salaries. 

Aspirational Goals

  • Allow people to share sick days, research funds, other funds with others to support care needs and work through time. Trusting faculty to make decisions about how to offer their sick days, resources, and to support other colleagues to be successful.
  • Accepting many paths to success, supporting people who make decisions not to move around, and look at how carework shapes people’s lives and career trajectories.
  • Childcare centers in our buildings, napping pods. 
  • Diversity recognized in all aspects of caregiving inequities. 
  • Establishing a radical ethic of care, where everyone in the UO community (family members) are recognized and considered in policy decisions. 
  • Inclusion of NTTF in all aspects of carework considerations. 
  • Solidarity: where all recognize the challenges caregivers face, even among UA membership, while recognizing labor and working conditions, some have been less understanding about how work and labor conditions are intricately tied to caregiving challenges. 
  • Need a naturalized life-cycle approach - not deficit framing. Caring for our families as enriching, not just a liability or distraction to our work. 
  • Professional caregivers provided living wages.
  • Leadership with experience in caregiving. 
  • Not having to feel like either family or career has to be sacrificed. 
  • Having an identity as a caregiver valued. 
  • The existence of adequate space and affordability for childcare for all faculty
  • UO subsidizes cost to keep salaries and work abilities equal. 
  • Have enough faculty and staff in each unit so we are not overtaxed. 
  • Expand caregiving options on campus to make them accessible. 
  • University encourages flexible problem solving to allow caregivers full participation in the profession. 

Please Stay Involved!