The Predicament of Career vs. Family

Over the next months, the UA bargaining team will be bringing you some contextual information about the major issues that we hope to address at the bargaining table. This installment is about issues that disproportionately affect women and caregivers in the workplace.

Did you know…?

That faculty at UO who are parents are often unable to avail themselves of childcare? Olum Center is so full that often there are long waiting lists. Moss Street prioritizes students. And, there is a dearth of childcare options in the city of Eugene. When parents do get a slot at Olum, they often have to take whatever times are open, and these don’t match up with teaching, lab, or library schedules.

To make matters worse, Eugene has some of the highest costs for childcare in the U.S., and the Olum Center is no exception. The Economic Policy Institute reports that Oregon is ranked 14th out of 50 states and Washington D.C. in terms of childcare costs. Oregonians who make the median income in the state, $62,818 per household in 2019, spend about 22% of their income on infant care, but economists suggest we should be spending about 7% of our income on infant and childcare. Put those statistics up against the fact that many bargaining unit faculty members make way below the state’s median income, and we’re looking at a real childcare dilemma. The childcare burden falls especially hard on junior tenure-track faculty and Career faculty in the Humanities (with Associates in those fields not far behind), and these faculty have some of the heaviest course loads in the University. The median salary for tenure-track Humanities faculty at the Assistant rank is $72,833, while that for Career faculty regardless of length-of-service is $48,577. These faculty parents are spending 19-28% of their salaries on childcare.

The Predicament of Career vs. Family…

… Is a reality for people in all sorts of professions right now because of COVID. But UO faculty parents are permanently stuck in ways that people in other professions can’t imagine – or maybe can begin to see now that COVID has kept schools and daycare facilities closed. Faculty have advanced degrees for which they are often still in debt; and although better educated than most medical doctors, lawyers, consultants, and upper management personnel, they make far less money. Many faculty carry student debt and can’t afford adequate childcare, leaving them much less time and focus to get research done on top of teaching and service. Many faculty members need to travel to do research. Low salaries, family responsibilities, and the need to repay student loans makes this very challenging, especially given the scarcity of research support for humanistic and creative projects. Many faculty members with children are forced to teach during the summer for extra income, sacrificing time they should be devoting to their own research. And most faculty arrive in Oregon without an extended family network to help provide childcare.

Care-giving responsibilities for aging parents or relatives with special needs are often an added burden for faculty who are already overwhelmed with the burden of career and juggling day-to-day schedules. So, trying to care for a sick parent thousands of miles away is the stark reality of finding a stable position in the academy.

Many of these burdens are greater for faculty who come from BIPOC and economically underprivileged communities because they often serve as economic and social lifelines in their families and communities while mentoring students who are trying to navigate their way through to a degree. These faculty are also called on to do much more service than other faculty, or they feel that they need to be involved in various programs at the university, because otherwise the university will fail to address certain issues entirely. Working to create institutional change to nurture access and equity presents its own Catch-22: Either do the extra service at the expense of family and career or ignore it and feel even more isolated and unheard at the UO.

Just When We Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse…

…It did. COVID has not only made every parent’s job more stressful, it has exacerbated longstanding social inequities. Rather than use non-teaching breaks over spring and summer to research, regroup, and spend time centering our families, teaching faculty dedicated spring and summer break to rethinking our pedagogy and redesigning courses for remote, asynchronous, and hybrid modes of instruction. Many Career faculty who do not receive computers as part of their employment package have had to make do with outdated laptops and pay for broadband out of pocket so that they can continue to teach. Meanwhile, children need more supervision and those old enough to be in school need access to their own computers. Adding insult to injury, those Career faculty who were up for contract renewal last May, and who had been praised for the sacrifices they made to pivot to remote teaching, were informed by the UO administration that the UO intended to address anticipated budget shortfalls by giving them only 0.1 FTE appointments.

The UO senior administrators like to talk about shared sacrifices, and there is no doubt faculty and administrators have all had to work harder over the last year. The differences are that most administrators have higher salaries and more generous support packages than faculty, especially Career faculty, and can afford childcare. Many administrators have paid vacation time and have been able to take time to recharge while faculty have had to use breaks to learn new technologies and redesign courses. Administrators are evaluated on what, for faculty, is called “service work”; and although their workload has also increased because of the pandemic, many can comfortably afford childcare and do not have to juggle the increased demands of research and teaching during the pandemic. The inequities of these “shared sacrifices” have disproportionately fallen on faculty at the lower end of the UO salary scale who are mothers, single parents, or have responsibilities to extended families.

How Many Lawsuits Does It Take to Ensure Women Get a Fair Shake?

…We don’t know yet. Right now, in addition to the Jennifer Freyd case, the vast majority of bargaining unit faculty who have filed appeals with the University under the Oregon Equal Pay Act to remedy the problem of less pay for the same work cannot get their claims investigated by the university. The administration has made it appear that no one does the same work as anyone else at the University of Oregon so that the university won’t have to change anyone’s pay. If it wasn’t so blatantly dishonest, it might be kind of funny.

Women are disproportionately overrepresented at lower paying academic ranks. National data from 2018 shows that women make up 35% of full professors, 47% of associate professors, 53% of assistants, and 56% of instructors.  Moreover, women and underrepresented minorities take on a disproportionate amount of service. This is especially apparent by the number of women whose careers stall at the associate rank. When it comes time for promotion to Full professor or even during sixth-year post-tenure reviews, the University ignores unequal service loads and is frequently punitive, blaming mid-career faculty for taking on too much service rather than prioritizing their own research. Team players who are willing to delay their own research to rehabilitate departments or revive moribund programs are often stuck in the associate rank for longer periods of time, sacrificing their income as well.

We at UA are committed to acknowledging and addressing these inequities. Our union was formed with the mission to find solutions to these problems. We have made some gains over the past eight years, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to do. As we approach bargaining, the issues described above are at the forefront of our minds, as are the goals set out by the Center for the Study of Women in Society in June of last year. These collective goals will inform our proposals, and we will soon discover whether the University is ready to do more than pay lip service to real equity problems. Yes, they are big problems. Yes, some of them are societal problems. But, we are ready to tackle them if the administration is too.