A friend of mine recently accepted a job in academic administration. He is extremely excited about the job and eager to do good things in his position. He is also a dedicated father and truly shares equal parenting responsibilities with his spouse. His spouse is in a career that is less time-flexible than academia is – or could be.
At my friend’s prior job, he generally started his workday a little later than the norm, in order to care for the kids until departure for school. He worked from home very early in the morning, was accessible by cell and email, and came into the workplace after seeing the kids off.
What do you think happened when he told his new boss in academia about this situation?
New Boss said “sorry, you have to be here at 8 a.m. to ‘set a good example’ for the faculty and grad students.
One of the major perks of academia is being able to have a more flexible schedule, and faculty and grad students certainly take advantage of this. There is generally a different expectation of administrators than faculty. For some reason, people seem to think administrators need to be there at set hours all the time. I generally ignored this expectation when I was in academic administration. This got some fellow administrators who didn’t like the idea of more women in engineering to complain to the dean about me that I was “never in my office” and “never available” – which was patently untrue. Maybe in the past before all our fancy technology like email and phones and such, it was important to put in the requisite face time. But there is no reason an administrator can’t effectively work from home for some few hours during the week. It’s just tradition that says and thinks otherwise.
Nobody seems to think the ungodly amount of time administrators spend out of their offices in endless useless meetings is any problem, but ask to spend a few hours working from home and the whole university threatens to collapse because of your anarchy.
Why, why, why are people so afraid of flexible hours?
New Boss thought that my friend should just palm off the childcare duties on some woman – either his wife or a nanny.
Giving men shit about childcare duties is not just harmful to the particular guy and/or his family. It impedes any sort of progress at all. If we can’t legitimate, in the workplace, a man’s need/desire to make some adjustments in the traditional schedule in order to care for his children, then we will never be able to decouple being female from “responsible for all aspects of childcare”. New Boss should be deeply ashamed of being such a retrograde defender of the patriarchy. Hire a nanny, indeed. Because we absolutely don’t want to make the workplace in any way hospitable to those with children, unless they are rich enough to pay someone to make sure their children don’t intrude in any way on other peoples’ belief about how the workplace should function.
I should mention here that New Boss is a single woman with no children. It’s especially depressing to see women doing the work of the oppressors. People without children have got to wake up to the fact that children exist, they need caring for, and we should be grateful to the folks who do this important societal work for us.
It’s terribly ironic to find academia less accommodating of my friend’s schedule than his prior job in a industry-like setting. This sort of inflexibility for administrators keeps women – who still have most of the responsibility for childcare – from advancing, and prevents men who want to be involved parents from being able to be true, equal partners in their marriage.
Some suggestions my friend has gotten:
- Just tell New Boss what time you will be showing up as a fait accompli.
- Ask New Boss what exactly is the “bad example” you would be setting with flexible hours. What does she fear? That faculty are slacking off? Once you know what she’s worried about, you can counteract with an explanation of how your strategies, though different from her corporatized understanding of academia, will be effective and motivating for faculty.
- Suggest to New Boss that “setting a good example” includes acknowledging that people have commitments outside work and that figuring out ways to accommodate this aspect of reality benefits everyone.
I volunteered to puke on New Boss’s shoes, but while gratifying, this may be less effective than the above suggestions.
What advice would YOU give to my friend?