Friday, May 2, 2014

Tenure and Child-Rearing at Penn -- A Bad Mix?

One of my graduate school colleagues, Kristin Stromberg Childers, who ended up teaching in the History Department at Penn, was denied tenure several years ago and is now suing the university.   She alleges she was denied tenure because the university didn't like that she had taken maternity leaves -- leaves which the university had instituted precisely to support young faculty.

Obviously, I don't know the ins and outs of her tenure file, or other specifics of the case, but the fact that Penn threw out her initial denial of tenure because of comments in the internal reviews about how her  several leaves (two for child birth and one for taking care of a sick child)  made it "difficult" to evaluate her work, makes clear that the university knew this kind talk was inappropriate and destructive of her fair tenure process.  That a second review committee stuck to the vote of denial, doesn't help -- once someone has been tainted with having not "pulled their weight," it is hard to wipe it away.

I am pleased that at UMass we have a very strong policy of maternal and paternal paid leave for parents of all types (mothers, fathers, gay and lesbian parents, children brought to a family by birth or adoption).  Faculty regularly say that it is one of the most valuable and supportive policies at UMass, and something that has helped them as parents and scholars, and strengthens their loyalty to the university. Nonetheless, we sometimes hear rumblings -- from departments as well as the administration -- that this or that person might be abusing the system, or not contributing their share to the work of the department.

I am also glad we have a strong union, which pushed hard for this policy, and continues to make sure the system works and works fairly for all.

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