WTH, Higher Ed?!?

I know, I know, I’ve been gone for a minute but I’ve been working on a few other projects that have required my full focus including a brand new YouTube series called Showing Our Sass- Season 1 streaming all episodes now at https://tinyurl.com/ShowingOurSass-Season-1. But this morning I woke up and read something that bothered me so much I had to crack my knuckles and respond before I jumped into my workday.

I grew up on university campuses the daughter of an administrator and a faculty member. The term many of my cohort adopted was adapted from another class of highly transient families—we were University Brats.

Being a UB could have some serious benefits. We got first dibs at some of the coolest summer and enrichment programs out there. Our K-12 public schools typically benefited from their proximity to the University from a resources perspective. We were exposed to amazing arts programs sponsored by various departments and infused with visiting performers. I’ll never forget dining with the Zambian Acapella after one of their performances at the University of Iowa or seeing John Legend perform on campus at the University of Arkansas. As an adult I can now appreciate all the more how amazing it was for me to have that kind of access.

Being a UB also had its downsides because of the fishbowl it places you in, especially when you are an African American family at a predominantly white-serving institution (PWI). University families have to negotiate what I like to call the “and other duties as assigned” syndrome. Any and every person who has ever signed a contract with a college or university has seen this or a similar expression in it and let me tell you how that translates for many non-white employees.

“Not only will you work these 40 hours in exchange for this pay, but for the privilege of working here you WILL work more than this if we need you to. And no, we don’t promise to give you extra staffing to get these things done. No, you don’t have the right to decline invitations to events outside of normal business hours and we don’t care if that means you miss your kid’s recital. You WILL serve on any and all committees that call for diversity. You WILL troubleshoot issues related to minority students adapting to this environment and don’t expect extra compensation for this work, this is a part of your service or “other duties”. You are our visible protection against accusations of racism and you had better show up when we expect you with a smile on your face. In short, WE OWN YOU.”

So many non-white university employees feel this pressure and endure it quietly because we know that if we protest the consequences could be career-limiting. Your commitment to your job can be challenged by your supervisor or you could be passed over for promotion several times and this is from things that are not strictly a part of your employment contract but live in the space of “and other duties as assigned”.

And before you say, well white university employees feel those same pressures, STOP 🛑, please stop. Until universities can make the claim of having actual equity in their upper-level leadership for about a span of 50-years you just have to take our word for it that this paranoia we feel is real for us because we more visibly standout in a room as “other” than you do due to our physical markers so our absences are far easier to identify on first glance.

That said, waking up to read this article from the Chronicle about the manner in which some universities are responding to working parents by insisting they procure additional childcare while working remotely from home stung pretty hard in a sensitive space for me. I thought back to what it might have been like if this mandate had been placed on my parents when we were growing up. Dollars to donuts one of my parents would have ended up leaving the academy and found a more reasonable employer if that policy persisted.

See, many UBs and their families exist in communities where there is a regional university so there aren’t a lot of higher education institutions in close proximity to one another. So if both parents are academics, chances are they both work for the same employer. Now, this “must have childcare during business hours” mandate might not have felt like as strong of a slap if it also came along with a significant childcare “allowance” from the institution for the parents to use to hire what would likely be in home care assistance to provide coverage for their children during work hours.

I am 99.9999% certain that was not the case.

Now, if an employee is on the clock remotely and a situation pops off with one of their kids that forces them to stop working for a good stretch of time I absolutely agree that the employee needs to claim that as sick or vacation leave or flex it with their supervisor. A parent would do the same thing if their kid’s school called and said they needed to come pick them up because the kid had a fever.

University employee families already give a lot of their personal family time away to the benefit of the institution in the form of after hours activities, so much so that I find it disturbing that Administration feels the need to micromanage in this type of way. I have been on videoconferences with parents managing their own childcare during the Pandemic and I have yet to see one instance of a parent whose home dynamic was disruptive enough to stop the team from working. Everyone was focused on doing their best to keep productivity high and everyone was understanding of parents who had to step away for a few minutes to handle something off camera.

Moves by Administration to micromanage make employees feel unappreciated, particularly those who already go far and above the bare minimum performance of their duties. Either you trust your employees or you don’t trust your employees. As long as the work is moving forward what does it matter if a parent is running a meeting while bouncing a kid on one knee? Sometimes I actually enjoy the occasional baby giggle while working through a team project.

To read the Chronicle article referenced above click the link below:


Marta C. Youngblood is the founder and creative engine behind TheWRITEaddiction creatives co-op founded in 2014 as a virtual community supporting writers from all over the United States of America. Marta’s passion drives her to support the success of creatives from all walks of life to honor their talent and share it with the world. She believes that working in our creative callings does not have to be synonymous with being a “starving artist” and helps creatives master the business skills and strategies they need to work in their gifts.

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