What do you mean your wife won’t take care of them?

by Kieran Healy on April 10, 2010

Feminist Philosophers reports on some egregious behavior under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities:

a good friend of mine (a tenured philosophy professor in the states) was just accepted to an NEH summer seminar in [European city]. She’s a single mom and, obviously, wants to bring her son along. But, she says, she “has just been given 12 hours to “demonstrate” that she has full-time childcare arrangements for her son for the month of July that “are to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction” of the Institute directors; if she fails to meet this requirement, she has been told her accceptance in the program will be withdrawn. She was notified of said acceptance on Monday.”

The mind boggles. Then again, I’ve always thought it a very fortunate accident of nature that men are never in a position where they are responsible for offspring genetically related to themselves. (Is there even a word for that?). If they were, it would really be impossible to have a proper career.

Update: Edited to clarify the role of the NEH (as funder, not organizer). And just to be clear, I don’t have any inside knowledge on this incident beyond the post quoted above. As I say in comments below, perhaps some further details will emerge that make the whole thing an unfortunate misunderstanding or otherwise resolve things. We’ll see, I guess.

{ 42 comments }

1

Anna B 04.10.10 at 1:59 pm

I’m so glad it was my mother, and not my dad, who had to attend conferences as part of her job. I stayed half-days with host families and spent the remainder of the time playing pinball with nice gentlemen who turned out to be professors (how could I know, they didn’t wear white coats), making drawings on overhead projector sheets, and getting unasked-for, fantastic homework help from people who were wildly overqualified.

Conferences were way more fun then. If I attend one now, I have to listen to talks, and there’s definitely less pinball.

The mind boggles, indeed. Do institute directors also ask men to, I don’t know, take libido suppressors for a month? Because you never know, it might just interfere with the science.

2

Gene O'Grady 04.10.10 at 3:00 pm

I once had a supervisor who claimed to be a feminist who made quite negative comments on an evaluation because I had taken two days off to stay home with a sick child. When I said this seemed a little harsh, her response was “You have a wife. She can do that.”

3

George 04.10.10 at 4:04 pm

It’s not the NEH that’s making this requirement. It’s the organizers who have put this seminar together and gotten NEH funding for it.
Yes, it’s egregious. In fact, according to the NEH website listing all of this summer’s seminars and institutes:

Endowment programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. For further information about NEH’s EEO policy, write to the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20506. TDD (for the hearing impaired only): 202‑606‑8282. [source]

It looks like there are perhaps 3 possibilities (in other words, these are the 3 summer seminars taking place in Europe this summer, as far as I can tell):

Representations of the ‘Other’: Jews in Medieval Christendom,” in Oxford.
“Cultural Hybridities: Christians, Muslims & Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean,” in Barcelona.
The ‘Falls of Rome': The Transformations of Rome in late Antiquity,” in Rome.

4

George 04.10.10 at 4:05 pm

5

Amanda French 04.10.10 at 4:16 pm

Just for clarification, are we certain that they wouldn’t have asked a man who wanted to bring his child along to provide proof of childcare arrangements? Though frankly I don’t see why it’s their business even if they *would* ask the same intrusive question of a male philosopher.

6

Laurel 04.10.10 at 4:27 pm

Amanda, I think [part of] the point is that such a requirement is especially unfair to women, since women are more likely to be primarily/solely responsible for their children than men. (I have a LOT of anecdata to support this, and there’s probably real data for it too.) So even though that rule is de jure neutral, it’s de facto discriminatory.

7

Amanda French 04.10.10 at 4:31 pm

I see your point, Laurel.

8

tomslee 04.10.10 at 4:34 pm

I also see Laurel’s point, but I would still like to know the answer to Amanda French’s question.

9

alex 04.10.10 at 4:35 pm

It’s a level of interfering bullshittery that makes one suspect bizarre sexism, certainly; but above that it may be some really odd legal requirement – probably not an English one but I can imagine a Spanish or Italian govt passing a law about compulsory childcare arrangements that only a foolishly literal-minded Anglo-Saxon would expect to take seriously…

10

Kieran Healy 04.10.10 at 5:28 pm

As a rule in these cases, I’m not inclined to bend over backwards looking for some sensible rationalization of the whole thing. This is mostly because if there was one, it ought to have been quite straightforward to state it up front and to everyone, as part of the application process. Perhaps it was, though it doesn’t look like it at this point. E.g., something like “Spanish law requires that any seminar attendee with school-age children place them in a licensed child care facility for the duration of the program. We regret that we are unable to assist financially with this process but can provide the contact details of local providers upon request”. Or possibly, “Daily attendance at the seminar meetings is a prerequisite for funded participation. If you plan to travel with an infant or young children please make arrangements for child care in advance. We regret, etc”. Not hard. This doesn’t seem to have been how it played out in this case, although I don’t have any insider knowledge of the details.

The “Provide proof of childcare within a day of us notifying you of your acceptance or we pull your funding” seems like bullshit to me. I very much doubt the person involved had forgotten that she had a son for whom some arrangement would need to be made in the event of her being offered a place at the seminar. Perhaps further details will emerge to clarify the whole thing, but right now it just looks like the same old same old.

11

Cranky Observer 04.10.10 at 6:34 pm

> It’s not the NEH that’s making this requirement. It’s the organizers who
> have put this seminar together and gotten NEH funding for it.

So? That doesn’t exempt the NEH from being required to obey US federal laws and regulations. See the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for an analogous example.

Cranky

12

George 04.10.10 at 6:42 pm

@Cranky: Ah, I see that Kieran’s opening line reads, “some egregious behavior under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities.” I misread that as “behavior by the National Endowment for the Humanities.” Yes, of course the NEH is required to obey US law, and that’s why it’s more likely (imho) that this is a stupid error by the organizers and not something required by the NEH.

13

PHB 04.10.10 at 8:25 pm

Name and shame.

Complaining about this stuff going on in private is not going to help matters in the slightest. As it is we don’t know how the situation was resolved. People send out idiot boilerplate all the time without thinking about it, often without reading it.

14

jj 04.10.10 at 10:56 pm

Communication todays suggests the matter is still not resolved.

15

Mark van Roojen 04.11.10 at 1:23 am

My guess is that the professor is in a good position to call their bluff. If the US government is funding this it is no doubt subject to United States laws, and I’m pretty sure that this would not pass legal muster. At worst there will be laws banning gender and marital status discrimination, and caselaw which makes this sort of behavior fall under that description. At best there might be more specific language banning this sort of thing. The NEH itself might somewhere have rules that would forbid this, without having to look for more general statutes or regulations not specific to the NEH.

Probably a letter to the NEH itself would resolve this rather quickly.

This is pretty appalling behavior and deserves hard push-back.

16

roac 04.11.10 at 3:23 am

It is a sure thing that the NEH has regulations pursuant to Title IX that prohibit sex discrimination in any program funded by the agency. There is a unit of the Justice Department charged with making sure that every agency adopts substantially the same set of regs.

It would be interesting to see how the reg gets enforced against a foreign recipient. Presumably the only remedy available is defunding.

17

praisegod barebones 04.11.10 at 10:35 am

‘Just for clarification, are we certain that they wouldn’t have asked a man who wanted to bring his child along to provide proof of childcare arrangements? ‘

Perhaps Laurel’s response to this is sufficient; but speaking for myself – a male philosopher, with two children – I am pretty much 100% certain that they wouldn’t have asked a man to do the same thing. No-one has EVER asked me to provide proof of my child care arrangments as a condition of participation as a condition of particpation in an academic event; and none of my male colleagues has ever told me of anything similar. That’s after being in the profession for 10-15 years depending lon how one counts these things.

(It’s somewhat tangential to this, but perhaps worth saying for the handful of people know me as a person and not just a nym, that one of the nice but very unusual things about the academic community I work in is that I’ve occasionally been asked, informally, when invited to particpate in a weekend event, whether I’d like any help in arranging childcare. Normally I haven’t, but it’s nice ot be asked. Rare as hen’s teeth in the academic world more generally, I’d imagine.)

18

dana 04.11.10 at 12:36 pm

I don’t think it matters in one sense whether this policy is applied to men, too. It is still likely to affect women disproportionately, and it’s still an outrage, because whether one has made childcare arrangements and whether a panel finds them suitable surely are inappropriate criteria for the awarding of funding.

Otherwise I agree with Kieran; it’s very hard to come up with a charitable rationale, because all of the sensible ones would not tie funding and participation to proof of childcare. Perhaps they should also ensure that the philosophers has made arrangements for someone to feed the cat, gather the mail, and clean the house.

19

alex 04.11.10 at 1:18 pm

Being philosophers, are they not more likely to have arranged for someone to feed the mail, clean the cat…..?

20

leederick 04.11.10 at 2:18 pm

“I don’t think it matters in one sense whether this policy is applied to men, too. It is still likely to affect women disproportionately, and it’s still an outrage, because whether one has made childcare arrangements and whether a panel finds them suitable surely are inappropriate criteria for the awarding of funding.”

I do, I’m not defending the particular way they went about this. But surely ensuring that people who are funded arrange their personal circumstances so that they they can participate in the seminar they’re being funded to attend is perfectly appropriate?

21

dana 04.11.10 at 2:37 pm

I think it’s fine to require, e.g., attendance from all participants. It’s fine to make funding contingent on full attendance and participation.

Beyond that, I am not really seeing how it’s their concern whether the participant has retained a nanny, left the child with his grandparents, or enrolled him in day care, or has no children at all. Presumably she is an adult who has in the past proved to be capable of caring for her son and is the best position to judge how much child care she’ll need to participate fully in the conference.

22

leederick 04.11.10 at 2:53 pm

“I think it’s fine to require, e.g., attendance from all participants. It’s fine to make funding contingent on full attendance and participation.”

Do you really believe that? I’m not questioning anyone’s sincerity; but I could quite easily see a similar post by Kieran about a philosopher who’s childcare arrangements had fallen through and was facing clawback of the costs caused by non-attendance prompting exactly the same outraged response from feminists.

23

Barry 04.11.10 at 3:01 pm

leederick 04.11.10 at 2:18 pm

“I do, I’m not defending the particular way they went about this. But surely ensuring that people who are funded arrange their personal circumstances so that they they can participate in the seminar they’re being funded to attend is perfectly appropriate?”

Actually, you pretty much are. But besides that, I’m going to take a teeeeny chance here and declare that a conference or organization which required *all* participants with children to certify that they’ve made childcare arrangements to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction of the Institute directors or lose funding, *and* which gave participants 12 hours’ notice of this, would be infamous in the academic and philosophical communities for doing so.

24

dana 04.11.10 at 3:18 pm

Do you really believe that?

Yes.

25

Harry 04.11.10 at 3:36 pm

I’ve been to a number of conferences/workshops in which it has been made very clear that full attendance is an expectation (one coming up next week actually, though why anyone would be bunking off in this particular case is a mystery). Never has anyone gone further, to inquire about my children, my liking for sunny weather, or whether I have distracting friends/relatives in the city. I’ve always assumed that the punishment would be some mild form of shunning and not getting re-invited. Anything stronger would seem excessive to me (and I have been at conference/workshops where expectations were clear and others did fail to live up to them, with pretty much these consequences). I’d be much more worried about people trying to enjoy themselves than trying to care for their kids, unless this is a workshop with a very unusual set of participants.

26

praisegod barebones 04.11.10 at 3:51 pm

‘ensuring that people who are funded arrange their personal circumstances so that they they can participate in the seminar they’re being funded to attend is perfectly appropriate?’

It isn’t ‘people’. It’s one person, in a particular situation. I’m pretty sure that if it was a general policy, applied across the board, we’d find plenty of people here complaining about the inappropriate paternalism involved in assuming that mature professionals couldn’t take care of their responsibilities.

And the people doing so would almost certainly be exactly the same people who are bending over backwards to try to give some colour of reasonableness to what’s being done this case.

27

leederick 04.11.10 at 5:09 pm

“And the people [complaining about the inappropriate paternalism of a blanket policy] would almost certainly be exactly the same people who are bending over backwards to try to give some colour of reasonableness to what’s being done this case.”

That’s just nonsense. My remarks are aimed at comments like #5 and #18. They seemed to be saying that not only are the actions wrong in this case (which I agree with), but that even any consideration of childcare arrangements as part of a blanket policy would be inappropriate (which I don’t agree with). So, you’re just wrong: there are poeple who make a point of not only being very hostile to this example, but of also of being very hostile to a more legitimate policy. In fact, that’s what inspired my original comment.

28

Colin Danby 04.11.10 at 6:17 pm

What Harry said in #25 — people may bunk sessions for any number of reasons including boredom. Once the expectation of full attendance is communicated (generally well understood for seminars like this) it’s quite illegitimate to single out one possible distraction.

If you’ve been around academia long enough, you notice these moments when certain people flip out over any proximity of childcare and academic functions. The flipping out is almost invariably directed at women.

29

alex 04.11.10 at 6:22 pm

One way and another, it really is not the business of a seminar-organiser to worry about what participants are going to do with their children, any more than it is their business to concern themselves with the care and feeding of a budgerigar or an elderly dependent relative. Unless, for example, the child is being accommodated at the organisers’ expense, and local law (bizarrely, intrusively) requires the childcare question – but in the absence of concrete evidence of such a local requirement, I’d go with “mind your own dam’ beeswax, feller”.

30

Laurel 04.11.10 at 6:26 pm

Look, leederick, I agree that participants in a seminar generally should arrange their personal circumstances so they can attend. But how exactly would that requirement be enforced in practice? What kind of policy and information collection would make sense? The application form would have to ask about all kinds of family and personal responsibilities that might interfere – elderly relatives in the European city, children, health issues that might flare up – and then require prospective participants to write up a plan that meets the unspecified standards of the committee. This is plainly absurd, and no organization actually does this: the presumption is that people know about the problems in their lives that may come up, that they want to go to the institute, and thus that they will come up with something.

Making childcare an exception is disproportionately hard on women, because they are disproportionately likely to be solo or primary caregiver. That’s where the outrage about this *in general* is coming from.

31

Alice de Tocqueville 04.11.10 at 6:43 pm

It’s not exactly the same thing, but this reminds me of when I worked, as a civilian, for a US Navy shipyard. I’d been told by my foreman that his superior had ordered him to write me up for any little thing. (I’d pointed out a safety violation and become unpopular with the management level.) As a result, I ended up in a grievance hearing with the General Foreman for being one or two minutes late a few times. He asked what I gathered was a standard question, “Do you have another job outside the shipyard?”
I answered, ” I am a single parent of two children.”
He answered, “Well, your job at the shipyard has to come first.”

32

bailey 04.11.10 at 8:35 pm

I can’t believe leederick’s position is sincere. I’m a lawyer and have had numerous assignments that took me out of town for weeks at a time. If a client (or someone from my firm) ever asked me to certify to their satisfaction that I had adequate child care arrangements, it would be completely outrageous. It is generally understood that I am competent to manage my own personal responsibilities without their oversight. And, yes, “attendance” at , say, every day of a trial is “mandatory.”

Maybe there are work environments where it is considered appropriate for employers to monitor their employees’ child care arrangements, but I have never heard of them.

33

dana 04.11.10 at 9:20 pm

So, you’re just wrong: there are poeple who make a point of not only being very hostile to this example, but of also of being very hostile to a more legitimate policy.

People disagree that a policy that says “prove to our unspecified satisfaction that you have no distractions that would make your attendance difficult” is reasonable. It’s not about being hostile to a legitimate policy; it’s about disagreement over whether such a policy would be legitimate.

And, as almost everyone has noted, this NEH seminar request is well out of the ordinary. There is no presumption in general that in order to attend a conference one must first submit to a background check.

34

jacob 04.11.10 at 10:09 pm

I’d like to see an academy where it was perfectly acceptable to bring children to a seminar or conference. I was at a conference this fall where one of the presenters had, sitting next to her at the head table, her daughter, who happily and non-disruptively sat watching a movie. Occasionally the presenter had to tend to the daughter, but there was no reason any of us should have minded. I’m not convinced (I don’t have children) that I would ever want to do such a thing, but it seems to me that that a truly family-friendly academy would at least allow it as an option.

35

Gar Lipow 04.12.10 at 12:16 am

Yeah two points that reinforce what others are saying. It is totally unreasonable to single out child care when no one has to prove to the conference satisfaction that they have taken care of other possible distractions. Maybe someone has not budgeted for food, presuming once they are there they can find a way to get fed. No one is asked to prove they are taking enough money to feed themselves. So a policy that singles out child care and requires proof for that but nothing else is discriminatory.

I would add that even with legitimate requirements that it is unreasonable to require that people meet unspecified standards. “You tell us what you have done, and we will tell you if it is satisfactory. And if not you can’t come.” That is not a normal standard you have to meet for any requirement I’m aware of in attending a conference. Also “meet a demanding standard you were not given notice of in 12 hours or you are out” is also absurd. So not only is the particular requirement discriminatory, the vagueness of the standards and impossibly-to-meet shortness of the notice is downright hostile.

36

harry b 04.12.10 at 12:22 am

jacob — I’ve had (and still have) two kids that would work fine with – -I once gave a big department talk to a department that was considering me as an affiliate, all the while with a 3 year old in the background that I occasionally had to tend to (the talk was good, but the kid-tending is what everybody still remembers).

I’ve had and still have one kid of whom I can say that the thought of having him in such a situation fills me with horror. Still, he’s getting better.

Some children can be very distracting. Many are distracting only because people have no capacity for focus.

37

harry b 04.12.10 at 12:22 am

No idea where those strike-outs came from.

38

Colin Danby 04.12.10 at 12:52 am

some kid running around with a marker, maybe

39

Jender 04.12.10 at 1:13 pm

Just to let you know: everything we have posted on the subject at Feminist Philosophers has been with the permission of the woman who was being required to prove her childcare arrangements.

It now looks like (thanks in part to your efforts, Kieran– many thanks!) the NEH has been contacted by Inside Higher Ed and expressed their opposition to the policy: .

Last I heard, the woman in question was planning to contact the EOO at the NEH to ask about the policy, so hopefully that will be going well. (She has not yet heard back about whether her childcare arrangements were judged to be acceptable.)

40

Jender 04.12.10 at 1:15 pm

Whoops, the url didn’t show up! trying again…

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/04/12/qt

41

Marya 04.12.10 at 3:39 pm

I immediately wondered if this is a response to someone’s previously bringing a kid along to the conference and having said kid hang around in a disruptive fashion during the proceedings. In which case this is typical of lousy (and also sexist) management: instead of dealing directly with the individuals who HAVE caused a problem (for example by asking them to remove the annoying child and pointedly giving them the number of a local nanny service), treat everyone who you perceive might possibly cause this kind of problem in the future (read women with kids) as a potential screwup.

Then again, if I were she I would not have mentioned bringing the child along because of precisely this kind of idiocy. Men typically have much more luxury about injecting knowledge of their parenthood into working situations. Women are much better advised to say “I have an appointment” than “I have to pick up the kid.”

42

bumerry 04.13.10 at 11:22 pm

Wow, that Inside Higher Ed article clearly conveyed the opinion that this professor’s factual representation of what happened was a complete and deliberate lie told to provoke outrage. I know the professor fairly well, as our kids get together once a week. She doesn’t lie or even exaggerate. She’s as calm,disciplined and dignified a person as you will ever meet. She immediately resolved to remain calm and contact the NEH, as she was certain that the organizer was er, INACCURATE, when he stated the NEH backed up this 12-hours-or-we-boot-you-out-of-the-conference policy. And, I must point out, that she did not have the luxury to contact an NEH representative on the weekend.

Indeed, even had our professor already spoken to the NEH when the article author called, one employee might not know it yet. The NEH is not a hive mind. :) The NEH representative herself did not offend against this professor, but the article author certainly owes her a public apology in print for calling her a liar rhetorically, if not literally. I expect writers to understand their own rhetorical expressions, so a denial of intent would not fly for me.

If anyone is in doubt of the cultural level of sexism at play in this situation, he need only compare the tone and language of this article with any article about the sexual assault of a woman, he (and I say “he” advisedly) will find the default assumption in each that no harm was meant, and that the person wronged is either misunderstanding what happened to her (stupid), exaggerating the event (hysterical) or outright lying. Because women make up stories about this stuff all the time, and besides, bros before hos, amirite? *sigh*

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