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Breast-Feeding Debate Fallout

September 11, 2012

Late Monday, American University weighed in on the campus controversy over a professor who brought her sick baby to class, breast-fed her there and then published an essay chastising student journalists who asked her about it.

The university says that in cases like this, a faculty member should not bring a child to class. "The faculty manual requires professional conduct in the classroom at all times, including a focus on high standards for teaching and respect for students," said the administration's statement, which a spokeswoman said was based on a range of policies already in place at the university. "For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom."

The American statement stresses a variety of ways the university provides support for parents in this situation. And while the statement is about bringing a child to class, not breast-feeding, the AU statement notes that university policy provides breaks and private rooms for mothers who wish to express milk during work hours.

The campus has been debating these issues quietly since word spread that Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology, breast-fed her sick daughter during the first class session this semester. When The Eagle, the student newspaper at the university, tried to interview Pine about what happened, she objected and wrote an essay for the liberal publication CounterPunch criticizing the student journalists. The essay named the students and included contact information that American university officials said was removed at their request.

The university's statement also criticized Pine for the way she wrote about the students in the essay.

"The university strongly disagrees with the characterization of American University students expressed in the blog post. The faculty manual outlines expectations for professional conduct, and this blog post does not reflect professional conduct," said the statement. "The blog post characterized our students in manner with which we strongly disagree, and provided students' personal contact information (which was immediately removed at the request of the university administration). Freedom of expression comes with responsibility, and expressions in fora outside of AU have the potential to affect responsibilities to students and effectiveness in the classroom."

Pine, reached by e-mail after the university released its statement, declined to comment.

Inside Higher Ed readers had strong reactions to the situation Monday, with many comments backing Pine (with several women saying they had done the same thing with their children), while others were highly critical of her.

 

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