Many congressional Republicans have mocked the idea of federal support for behavioral research (and tried to cut it). But President Obama this week expressed backing for such research. He signed an executive order that praised the value of behavioral science and told U.S. agencies to look for ways to apply behavioral science findings to make various policies and programs more effective.
"A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights -- research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them -- can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people," the executive order says. "Where federal policies have been designed to reflect behavioral science insights, they have substantially improved outcomes for the individuals, families, communities and businesses those policies serve. For example, automatic enrollment and automatic escalation in retirement savings plans have made it easier to save for the future, and have helped Americans accumulate billions of dollars in additional retirement savings. Similarly, streamlining the application process for federal financial aid has made college more financially accessible for millions of students."
Rock Valley College, a community college in Illinois, called off classes today in anticipation of a strike by the faculty union. The college posted a statement that faculty members would be cut off from college email and unable to communicate with students during the strike. The college said it would consider scheduling makeup classes, depending on the duration of the strike. The Rock Valley College Faculty Association has argued on its Facebook page and elsewhere that the college's salary offers have been too low and that professors aren't paid a fair wage. The union also says it was prepared to negotiate through the night but that the college refused to do so and declared an impasse to force the strike. The college says that it has made fair offers and that it can't afford to meet the union's proposals.
Three more former tenured professors at the now-defunct University of Texas Pan American have filed lawsuits against the University of Texas System, saying they deserve jobs at the new University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley campus, The Monitor reported. Junfei Li, former associate professor of engineering; Alexander Edionwe, former associate professor of health and sciences; and Leila Hernandez, former assistant professor in the arts and humanities, all say the university didn’t provide them solid reasons for why they didn’t make the cut as the system opened a new campus this year. All three professors had been working at the shuttered university for more than a decade. Each is seeking $1 million in relief and other damages, as well as reinstatement.
Rio Grande Valley officials declined to comment on the claims, saying they were a legal matter. Another former faculty member has filed a similar suit against the university system, according to the The Monitor.
After months of uncertainly about the future of tenure at their institution, faculty members at the University of Wisconsin at Madison received a draft tenure policy proposal this week asserting that the faculty holds the authority to make academic program changes of the sort that could lead to layoffs under a new state law, Madison.com reported. Proponents of the policy say its protections of tenure put it line with peer institutions and guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors.
The university’s administration pledged earlier this summer that it would find ways to preserve tenure as it’s known at Wisconsin, despite recent legislative changes in the state that make it easier for tenured faculty members to be terminated. The executive committee of the university’s Faculty Senate said the new policy “is solidly grounded in the strong tenure tradition at Madison, codifying existing practice of broad involvement in program change and clearly delimiting the narrow parameters under which such change could lead to faculty dismissal.”
Also this week, some faculty members within the University of Wisconsin System objected to a survey of their views on tenure sent from William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Howell obtained faculty members’ email addresses via an open records request, but professors complained that he didn’t sufficiently disclose funding sources for the survey, which includes such questions as how much professors would accept in terms of a pay increase for giving up tenure. On Tuesday, the secretary of the faculty at the Madison campus emailed professors to say that the survey was funded by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a think tank that describes itself as nonpartisan but which has promoted conservative ideas and has ties to Governor Scott Walker. Faculty members expressed their concerns on Twitter and elsewhere.
Howell said via email, “The only purpose of the survey is to characterize faculty opinion on tenure policy and some policy alternatives to it. This is a live issue in Wisconsin, and I am only hoping to make sense of the range of opinions that faculty have about it.”
An analysis in Nature explores the impact of new rules, enacted in 2012, on conflict of interest by researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health. The findings are largely negative. Universities complain about the cost of compliance. But watchdog groups see universities applying the rules in inconsistent ways, without providing enough assurance that conflicts are prevented or revealed.
Why are we still discussing conference child care arrangements?
In 2001, I attended the women’s caucus of the Association for Jewish Studies for the first time. The topic of the discussion was child care arrangements for conference attendees. At the AJS, it has remained the major topic of discussion every year since -- crowding out all the other issues that face women in academe. Women continue to experience a significant wage gap. Women negotiating for research funds, summer salary, class sizes and leave are often treated differently from men. Women on average take longer to reach tenure and to become full professors.
Combined, these issues mean that women have less capital within the higher education system and serve in less prestigious service roles, with lower salary bumps for doing so. All of this is assuming women can even get tenure-track jobs. Women make up a larger percentage of contingent faculty members, a rate that is increasing as tenure lines are cut and service courses need to be provided. These are major issues that face women within the profession. In 2001, I was a single and childless student; later, as a junior faculty member, I wanted to be mentored in a way that would allow me to navigate many of these pitfalls -- and yet child care remained the dominant conversation at the table.
And here we are, 14 years later, and I now have a baby, and no conference provisions for child care at the AJS. While a limited number of grants are available to help pay for up to 10 hours of child care (during a three-day conference) there is no provision of a child minder for me to pay. At most, this would allow me to fulfill my obligations at three sessions, including giving a paper, chairing a panel and introducing a cultural event -- that is, if I can find a caregiver. It does not enable me to attend the keynote, other papers in my section or any of the evening receptions.
At the Modern Language Association in January, I am scheduled to speak on the first day and the last day of the conference. This requires a four- or five-day trip, due to flight scheduling. After contacting the MLA in July I was informed that organized child care arrangements depend on the number of requests the conference receives. If there are not enough requests for the organization to arrange babysitting, then the hotel may be able to refer me to a company and some compensation will be provided -- though the details at present are unclear and no information would be available until September. (See MLA website.) In order to have my submission for a paper accepted, I had to register for the conference by March, long before there was clarity on the child care issue. This attitude toward child care is common across the profession.
At the recent American Political Science Association conference, which hires an external service provider to offer excellent child care provisions that cover the long hours of the five-day conference, these offerings come at a significant price -- one met by the parents. Those who thought that they could skip some of this cost by taking their child with them to the exhibition hall found they were denied admission. While the APSA provided activities in a dedicated location, at most conferences no such facilities are offered. For those sourcing private child care, where no other alternatives exist, a hotel bedroom is hardly a suitable location for a child to spend several days.
The APSA is actually an exception. It is rare for there to be organized child care, and more often faculty are directed to outside agencies, with no guarantee about the availability of caregivers, nor their quality. Similarly, organizations often provide a limited number of stipends that can help defray some of the expenses involved, but these grants are rarely more than partial and symbolic, and do not alleviate the additional burden of what for many is an unreimbursed trip.
The political scientist who wrote in to defend the APSA policy, saying, “I leave my kids at home with their other parent. I know others who leave kids with grandparents,” assumes an idealistic domestic situation -- one that does not reflect many people’s reality. Academics often live far from their families, may have older or deceased parents, may have spouses who work outside academia, if they have spouses at all, and lack the kind of support that allows many to leave children for extended periods. Rarely do academics in their childbearing years earn enough money to be able to afford full-time care, day and night, while traveling to conferences.
Because here is the rub: In what other profession are people expected and even required to travel for their work without full reimbursement for the cost of flights, accommodation, fees, transport and expensive banquet events? It is only a very lucky few who receive more than partial reimbursement from their institutions (and for many even that is unavailable) without adding the additional burden of child care costs to this trip. Yet conference attendance is a critical aspect of a professional career in academia and not only includes sharing scholarship and creating networking opportunities; it may include job interviews and is a vital part of a career profile in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions.
Child care is a systemic issue within the profession and one that needs to be addressed by the organizing committees at the planning stage. Like receptions, catering, events, awards and book fairs, child care needs to be offered on-site and cover the same long hours that the conference sessions and proceedings do. Child care needs to be affordable not just for tenured academics at wealthy and prestigious institutions but for graduate students, contingent and junior faculty. The questions should not be about the few who benefit from these services, or the risk that associations may lose money by providing these services -- instead we should view providing and subsidizing this resource as an opportunity to hear from scholars who would otherwise be unable to participate. The benefit to the many is the rich contribution that can be made by those who otherwise cut short their attendance, avoid service roles, miss sessions or entirely refrain from conference participation.
Organizations need to provide realistic options for academic parents, male and female, who are primary caregivers (including single parents) that allows participants to take advantage of the networking and mentoring opportunities that ultimately lead to more publications, strengthen research agendas, and acquire and develop skills for professional advancement -- that is, tackle all the other issues facing women in the profession.
It is disingenuous to ask why this topic remains a women’s problem, but it should not be the problem of women’s groups. Instead it is time that program committees and academic associations more broadly take responsibility. For many women to be able to attend conferences, child care facilities need to be provided -- so that this no longer needs to be the dominant topic of the conversation.
Rachel S. Harris is associate professor of Israeli literature and culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
A professor at Delta State University in Mississippi was shot dead on campus Monday morning. The university identified the victim as Ethan Schmidt, a professor of history. The campus was on lockdown for much of the day as police worked to clear buildings and move stranded faculty, staff and students to a sports arena on the north side of campus. No other on-campus casualties were reported.
Classes are canceled today at Delta State. Counselors will be on campus to conduct group and individual sessions. Michelle Roberts, a university spokeswoman, said in a statement, “We are grieving on this campus with this loss, and our condolences are with the [Schmidt] family at this time.”