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Xavier Magazine | October 20, 2017

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Family Matters

By France Griggs Sloat

By 10:30 p.m., dinner, homework and baths are finished, and the kids are in bed. Now—finally—Dianne Ceo-DiFrancesco can get back to work. At a time when most people who’ve been up since 6:00 a.m. are turning in, Dianne is grabbing a cup of hot tea and trotting down to her office in a carpeted corner of the basement. She logs on to her e-mail, finds a submission from her partner on a Spanish textbook they’re co-authoring, and begins editing what will be the final chapter.

As she edits, holding the cup of tea on her lap, she begins to relax. Her toes curl into the soft fibers of the carpet, which extends to the linoleum across the room where the kids’ toys lie randomly abandoned. Jerking suddenly to the sensation of warm tea on her legs, Ceo-DiFrancesco realizes she’s nodded off. It’s 12:30 a.m.

Usually one to work until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m., she decides to call it quits. The fifth-year assistant professor of Spanish has been going all day—driving the kids to school, teaching, driving them home and returning to campus for an evening class. She got home at 10:00 p.m. Her husband, Mark, a physicist who also worked all day, handled the dinner and chores. She makes her way upstairs and finds him slumped on the kitchen table, asleep. It’s been an exhausting day.

Most days seem to be much the same—squeezing the responsibilities of parenting into the work day and the demands of work into life at home. For university professors, the unique demands of the academic world pose a particular dilemma: While their work schedules can be more flexible, the expectations that they also publish scholarly work eat up any extra time that flexibility may create.

“The pressure is very heavy in the first five and a half years, which is when most faculty have their first kids,” says William Madges, department of theology chair and a father of two. “Two of my three new hires this year have young children. Most young parents say they can still teach, but when they go home, they’re not getting much scholarship done.”

From the University’s perspective, it’s a challenge as well—how to attract talented young faculty with families without sacrificing the quality of its demanding programs. Either way, both faculty and administrators agree on one thing: Family matters.

Most faculty teach three to four courses a semester, which, with preparation and planning time, can take 30 or more hours a week, Madges says. Grading, meeting with students and University duties are all extra. Research and scholarship also must occur-and be published-to be considered for a tenured position. All in six years.

The work load alone can be daunting. When a baby is thrown into the mix-perhaps on top of other children-a professor’s life can become chaotic. Jennifer Beste, a new assistant professor of theology, earned her doctorate from Yale University and is eager to complete her research into the Catholic Church’s response to trauma victims. But her work stalled this fall when 18-month-old Anna couldn’t adjust to a new babysitter. Anna would get sick on the ride to the sitter’s, and Beste would arrive frazzled.

“I’m pretty speechless right now about how to do it without hurting my child,” she says. “I’m shocked at how hard it is.”

When the babysitter quit, fellow theology professor Van Pham agreed to watch Anna while Beste taught. Now there’s a crib in Beste’s office and a play table in Pham’s. It’s only one day a week, but Anna is happier and Beste is relieved. Yet now she worries about relying too heavily on Pham and the willingness of Madges, her chair, to let the arrangement continue. Madges says he wants his faculty happy at home and doesn’t want to lose talented new teachers.

“Xavier needs to convince them this is the place you want to stay, and if that means cribs or playpens on occasion in the office, then that’s what we should do,” Madges says. His approach meets the Jesuit ideal of caring for the whole person. On the flip side, however, the department can’t be a day care center. And the arrangement means Pham has to make up her time in other ways.

“It relies on the goodwill of others and could change at any moment,” says Madges. “It’s too tenuous to bring peace of mind to the parents.”

The situation reminds Madges of his own experience 16 years ago when his daughter was born prematurely. Katie could not be exposed to anyone for a year, so his wife, Marsha, a public library director, went part-time, and Madges’ chairman, Kenneth Overberg, S.J., allowed him teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Madges stayed home with Katie the other three days, rising at 5:00 a.m. to work. He put in more hours in the evenings. Still, his new parenting duties cut into his research. Once, he arrived for a department meeting carrying Katie in a soft pack on his chest. Katie went into full-time home care the next year, and Madges made tenure, but he’ll never forget the adjustments both he and his department had to make.

Ever since, Madges has been an advocate for on-campus day care, which, he says, would reduce travel time and ease parents’ worries about their child’s well-being and their own work. Two earlier proposals-one in 1983 and one in 1993-were considered and shelved. In May, Madges submitted a revised proposal to the University committee on the status of women, and a subcommittee took it to President Michael J. Graham, S.J.

“He’s very supportive of the concept,” says chairperson Dawn Rogers. “We really felt that probably the biggest barrier would be finding the right place and getting it started.”

While the administration considers child care on campus, it’s also weighing a proposal to stop the tenure clock for one year for every new child in the family. Faculty who opt for the extension would continue to work and get paid but would have an extra year to complete their published work. Approved by the faculty in 2002 and backed by the administration as “affirming Xavier’s mission,” the measure went to the University’s board of trustees in December.

Some assistant professors already have successfully petitioned to stop their tenure clocks because of maternity issues, reflecting the holistic approach of department chairs who care about their faculty members’ personal lives. With board approval of the new policy, however, tenure extensions would become a right of all tenure-track professors.

“I want to do everything I can to further their professional careers and show I value family life,” says Jo Ann Recker, department of modern languages chair.

That may mean creative scheduling-strictly night classes for instance-to give faculty chunks of time to do research at home, or letting them bring their kids to work periodically. With the increase of new young faculty on campus, it’s not unusual to see children coloring in their parents’ offices or strolling to Burger King for chicken fingers and fries.

Stopping the tenure clock is not a new idea. The University of Iowa adopted a policy in 1993, the University of Texas in 1986 and Stanford University in 1971. And the trend continues. The American Association of University Professors in 2001 recommended extending tenure by up to two years for each child born. And a University of Michigan survey found 49 percent of universities have some form of tenure extension for professors.

Extending tenure may offer relief to harried new parents, but it also has its downside. It extends the time for promotion and salary increase. And there’s often a stigma attached.

“The view becomes they should have done more because they had an extra year or two,” says Daniella Sarnoff, an assistant history professor who’s expecting her second child in January. She’ll be on leave this spring but will return to do research in Berlin in July. With a baby on the way, she’s eyeing tenure extension.

“It’s one of the things I’ve kept in mind,” she says. “But if I can meet what I need to do without stopping the clock, then I won’t.”

Theology professor Gillian Ahlgren accomplished tenure while raising her son, Matthew, mostly as a single parent. It was exhausting, and her health suffered. Matthew was 3 months old and still not sleeping through the night when she returned full time for the fall semester 10 years ago.

“What I remember most is I would look in the mirror and just see black and blue lines under my eyes,” says Ahlgren, who cut her sleep to about four hours a night.

With her three children, ages 3, 7 and 9, still so young, Ceo-DiFrancesco is in the middle of her toughest years. She’s mastered the art of tweaking to keep everything functioning, occasionally picking up Vincent, her youngest, at noon from the Montessori Lab School on campus and walking him to her Schott Hall office. He eats lunch at a table while she works at her computer.

Recently he taped big sheets of colored construction paper to the cabinets. When they went to Recker’s office on business, Recker put chocolate Kisses in his hand. Later, they dashed out to get his brother and sister and head home for homework, dinner, baths, bedtime-and midnight tea in the basement.

She’s grateful for the support, she says, but something always suffers. “The house is a mess or you don’t get all your work done.”

The worst is when they’re sick. She has no family in town, so last winter, when Vincent had a high fever, she had a student watch him in her office while she taught. “You feel really bad because you know to be a responsible parent, he should be in bed,” she says.

As she tweaks, though, the tenure clock ticks. Her book nearly finished, she still has two more articles to do in a year. Still, she’s been fortunate. When Vincent was born, Recker offered her a one-year tenure extension, which she gratefully accepted.

“Dianne came to me nervous to tell me she was pregnant with Vincent,” Recker says.

“She was almost apologetic. I told her, ‘Congratulations.’ ”

 

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