Well, the question of how parenting affects academic careers, especially those of women, has surfaced again. There's a discussion here, at Crooked Timber on whether parents should be hired. It's sort of a follow-on from Harry Brighouse's earlier post, which addresses an article sadly behind the CHE firewall. I've done this from both sides, and I have to say, there's no way that parenting doesn't accentuate the problems many women have in academia. Get pregnant (or, in my case, start raising a pre-teen), and people start to write you off.
There is a perception that people will be distracted by parenting. It's worse for women than men. Or at least it has been most the places I've worked, and was definitely the case in my R1 grad department. Woman gets married, profs start to worry. Woman gets pregnant, and there's a subtle shift in the kinds of opportunities the student is guided towards. As it happens, I have a bunch of medievalist women friends who have kids. They mostly started having their kids while on the tenure track. But I think we medievalists are a little bit anomolous -- medieval history is one of the first places to have let women into the club (no pun intended). But I don't know that it's that much easier for us. My advisor was certainly very supportive, but I think much of the rest of the department despaired of me -- and some washed their hands of me -- when I stayed abroad and became a non-resident, new parent student.
And you know what? grad school with kids is hard. Grad school while working with kids because you're out of fellowship is harder. Getting back on the job track when the parenting and supportive wife thing has required that you step off for a time? Even harder. I wouldn't recommend it. And I know that I'm damned lucky to have landed a job. I'm still worried about my T&P (although that will be true till I have the paper in my hand, even though I know I've made it past hurdle 1). And I work at a fairly family friendly university.
Or at least SLAC seems very friendly to faculty families. Our top two administrators have young children, and they regularly bring them to campus events. Most of my colleagues with kids have little trouble scheduling around them, and one colleague interviewed for and got her job while pregnant with her second child. When there were complications, she was given a reduced load. I have a couple of male colleagues who regularly leave campus early and work three-day contact weeks so that they can share in the child care. Parties generally include people bringing their kids of whatever ages. It's very family friendly.
I really do like that. In so many ways, it counters what we are hearing in the Chronicle. I think one of the reasons it works is that we are a 'teaching' campus. Service and scholarship are important for promotion, but not as much as at research-heavy campuses. I wouldn't trade it. And I agree with everything that Harry and many of his commenters, especially Kieren and Magistra, say.
So why write anything? Well, first, I think you should go read the posts over there. But second, I'm now in a different postion. I'm single, with cats. So now I'm finding that people can't make it to meetings, because they have kids. They can't show up at non-course-related events, because they have kids. If kids are our of school when we aren't, then classes sometimes get cancelled. Not all the time, but enough that it's noticeable. And you know? lots of things do require faculty attendance -- job talks, guest lectures, meetings, workshops. So frequently, it's those of us without children who pick up the slack. It's as if our 'free' time is less important. And some of my colleagues with young children are actually able to find more time to write, because they can often arrange things at home so they can supervise kids and write. The important thing is that they are home. So, for example, when students come to the department to ask an advisor for help, they end up on my doorstep. The bodies who are on campus working are also the bodies that administrators, students, and even sometimes parents can find.
I know, I'm grousing. And I really prefer working in a place where people can parent. And part of this really is our own fault -- we are all aware that women (and more recently men) with families tend to get screwed. No one wants to rock the boat and say, "hey, this is your choice, but you also took a job with stupid requirements when it comes into having a life." But one of the things that I think hasn't been mentioned (and usually is in any such discussion) is the affect that the family life of other academics has on those of us without children. There really is often an attitude of, "of course you can do X (where X = service outside teaching and scholarship), you don't have any responsibilites, and you can always write/go to the gym/hike/read/whatever it is that you may have chosen over children later." And I have noticed that the brunt of this work falls on the childless women. So if academia has been making strides on equality for women who want to have children, or for families where the men want to be more active parents, I think it's improtant to look and see where the shifts of responsibility are taking place. I bet it's not just anecdotal that single, childless women are still getting the short end of the stick.
It's just that that stick gets used to beat a lot of us.