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We aren’t kidding around, Swarthmore needs childcare

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Recently, a survey was sent out to the Swarthmore community assessing the potential for a child care program on Swarthmore’s campus. The survey, sent out by the Childcare Committee,  asked questions about how important Swarthmore community members feel childcare is to “Swarthmore’s values of social responsibility, excellence in education, and best employer practices.” The survey also questioned how many staff and faculty would take advantage of this program and how many hours students would be willing to work for a childcare program.

We at The Phoenix strongly support establishing a childcare program on Swarthmore’s campus. Not only should Swarthmore be providing an on-campus childcare program, we should have been offering one a long time ago. Not doing so has been antithetical to the institution’s claim to social responsibility; it is time to make a change.

Swarthmore stresses its commitment to access and inclusion. However, access and inclusion in the Swarthmore community are nearly impossible without a robust childcare program. Parents with children to care for at home face more barriers in working for the college. These barriers are especially problematic when considering how Swarthmore strives to create a community that welcomes faculty and staff from all backgrounds or statuses. The lack of a childcare program disproportionately impacts employees of the college who are paid on a wage-based system.

Some professors have to cancel class or bring their child to class because they cannot find childcare when their child’s school cancels for inclement weather. Dining services and EVS staff face these same issues, but they also have far less job security to not come to work if they cannot find child care. Hours missed are wages unreceived. Therefore, if the college requires essential staff to be at work even under conditions of inclement weather, it also has a responsibility to make sure staff have reliable care for their children.

While the college does offer a child care subsidy grant for some staff members to receive free external childcare, this is not enough. Childcare needs to be on-campus. When inclement weather is present, staff members should not have to be without child care if their primary daycare is closed. Any babysitter an employee might need to hire should not have to risk the weather either. Rather, employees deserve to have the option for their children to be cared for on-campus.

Of course, this should not only be limited to inclement weather. Childcare should be a service offered to employees of the college for all the hours they are working. Even if staff members and faculty are able to afford and find quality child care, the fact that they need to sacrifice some of their salary and time to an outside organization to care for their child is inequitable. This inequity is in contrast to Swarthmore’s mission to “tend to its community with care,” especially with the amount of resources the institution has to devote to mediating these disparities.

A childcare program would also provide students with more opportunities for employment on campus; it would be a mutually beneficial system supporting the college’s values of community responsibility.

While instituting this program will be a large change, it is far from unprecedented. Roughly half the colleges in the United States provide some sort of childcare and most notably many peer institutions near us such as UPenn and Dickinson, as well as those of a similar size and nature, such as Williams, Bowdoin, and Vassar.

As an institution that stresses the importance of community and promises to shape socially responsible leaders of the future, Swarthmore has an obligation to provide quality support for its employees. Childcare is crucial to shaping a community where all members are able to both do their jobs and care for their children, without having to choose one over the other.

Missing money for childcare raises questions

in News by

In 2002, despite years of advocating for issues such as gender equity in hiring practices, awareness around sexual misconduct between students and faculty, maternity leave, and childcare for the children of employees, the Women’s Concerns Committee — a faculty committee established in 1986 to address women-specific issues at the college — was suddenly dissolved by administrators at the college.  Making this decision all the more surprising were the several serious inroads that the committee had made the previous year in support of the construction of a daycare center at the college. These included a financial commitment of $180,000 approved by former President Al Bloom to assist in the construction of the facility as well as several conversations with professional child care consultants and a college-sponsored visit to a model daycare-eldercare combined facility in Lancaster, PA. 13 years later, as the college readies itself for significant growth in its labor force with the completion of Town Center West and the addition of several new faculty positions, the issue of childcare, and the disappearance of the money earmarked for childcare benefits and a daycare facility has once again risen to the fore.

“Dear COFP, You asked for agenda items so please can we open up the issue of daycare again?,” wrote Professor of Linguistics, Donna Jo Napoli in an email to the Committee on Faculty Procedures on September 9th. “Look around at our employees. We need it…We say we are a ‘community,’ but any community’s focus has to be on helping the most needy among us, and children will always be our most needy, by definition…Can’t we do the right thing?”

While Napoli was never on the Women’s Concerns Committee, she has been one of the most vocal supporters of the committee’s work in regards to the issue of daycare. Napoli explained that when she was hired by the college in the fall of 1987 she had five children — the youngest of whom was two at the time — and the college made it seem as if daycare would be available to her.

“Day Care was wafted across my face during the interview process leaving a lovely scent,” Napoli said in her email to the COFP. “It’s 28 years later and we still have no daycare.”

In the years since the dissolution of the Women’s Concerns Committee, Napoli has actively investigated the topic of child care at the college, surveying faculty and staff to gauge interest in such a program and investigating the efforts made by comparable colleges and universities. In 2008, when she researched the daycare programs offered by several colleges considered to be peer institutions, she found that every one provided some form of childcare benefit.

According to Napoli, amongst the institutions offering day care in some capacity are Amherst, Barnard, Mt. Holyoke, Skidmore, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Wheaton, Williams, Bates, and Grinnell. Bryn Mawr and Haverford have a shared daycare facility called the Phebe Anna Thorne Preschool and Kindergarten that serves as a laboratory nursery school where students from both colleges can contribute to research conducted in the Bryn Mawr Child Study Institute. The Preschool is on the Bryn Mawr campus, while the Kindergarten is on the Haverford Campus, and faculty and staff at both colleges are offered a tuition discount of 10% as well as an application fee waiver.

“There are some nice daycare options in our community for those who live near the college and can afford to take advantage of that, but that does not absolve the college of the need to make childcare easier for those who work here, including staff and environmental service employees” said Carol Nackenoff, professor of political Science at the College, and a member of the Women’s Concerns Committee in 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002. “Some institutions run a lab school and can combine it with daycare options. Childcare is something that at this college of ours that claims to be progressive ought to be provided. I thought we could come up with a plan as others do.”

According to Nackenoff, in the 2001-2002 academic year, the Women’s Concerns Committee appeared to be on the cusp of devising an interesting plan to combine daycare and eldercare, with the latter subsidizing the former, when progress suddenly ground to a halt.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that when we came up with a plausible plan provider willing to consult with us and possibly help us bring this to fruition that the college didn’t seem to want to take further steps in that direction,” Nackenoff explained. “It strikes me as a curious ‘coincidence’ that the strides the committee made towards coming up with a plausible plan for a sliding scale daycare facility and the dismantling of the Women’s Concerns Committee coincided as closely as they did.”

Robert Weinberg, professor of history at the college, who was co-chair of the Women’s Concerns Committee when it was disbanded in 2002, corroborated this explanation, adding that what had formerly been considered to be “women’s concerns” were no longer seen as needing their own gender-exclusive committee.

“I think it was something like $180,000 that the college had that was earmarked for childcare, and we wanted the college to try to use that to develop a serious child care program on campus,” Weinberg said. “But in the end, President Bloom took out the money that was earmarked for childcare and put it somewhere else in the budget or in the endowment, so that money got lost. Right after that, the committee got disbanded because I think the college just felt that there weren’t any concerns that were specific to women, and that concerns that might concern women could be addressed through other committees.”

Where exactly the money that was originally earmarked for childcare has gone remains a serious concern for many faculty members — such as Napoli — who persist in the fight for daycare at the college. Citing a 1998 article in Volume 120, Issue 12 of the Phoenix that stated that in 1988, the Women’s Concerns Committee had set aside $300,000 for child care benefits that also went unspent, Napoli explained that more funds were missing than just the $180,000 that Nackenoff and Weinberg described.

“Mark Kuperberg who is a professor of economics told me in 2014 that this money is worth $3 million today, assuming growth at the rate of the college’s endowment” Napoli said. “Rather discouraging don’t you think? And the thing is, the administration said to me, ‘Well that money didn’t get invested,’ so that $300,000 is part of the college’s endowment, and however the college’s endowment grew, the $300,000 also grew…No other assumption is reasonable. Any other assumption is based on people doing the kind of mismanagement of funds that has never happened at Swarthmore.”

Weinberg explained that the college decided not to spend any of the money allocated for childcare because the administration under President Bloom believed that constructing a high quality day care facility was simply not something that the college could afford or that faculty and staff really wanted.

“The college argued that the need wasn’t self-evident, and it would be very, very expensive to actually put together a program of the sort that the college could be proud of,” Weinberg said. “The money that had been allocated for childcare was just no longer there.”

Wendy Chmielewski, who was co-chair on the Women’s Concerns Committee with Weinberg from 2000 to 2002, explained that the college’s understanding of need was somewhat flawed because it relied on faulty data.

“I think one of those early surveys, perhaps designed by Human Resources, asked people what kinds of needs they had in terms of child and dependent care,” Chmielewski said. “It was presented as a choice of benefits suggesting ‘Do you want health care or do you want childcare?’ but you can’t have both. Presented in that way, I think a lot of people chose healthcare and the institution interpreted that as ‘well nobody wants childcare’.”

Thus, in 2002, faced with conflicting reports about the demand for childcare amongst faculty and staff, as well as unclear indications of college’s likelihood to spend the money allocated for child care benefits, college administrators decided to disband the Women’s Concerns Committee.

“I moved onto another committee,” Weinberg said. “I felt like I was banging my head against the wall with the child care issue, and it was not going to happen…Somewhere along the line, I heard some news that the Women’s Concerns Committee was disbanded.”

Marjorie Murphy, professor of history at the college, and a founding member of the Women’s Concerns Committee during the 1985-1986 academic year, explained that she believed a significant reason the committee was so easily dissolved was because of the increasing burdens being placed on faculty and staff — especially those who were parents — during this period.

“The committees were having a hard time getting faculty to join because the faculty was already so busy” Murphy said. “The people who are actually burdened by the lack of childcare are going to be the people least likely to be able to dedicate more time to a committee. As the college grew and changed, administrators started hiring more administrators, and the faculty were increasingly taken out of the discussion. This is the unintended consequence of an ambitious college that’s always trying to do everything administratively. In this sense, the administrators really let the faculty down.”

Despite the fact that in the absence of a Women’s Concerns Committee, there has been no formalized faculty body to advocate for child care at the college, many faculty members still believe that the child care issue may be poised to return as a concern for the college in the coming years.

“I do think the college needs to think seriously about childcare because if we are expanding the number of faculty, there are going to be a lot of young faculty,”  Weinberg said. “That has to be addressed in an appropriate manner. Something has to be done to be aware of that…The college has a lot of moving pieces as [extends to] 25 faculty members. That’s a lot of demand in terms of the needs of new faculty and their families. If somebody knew that they could bring their kids to a childcare center on campus, that would be a plus.”

Napoli, who has been leading the resurgence of interest around the issue this year, explained that despite the dissolution of the Women’s Concerns Committee, the issue of childcare should still remain relevant to all faculty regardless of gender or whether or not they themselves had small children.

“The day care issue can go beyond women’s concerns because I strongly believe that daycare is not just a women’s concern,” Napoli said. “This is absolutely a community concern…It’s about caring about everyone’s children…We ignore the children in our community and that’s absurd and wrong. When you do give daycare you have fewer sick days, people sticking around the job longer, and there is much greater employee loyalty. It’s good business, and the $3 million that the college has for this is a good start.”

As the Committee on Faculty Procedures crafts its agenda for the year, and a new president is inaugurated, greater administrative support for daycare at the college may finally be realized. Until then, however, faculty and staff must continue to seek out their own childcare arrangements, while they wait for the college to adjust to its larger and younger employee population.

Editorial: Keeping college open unsafe, unfair

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Swarthmore, whether for reasons of maintaining course schedules, instilling toughness in students or simply keeping tradition essentially never cancels classes in the face of storms. This is, at best, inconvenient for students. At worst, it is downright dangerous, especially when the school neglects to salt pathways, as was the case twice last week. However, as bad as it is for students, the situation is even worse for faculty and staff. Although the college often allows all “nonessential staff” to stay home, the policy of not canceling class pressures professors to teach and forces much of the campus to remain open.

Think about it. What if rather than a student, you were a faculty or staff member? Perhaps even one with children? Given that the public school system operates on a saner cancellation policy than the college, it is very likely that in the above scenario, school would be cancelled. And so you’re faced with a dilemma: miss a day of work — in the case of some staff members, perhaps a day critical to keeping your job — or leave your kids at home alone.

We at the Phoenix believe that the college must offer a solution to this problem. Many of our peer institutions offer some form of childcare, and a staff-wide poll conducted last year revealed strong support for either on-campus facilities or subsidies.

If the college refuses to make changes to support families within its community during the regular year, then it must at least consider an emergency option for situations like the hypothetical blizzard. During a storm like the one we evaded this week, no sitters are available to come in at the last minute, and conditions are especially dangerous for young children at home alone. In a winter storm, power is likely to go out, help is hard to reach and the risk of mischief is heightened. How can parents be expected to leave their children home alone in these conditions?

The college might devise a program by which, in situations like these, essential staff members with young children may be excused from their obligations in order to care for their families. Reduced dining hall hours could allow the college to function with a smaller staff, bereft of those members who must stay at home. And as for faculty with young children at home, we advocate our favorite solution of all: cancel class.

The college’s draconian cancellation policy does not serve its students well. When evaluating weather-related cancellations in the future, however, Swarthmore must consider not only students, but the obligations and pressures that holding classes places on faculty and staff.

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