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Faculty call on President Smith for Title IX, Dean’s Office reform; O4S ends hiatus

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After temporarily halting their actions on Tues. March 27, Organizing for Survivors, a student group advocating for survivors of sexual violence on campus, officially announced that they are resuming their activism during a community forum on April 4. During their hiatus, O4S members held an information session for faculty and staff on Friday, March 30 at Bond Hall. Not only do faculty and staff carry institutional memory of spring 2013, they also vote on potential amendments to Staff and Instructional Staff Procedures on Sexual Assault and Harassment that appear before the Committee on Faculty Procedures. This semester, faculty have increased their role in advocating for administrative change.

Biology professor Vince Formica, who helped organize the event, estimates that over forty faculty and instructional staff attended, including President Valerie Smith. For about an hour and a half, two O4S members fielded questions posed by attendees about O4S’s demands, their personal experiences, and other topics relating to O4S’s mission. Formica felt that the conversation was productive.

“It was a really good example of civil discourse on campus,” he said.

According to Steven Hopkins, professor of Religion and Asian Studies faculty members found the session to be both informative and moving.

“What they did on Friday was a very stunning and lucid presentation of the demands and the context for their demands,” Hopkins said. “We were impressed by the students’ rationality and the systematic way they brought up the issues at hand. We were all disturbed that things remain really negative.”

In an article published in Voices on April 2, O4S members and other survivors described their experiences with sexual violence on campus and reflected on O4S’s mission.

Since its inception last semester, O4S has consistently aimed to engage with faculty, both through encouraging members to initiate private conversations and by inviting faculty to community events. O4S has called on the college to modify its Title IX hearings process, and to provide more support to survivors during and after Title IX proceedings. The organization has also called for the resignation of Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun, Dean Nathan Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts.

Faculty and staff are also some of the few remaining people on campus who were present during the spring of 2013, colloquially known as “The Spring of Our Discontent.” That semester, student activism surged around a variety of issues on campus, including mishandling of Title IX cases. The college came under national scrutiny when in April 2013 a group of survivors filed a Title IX complaint and a Clery complaint against the college. The survivors testified that Swarthmore had systematically underreported and mishandled sexual violence on campus. According to Hopkins, who has taught at Swarthmore since 1993, many faculty members that have worked for the college since before 2013 feel that Title IX and leadership issues have not been sufficiently addressed by the college.

“All of us were impressed by students who chose to speak out. What they did was both difficult and risky,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been concerned since the spring of 2013 of issues with proper leadership in regards to Title IX … We felt, as faculty, that things had gotten better … I was concerned about the recent situation because we had expected much more to have happened since 2013.”

Some alumni, too, who attended the college during the Spring of 2013 feel that more needs to be done. Miriam Hauser ’13, who served on the Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource Team and was involved in activism, described how disappointed she felt that the issues brought up in 2013 had not been implemented.

“Everyone was stressed and angry, but there was this moment of hope that we were all having,” she said. “These things have been percolating for years but now they’re being voiced in a really public way. There’s no way that action isn’t going to be taken. And then it’s five years since I’ve graduated and the same complaints are being made.”

One issue that O4S has brought up is administrator competency. O4S members detailed various ways in which survivors have felt that Dean Braun, Dean Miller, and Beth Pitts have failed to support to survivors in a collection of letters published in Voices on March 23. In 2013, according to Hauser, similar concerns were raised specifically regarding Tom Elverson, who was quoted in the federal Title IX complaint filed in 2013 as telling survivors of sexual misconduct that he was “first and foremost a DU brother. Second an alum. Third a drug and alcohol counselor. And fourth an administrator,” The Phoenix reported. In addition, Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal retired. In the official Title IX complaint released in 2014, several survivors describe Westphal as being dismissive their safety concerns.

“Much as I was angry at the time, I don’t think that mostly administrators were being intentionally malicious per se, it was more cluelessness,” Hauser said. “An inexcusable degree of cluelessness. When you’re responsible for students, when you’re dealing with them, there’s safety. It’s completely irresponsible, it’s unethical, not to develop these clear systems.”

The Dean’s office and the Title IX team has had issues with unusually high turnover recently; some of the most prominent examples of this were the departure of Kaaren Williamsen, the former Title IX coordinator, in October 2017, and that of Jason Rivera, former Dean of the Sophomore Class and IC director, in December 2017. In addition, out of 11 people who were hired as Title IX liaisons and resources in 2014 as a response to the Spring of our Discontent, only six still work at the college. In campus-wide emails, Dean Braun and President Smith expressed “mixed emotions” at their abrupt departures. At the external review of the Dean’s office in February that President Smith commissioned, faculty gathered to speak to the reviewers about their views of the Dean’s office, the results of which should be shared with the President in the next two weeks. Hopkins expressed concern about the turnover rate.

“I’m also concerned and confused about the attrition rate of people leaving. Leadership with both the IC and Title IX is central to so many students,” Hopkins said.

Formica feels that many faculty members may be interested in advocating for Title IX reform. “There is a lot of faculty engagement,” he said. Formica himself has attended an O4S community forum and has talked with several activists.

Hopkins was spurred to action after talking with student activists and has pushed for action himself. Hopkins has talked to President Smith to express what he felt were the views of several faculty members.

“I’ve involved myself out of respect for students and out of an understanding of the situation,” he said. “What I did on my own was to write to Val. Val wanted to meet with me and I also expressed that there were a lot of other faculty members that were also concerned. She set up a meeting and we talked very frankly about the issues.”

Though faculty and staff were involved in Title IX activism in 2013, activists at the time were concerned that faculty and staff were ill-prepared to support survivors of sexual assault and that they occasionally caused harm to survivors, according to Hauser.

“We wanted there to be more training systems for the entire campus community — the staff, faculty members — about sexual violence, trauma, harassment, because I think that people were facing lots of insensitivity from administrators and staff, but also from professors … The line I think we heard was ‘we can’t make professors do anything, they’ve got tenure,’ which is just so ridiculous. You can make requests, these are people in your employ and that doesn’t mean you’re going to threaten your job security. But expecting people to go through training and to educate themselves I think that’s something that people working at an educational institution have a responsibility to do,” Hauser said.

Following the events of 2013, the College expanded Title IX trainings for faculty. According to the Title IX Office’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Resources and Education website, these trainings include “an overview of institutional obligations, a review of legislative updates, and a discussion of the training, education and prevention requirements of Title IX.”
Hopkins feels that it is necessary that faculty allies continue to advocate for Title IX reform in the coming weeks.

“Many professors are concerned about leadership issues and support the students coming before the administration,” Hopkins said. “Not every faculty agrees with the tactics being used but we all understand that this a topic of urgency. Practically speaking, we wouldn’t be talking about this if the students hadn’t done this. I think that it’s many years of frustration that’s lead to this moment. It’s not new and so students have carried it over. These are conversations that we all really need to have to heal a lot of wounds that are out there.”

Faculty this year have seemed to play a more active role in advocating for Title IX reform than in the Spring of 2013. For Hauser, faculty play an important role in supporting student activists.

“There were some really supportive faculty members as well [in 2013],” Hauser said. “I don’t know if they were necessarily involved in activism, but there were faculty members who personally gave me encouragement, who told me that I was doing a good job, who supported the work I was doing. For all my concerns about the faculty who weren’t educating themselves, who weren’t involving themselves, there were also faculty members who were, who were always really supportive … The supportive role is really important.”

O4S declined to comment on the event.

Thank you to those who keep Swarthmore going

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In the past week we’ve experienced more snow than Swarthmore has seen in the past three months. As we all began to mentally prepare ourselves for spring break, it managed to get the coldest it has been all year. Friday’s winter storm damaged power lines, cutting off the power to the college and the majority of homes and business in the Swarthmore area. Massive trees fell near Willets, in front of PPR, and many other trees went down campus. Power was not restored to campus until around 9 p.m. on Friday, powered by a generator. PECO power was partially restored on Wednesday.

Yet Winter Storm Riley was a powerful reminder of the amazing and supportive community which we are a part of here at Swarthmore. As students gathered in Sharples, the only building with power on Friday evening, the atmosphere was not one of dread, but of liveliness and fun. Students were taking advantage of the power outage by coming together through playing cards, enjoying games, and engaging in light-hearted conversation. The outage became a cause for unity rather than frustration. We at the Phoenix are honored to be a part of such a compassionate, encouraging community.

We also recognize that this compassionate, encouraging community is not just created by the students. The gathering in Sharples on Friday night, the quick restoration of power, and the vibrant energy on campus wouldn’t have been possible without the staff and faculty that devoted themselves to ensuring a positive experience for students.

We want to express our appreciation for all of the staff and faculty who kept the campus running for us despite the lack of power at their homes, the icy roads, and the fallen trees and power lines.

Thank you to all of the Sharples staff who continued to provide us with food and a welcoming place to sit, charge our phones and computers, and spend time as a community despite the crazy weather. They came in and had the same upbeat attitude they always have while greeting students each and every day.

Thank you to facilities for working tirelessly to connect campus back to power in only five hours on Friday night, while nearly everywhere else in the area remained without power. It is impossible to express enough gratitude for keeping us connected to the generators throughout the weekend, even switching out the generators over the weekend to ensure campus remained provided with electricity. We are grateful for Ralph Thayer, director of facilities, for keeping students updated on the process through email chains and for making the switch to generator power as seamless as possible.

We are immensely grateful to the facilities staff and arboretum workers who gave their time to shovel snow and clear paths in the storm so that we students could safely navigate campus. We are aware that these workers have even more work ahead of them as they clean up fallen trees and other damage from the storm. They are extraordinary for the effort they exert every day just to keep campus functioning and beautiful.

Finally, thank you to all the professors, living in and out of the town of Swarthmore, that have powered through the damage brought by Riley, coming on to the campus to continue to teach despite the rough conditions and lack of power.

We at The Phoenix have written many articles which criticize and hold various divisions of the college accountable. However, we also recognize the importance of showing gratitude for the people and services we take for granted everyday both those classified as “essential” in the emails, and those who simply improve the lives of students everyday. In the context of this storm, we cannot express how much we appreciate and recognize the hard work that came from all the staff that keep the college running. Swarthmore has room for a lot of improvement but this storm has demonstrated and made us ever more grateful for the staff who work tirelessly to make Swarthmore a place where students, faculty, and staff can find a dedicated and hardworking community of people.

Grider talks hot wax, flotsam, and Assyrian reliefs

in Arts by

Assistant Professor of Studio Art Logan Grider spent much of his sabbatical on an Irish beach at low tide, digging up plastic. He and his two young sons would carry bags of refuse — broken bottles, torn children’s Wellingtons, fragments of fishing buoys — back to his studio and sort the trash into stacks: yellow pieces on one table, a pile of smaller pieces on the floor. Other artists on his floor complained of the smell, but Grider saw potential. He would move between piles of trash like a chef, he says, filing, sanding, and super gluing the pieces into a whole.

“The students in the room knew that I would bring up Morandi,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience, mostly faculty, that filled the Scheuer room. They were there for his presentation, “Shifting Shapes: Scale, Surface, and Relief-like Space in Abstract Painting.”

Grider, dressed in jeans and a blazer, self-consciously jabbed a thin wooden dowel rod towards the projection screen, which displayed a 1949 still life by Giorgio Morandi depicting vases clustered on a beige table against a yellow background.

“If you look at the wall to the left of the vessels, it’s in a deep space. It’s actually the deepest space of the painting. As you let your eye move across the vessels and down the right side, though, you see that all of a sudden, the wall becomes a positive space.”

The yellow wall to the right of the table, painted in a slightly lighter yellow, seemed to draw forward, even advancing in front of the vessels.

As with the Assyrian reliefs, Italian oil paintings, and neo-impressionistic pointillism he discussed earlier in his talk, Grider focused on the way shapes and colors lead the eye around the piece, creating what he calls a piece’s “internal rhythm.”

“[Relief offers] the fluidity to negotiate illusion and the physical reality of an object.” That interplay shapes his own work.

Three of Grider’s paintings, each about five feet tall, rested on white pedestals at the back of the room. They were perfect examples of the drawbacks of digital reproduction that Grider warned of at the beginning of his presentation. In real life, you can see what’s lost in the powerpoint: the texture. A bright blue is streaked with red, white, and gold; a glass-smooth brown runs up against a blue that looks like it’s been splashed with acid.

The effect is the result of Grider’s use of encaustic, or hot wax, painting. The technique, popularized by Egyptian funerary portraits, demands speed; Grider can paint only a few strokes before the wax cools. Combined with the ease of scraping off the wax — the floor below his easel is covered in a pile of colored shavings — that tempo makes for a process marked by revision, one that follows no clear progression. Grider’s wax-splattered daily sketches of each piece, drawn over the course of the weeks required for completion, often chronicle radical shifts in a painting’s form.

Much of Grider’s sabbatical work centered on using techniques from sculpture and relief in his paintings. That meant getting comfortable with failure. After returning from his month in Ireland, he worked with wood, carving, painting, and layering. Grider found that his paintings didn’t translate well — he describes them as, more or less, total disasters. The experimentation, however, was invaluable.

“The work I was doing before the sabbatical had very flat forms, really mundane shapes, not a lot of translucence,” he says. During his time away, however, he began to explore effects like transparency and faded color.

“It could become really interesting in terms of creating space or subverting an expectation of space.”

Grider received his MFA from Yale, where he trained as a figure painter. Moving in the direction of abstract work, he says, wasn’t that much of a departure.

“The distinction between abstraction and representation is really meaningless. I think of all forms as more or less abstract, and composing has everything to do with the rhythm of the form.”

He still begins each painting as he was trained: staking out his territory on the canvas, saturating the surface as quickly as possible with intense colors. The rest, he says, is a matter of making the colors get along with each other.

His presentation closes with the first slide he showed us: the ninth century BCE Assyrian stone reliefs. When Grider went before a funding board to propose his sabbatical, he said he wanted to explore what he describes as deeper space in his paintings. In Ireland, he ended up doing the opposite.

“You’re right on the Atlantic coast in the wildest, most rural part of Ireland, and there are literally cliff faces [going] a couple hundred feet into the ocean. I don’t think I’d ever seen deeper space,” Grider confessed. It pushed him away.

He speaks with a muted reverence of visiting the Assyrian panels, which are only an inch deep at most, in New York over and over again — recalling the dark room, the sheer size of the eight-foot-tall slabs. He looks backwards in time, he says, much more than he looks forward.

“I’m not terribly interested in a lot of the conversations that are happening right now inside of art,” he says. “The things that were made before me, [though], I can’t get enough of it.”

Faculty Continue to Express Concern About Benefits

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Faculty and staff continue to express concerns about the college’s retirement plans and the lack of support for faculty and staff with children. While changes to the retirement policy have come in in recent years, progress in childcare and maternity leave, have proceeded extremely slowly.

College employee retirement plans operate under a defined contribution program, in which faculty choose how much to save from their income and the college matches their contribution. Until 2013 Swarthmore offered around a hundred different retirement options, which invested savings in different ways and charged different amounts of management fees. Since then it has sharply reduced the number of retirement plan options, in a move mirrored by many peer institutions, as the high number of options confused many staff members and some of the options charged high management fees. Despite this change, some faculty still think the college could improve its retirement policies. Professor Richard Valelly believes the college should change the type of retirement plans it offers:

“A much better program, would be to provide a defined benefit rather than a defined contribution program. The College’s current program, allocates all risk and planning error (which is exceptionally common) to the employee. All of the social science evidence shows that retirees in defined contribution programs, no matter where such a program is located, are systematically worse off than retirees in defined benefit programs.”

Valelly admitted a defined contribution plan, which would guarantee every faculty member a certain level of retirement income, would be more expensive but said that the added cost would be made up for increased security for college employees.

To address the childcare concerns last year the faculty formed an Ad-Hoc Child Care Committee, headed by Professor Robert Weinberg which published a report last May reviewing the College’s childcare policies and proposing short and long term solutions. This year has seen the implementation of one of the short term solutions: a child care benefit payment for some low paid staff. But no comprehensive solution to the childcare problems faculty face is currently being undertaken

Some members of the faculty are also concerned about the  lack of an onsite childcare facility for faculty. Many professors find it difficult to raise children while also fulfilling their professional duties. Professor Cheryl Grood said:

“I have found (and continue to find) it enormously challenging to juggle raising children with my research, teaching, and service responsibilities to the college…family-friendly policies have not been a priority of the college during my time here.”

The Child Care Committee published a report last May for the faculty which found many of Swarthmore’s peer institutions, including Amherst, Williams, Trinity, Smith, Vassar, Bowdoin and Bryn Mawr have on-campus childcare facilities. As early as the late 1980s there were plans to establish an onsite childcare facility, but these plans never came to fruition due to concerns about where the facility would be and who would staff it. As the Phoenix reported last year, in 1988 $300,000 was put aside to build a childcare facility on campus. This money was kept in a low interest account rather than being invested like the rest of the endowment, meaning today it is worth only $600,000 instead of $3 million dollars. Current efforts to improve child care benefits for faculty employees like the childcare benefit for low-income faculty, are drawing from this fund.

Grood explained with the childcare center idea had always been a sticking point in these negotiations.

“For decades, the conversation has been shut down, in part because it has been framed as an all-or-nothing endeavor: that is, if we can’t build an onsite daycare center that is affordable for all faculty and staff who want to use it , we can’t do anything at all.”

The Childcare Committee Report noted the increasing severity of the problem and its implications for faculty quality of life. The report explained that the increasing number of professors, single parent households, and households where both parents work meant that the childcare needs of the faculty would only grow in coming years. The vast majority of faculty are not from Pennsylvania nor did they go to graduate school near Swarthmore and most do not have not family or friends in the area. It also pointed out how an internal report had noted that 10% of staff said that poor child care had led them to consider leaving the college.

Like Grood, German Professor and Associate Provost for Faculty Sunka Simon found having a child and raising one extremely difficult while working as a faculty member.

“[the lack of childcare] increases the anxiety levels of female faculty members specifically. It put a lot of strain on my partner and a lot of strain on me. I constantly felt I was being judged.”

Simon said that unless a collegewide solution is provided for childcare, the problem would never really be solved.

In the short-term, in addition to the existing child care subsidy, Simon proposed a Moodle connected site where faculty could put postings for babysitting jobs for students.

The Childcare Report concluded that the best permanent solution to the childcare problem would be an onsite facility, staffed by workers from Trinity cooperative daycare, which operates very close to the college, out of the Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. The report also suggested expanding maternity leave for faculty and staff: Paid maternity leave for college faculty is only one semester and for college staff one month. Faculty who adopt are not eligible for paid maternity leave. While the child care benefit for low-income faculty is being expanded for next year, it remains to be seen what else the college will do to help support employees who have children.

White leads women at the forefront of film studies

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White leads women at the forefront of film

When asked about the onset of her career, Professor Patricia White responded, “I went to grad school because I loved two things: women and film.”

White is a Eugene Lang Research Professor and teaches in Film and Media Studies. Some courses she has taught in the past include Feminist Film and Media Studies, Queer Media, and Women and Popular Culture. White earned her Bachelor’s at Yale, and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a PhD in The History of Consciousness. The History of Consciousness at Santa Cruz is an interdisciplinary PhD program that focuses on diversity in academia.  For White, the intersections between feminism and academia are palpable, “I’m really encouraged by feminist campus activism.” She added that it was particularly innate on Swarthmore’s campus.

White is also an active board member of the organization, Women Make Movies — a non-profit network that promotes the work of women in the film industry. She started with Women Make Movies as a programmer, and she has been working with them since. Women Make Movies was established in 1972 to combat the underrepresentation of women in media and originally began as a training program. It currently focuses on promoting and distributing films by women and women of color in particularly.  Women Make Movies has also sponsored the work of Swarthmore alumni like Dawn Porter ’88, a documentarian who recently made Trapped, a documentary which focuses on the legal fight to keep reproductive clinics open.

Access is a topic that White focuses on in many of her classes. Addressing the underrepresentation of women in the production of films motivates White’s work both as a teacher and with Women Make Movies.

“That kind of work is very interesting to me,” White noted. “Creating a network of support for an independent documentary which is amazing but didn’t have enough public funding to be sustainable.”

“There are many points of entry,” White said. “The ones that are the most strongly guarded are the one’s with the most prestige, like director for example.” White added that a way to challenge this structure would be to open up more networks devoted to women. “We need to infiltrate the decision making places, and I think young people have that vigilance. My advice would be to call in all the connections you have because men have been doing it for years.”

White believes the landscape of production is changing. At one point in her teaching career, she would begin a class by asking students how many films by women they had seen, and more often than not, students would be silent. Now because of the increase of women in film, White has amended that question to ask what was the last film they had seen. White stressed that there is still a huge imbalance.

She also mentioned that there are changes in feminism, especially in conglomeration with the Internet. White noted that there is a huge difference between first wave feminism and the more inclusive feminism of today. Through all of this White says it is important to recognize the distinction between critical analysis and what she calls a “thumbs up, thumbs down” analysis. A new question White is excited to explore with her students has been: Is there a Feminist Internet, and what does it look like?

Last fall, in her course called Feminist Film and Media Studies, White assigned a Wikipedia editing project to her students.  Each of them was asked to select one or two Wikipedia pages — ones that related to a feminist film, a woman in the industry, some feminist theory on film and media, or anything else related to the course — and to edit or add to the page.  The assignment was part of a larger effort by the Wikipedia community to increase the representation of women within the online encyclopedia. White uses her curriculum to learn about the current landscape of feminism from her students points of view.

“Thankfully, I have a steady supply of 18 to 22 year olds,” she smiled.

White describes herself as a second generation feminist and remembers the technological media she used to interpret feminist art.

“In college, I would have weekly screenings, and I mean this was pre-VHS. We would watch movies all by women directors — It was really fun,” White remembered.

One of White’s favorite movies to teach is Jeanne Dielman directed by the recently deceased Chantal Akerman. Jeanne Dielman is a four-hour long movie showing a woman’s life as she does housework. The film was highly celebrated by feminist film critics and theorists for the way it intimately and carefully portrayed the life of a woman within her home.

“I can’t seperate watching it from teaching it,” White said of the movie, “It is always so meaningful, and I think there’s something about it everyone can identify with. The movie shows what the form of cinema can tell us about how an experience feels– that to me is perfect. It moves people.”

White has authored several books including Women’s Cinema/World Cinema: Projecting Contemporary Feminisms as well as Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability.

Fall break does not actually give students a break

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It is difficult to argue the fact that Swarthmore is an academically rigorous institution. We pride ourselves on this rigor in admissions pamphlets, in the mouths of our tour guides, and in the furious matches of misery poker played late at night in Essie Mae’s. Strategically placed at the halfway point of the semester, many students look forward to fall break as a blessed respite from the endless barrage of academic and extracurricular work that comes their way. However, it appears that faculty members are, in increasing number and volume, increasingly assigning work due during break. While there is no official college policy prohibiting faculty from making students turn in work over break, we at the Phoenix believe that this practice is detrimental to the mental health of the student body and contradicts the very idea of having such a break in the first place.

For many Swarthmore students, the absence of class time during fall break is immediately replaced by a host of other obligations. The varsity women’s volleyball team is required to stay on-campus during break, and their days are filled up with extra practice time. Other coaches have historically scheduled the farthest away games of the season over fall break, in order to minimize the academic cost of requiring students to travel long hours. Even students who are not varsity athletes find their fall breaks vanishing right before their eyes. Some express a desire to catch up on the readings they failed to find time for, or to start on the homework that has been assigned for the week directly following the break. This culturally reinforced notion that fall break is a time to play catch-up, rather than an actual break from the demands of  life at Swarthmore, does nothing but add to the large amounts of stress students face by this point in the semester, and we at the Phoenix believe that the Dean’s Office and the faculty should work against these common expectations and promote fall break as an opportunity for students to improve their overall well-ness.

Even more egregious than the general campus culture regarding fall break, the Phoenix believes that faculty members who choose to assign work due over fall break are actively working against students’ wellness. This increase in assignments due over the break is related to the rise of Moodle as an electronic submission platform for papers, problem sets, and other assessments. It is simply unfair for certain faculty members to take an “If we can, we will” approach in the context of assigning due dates for major projects. This is not to say that fall break is a time where students should not be doing any academically-related work at all, but that the increasing number of students whose workload doubles or triples over the break is unethical and is a practice that needs to be reevaluated.

In light of the extremely stress-inducing events that transpired in the week before fall break this year, it is disappointing to see that Swarthmore students have become busier than ever during a time that is designed to be a brief respite from the rigorous academic and extracurricular workloads that abound. We at the Phoenix believe that the Dean’s Office and faculty members have an obligation to preserve this weeklong period as a time to alleviate stress, not compound it, and something must be done to reverse the trend seen in recent years.


Missing money for childcare raises questions

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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.

Faculty and staff stress hypocrisy of college’s Labor Day policies

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Despite the national holiday and the cancellation of classes at several peer institutions including Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and the University of Pennsylvania, the college once again chose not to celebrate the Labor Day holiday this past Monday. While this policy dates back to the college’s founding in 1864, many faculty and staff were more vocal in their opposition to it than in past years. Such dissent comes in light of recent changes to the academic calendar, which will allow for the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time this February. Aside from practical concerns, such as arranging for day care and transportation, as well as the frustration of being away from one’s family during a day off, these individuals stressed the extent to which disregarding the Labor Day holiday is antithetical to the college’s mission as a promoter of social justice and an ally of worker’s rights.

“I see this as a gap between the institution’s ideals and its practices,” said Ben Berger, Professor of Political Science at the college. “We are a progressive institution that really thinks about things like class and labor, and we’re open for business on a federal holiday that is supposed to commemorate labor and the labor movement.”

Berger explained that by not recognizing the holiday, the college overlooks the historical significance of all that Labor Day represents in the same way that had previously been the case for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“All of the reasons given for why we should have been observing MLK day and not having class on that day — all of them hold for Labor Day with the exception of interfering with students being able to go and do things off campus as they might for MLK day,” Berger said. “I’m not sure that students would be doing things off campus to commemorate Labor Day, but the principle of the commemoration, and it being in tune with our values, and every worry about overlooking what the day stands for all hold for Labor Day as well.”

According to Berger, a common argument made amongst faculty and staff in favor of recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day was that to not do so made the college out of step with its peers. In regards to Labor Day, the case for institutional parity amongst the Tri-College Consortium is once again featuring prominently.

“Bryn Mawr and Haverford, which have far less finances in their endowment, give their employees Labor Day, so I’m not sure why exactly Swarthmore doesn’t give Labor Day,” said Kae Kalwaic, an Administrative Assistant in the Educational Studies Department who is involved in the Swarthmore Labor Action Project. “It doesn’t make sense to me since other colleges give off the holiday why Swarthmore doesn’t because again it’s that idea of celebrating what workers have done for everyone.”

Kalwaic worried that by not officially recognizing Labor Day, the college was indirectly shaping its students feelings towards the labor movement in general.

“I am concerned that the college has to model to students what they believe is important,” Kalwaic said. “I believe that by ignoring Labor Day, it sends the message to students that this isn’t so important. Labor unions are decreasing, they have less power, and I don’t know if young people are getting the message of the value that unions bring to social justice in the workplace.”

Berger articulated a similar concern.

“In this day and age when we’re studying inequality and job insecurity and all of their attending issues, a holiday commemorating the importance of labor and the contributions of labor seem to be all the more important to our educational mission,” Berger said. “People know less about Labor Day, and it would be valuable to have events on the day to educate those people that wanted to attend.”

In addition to the ideological inconsistencies surrounding the college’s policy towards Labor Day, both Berger and Kalwaic emphasized the ways in which holding class on a national holiday was particularly burdensome for faculty and staff who are also parents.

“By not giving the holiday off to our workers, it takes them away from family members who do have the holiday off, so it’s not a family-friendly policy,” Kalwaic explained. “If Swarthmore wants to be socially responsible, having family-friendly policies that make it easier for folks to get together with their families and have arrangements made so that their children can have daycare is very important.”

Kalwaic’s words were echoed by another Administrative Assistant at the college, who preferred to remain nameless.

“I feel like I’m being taken away from my family,” she said. “My kids aren’t in school today, and my sister is at home watching them. They’re pretty much grown, but I still wouldn’t want to leave them alone at home when there is no school. I’m lucky that at least I got someone to watch them, though.”

Another staff member, who also preferred to remain nameless, expressed a similar frustration.

“You think I want to be here right now?” he asked. “My wife is at home, my kids are at home, and I’ve been here since 6:30 AM. It’s a national holiday. I don’t know why we don’t celebrate it when everyone else does.”

Others, however, felt less burdened by having to work on the holiday.

Katherine Javian, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at the college, who is also a parent, explained that she was not affected too seriously by the college’s policy because her husband, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, had the day off.

“He was able to stay home, so he just watched my son for the day,” Javian explained. “If I had to teach and UPenn was open and my husband wasn’t available, I would obviously have had to figure out what to do with my son because his daycare had off too.”

Kalwaic also stressed the challenge of finding suitable childcare on a national holiday, explaining that for working parents, making such arrangements can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming.

“You have to have somebody who is caring, someone who is licensed, someone you can trust, and all those issues come to play especially if you have to think of something off the grid, like on Labor Day,” Kalwaic explained. “Labor Day is off the grid in terms of the fact that most people have the holiday off, and you don’t, and now you need to find some sort of accommodation.”

Kalwaic and Berger both explained that these challenges are more pronounced for some faculty and staff than others. Single parents, low income parents, employees with little flexibility in their schedules, and employees without offices all face challenges on national holidays that other faculty and staff do not.

“According to Global Post, average daycare prices run around $42 a day for an infant, $32 a day for a preschooler, and $23 a day for a school age child,” Kalwaic said. “Someone earning $13 an hour or $468 a week, would be paying a significant portion of their paycheck for childcare.”

Berger explained that in addition to the stratified financial impact of the holiday, faculty and those with offices were also better equipped to make last minute accommodations for their children because they could bring their children to work with them.

“The employment handbook stipulates that employees may be able to bring children to work ‘in an emergency situation,’” Berger explained. “But certain departments and offices may have more restrictive policies. Employees, including faculty, with private offices are probably in a better position to bring a child or children to campus than those who operate in shared space. To me there are so many of those factors on one side of the scale, it’s hard to see why we don’t just change policy the way we did with MLK.”

One way in which the college has sought to increase flexibility for employees on national holidays is through the inclusion of an “alternate day” in the holiday schedule for the 2015 to 2016 academic year. Until last year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was advertised as a suggested “alternate day” that faculty and staff could choose to observe if they did not use their “alternate day” elsewhere, but now that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is recognized by the college, faculty and staff may elect to use their “alternate day” on Labor Day instead. It is important to note, however, that the addition of neither Martin Luther King, Jr. Day nor the “alternate day” to the college’s holiday schedule have increased the number of days off for faculty and staff during the academic year.

“Institutions are conservative when it comes to making changes and maybe it’s the case that we can start a conversation, but in my experience I haven’t gotten that much purchase when I’ve brought this up in the past,” Berger said. “I get head nods and smiles, but that’s it. Maybe now it will be different though. Maybe it’s the beginning of more people being receptive to this.”

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