Caregiver Testimonial 1

From Maile S. Hutterer, History of Art and Architecture:

June 9, 2020

To Whom it May Concern:

I am submitting this testimonial in the hopes that it will provide useful information to my UO community about the inequities of labor for caregivers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As context, I reside in a family unit of 4 people, 2 of whom are full-time employees of the UO. The other 2 members of my household are children, ages 4 and 8. Neither child has had school or childcare since March 13, 2020. Both children are enrolled at the UO’s Vivian Olum Child Development Center and between 4j and VOCDC both are typically in care/school from 8am-5:30pm. In a normal year we typically continue equivalent coverage through the summer, which it essential for my research productivity as TT faculty. In the absence childcare options, full-time caregiving has fallen exclusively on my husband and myself.

To the best of our abilities we have taken advantage of every reasonable strategy to maximize our productivity. This includes flexing our hours—we wake up at 5am to start work so that we can take advantage of the morning hours before our children wake up around 8am. We also work in the evenings after they go to bed, typically from 8-10pm. However, since these hours on contingent on our children actually sleeping, they are unpredictable and unreliable. My husband has taken advantage of the Summer Share program which will allow for a .2 FTE reduction from June 15 to August 15 (I am on a 9-month contract and not eligible). We rely on grandparents who read to our children over zoom for an hour a day, Monday–Friday.

Even with every creative solution that we can come up with, the challenges are multifaceted. One is simply that our house is small, with limited places to work. Our only desk shares a room with the Legos, meaning that the lucky person who gets the desk is often working in a noisy environment. Indeed, the whole house is a noisy environment. There are sometimes three zoom meetings and four electronic devices in use simultaneously. Due to the daily needs of our children we often have to work in very short chunks with numerous interruptions. For example, while writing this testimonial, I’ve gotten snacks, helped my younger daughter in the bathroom, broken up multiple fights, and started dinner, all over a 40-minute period. This is not a mode of working that is conducive to the contemplative thought needed to produce high-quality research or to “live” teaching, as is now required for remote courses.

While the logistics of balancing full-time caregiving with full-time work are challenges in themselves, for me, the most difficult challenge is managing my children’s emotional well-being. I am not caring for children under normal circumstances when they have a robust social network and the opportunity to follow a natural developmental path. In the absence of their friends my children are often sad and angry. I have seen significant regressions in the behavior of my younger daughter—such regressions seem common in my conversations with other caregivers of small children right now. This requires additional management, especially for those behaviors (like biting) that can injure others in the household. For the context of this letter, I would like to point out that my children have come to resent my work because when I am working I cannot engage with them. When I am in meetings or concentrating on a work-related task (e.g. grading) they often become the most destructive as they seek to regain my attention.

I am exhausted from trying to balance my conflicting obligations of caregiving and working. There have been numerous articles in the popular press on the emotional labor of women, the drop in research productivity from female caregivers, and the labor inequities that caregiving in the pandemic has exacerbated. It should not take additional testimonials to demonstrate the need for action from the UO Executive Administration. A lot has been asked of UO faculty in the spring 2020 term. I have responded willingly and without hesitation to those requests. I am committed to the success of the students in my courses and to the graduate students in my department in my role as DGS. I know that the value of the university resides in its student body and as a member of this institution I am dedicated to its long-term survival. At the same time, I would like to see my university commit to me and all caregivers that it employs. I beseech it to institute meaningful, transformative change to mitigate the damage that this pandemic has enacted on the lives and careers of caregivers.

I have deep reservations about the actions that the UO has taken as responses to caregiving responsibilities. I am very concerned that the protections established thus far will leave many faculty like myself behind. While I am grateful that the university is willing to offer an optional clock extension, I am concerned that many people could take advantage of this option who are not under the same pressures of full-time, active caregiving (whether it be children or other dependents) is high, thus exaggerating inequities. (E.g. it is my understanding that current research in gender neutral leave policies does not indicate that it reduces inequity. Citation) Colleagues without caregiver duties in spring term have reported to me that they are experiencing what amounts to an extended writer’s retreat, and that considerations for caregivers applied universally have only increased their flexible time. Furthermore, for those faculty who have already received tenure, there is no system for accounting for differences in productivity for any future merit raises or promotion. Since the promotion from Associate to Full comes with a significant pay increase, this further and permanently disadvantages faculty who are now effectively performing multiple full-time jobs. 

At this time, it is unclear what the fall will bring in terms of 4j openings. It seems likely that students will not attend school on the same schedule as before. This means that the labor inequities will continue, potentially for a year or more. This is a big issue and it requires an equivalently robust response.

Respectfully submitted,

Maile S. Hutterer
Associate Professor
Director of Graduate Studies
History of Art and Architecture
Mother of Two

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