Caregiver Testimonial 6

From Michelle McKinley, CSWS Director and Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law:

In December, 2006, I accepted a tenure track position at the University of Oregon. I was a single mother with a tribe of young kids. I was broke, having gone through a bitter and expensive custody battle with my ex-husband who resisted my taking our children permanently out of state. I had no idea where Eugene, Oregon was before I interviewed and received a call back for a campus visit; I asked the travel agent how long she thought it would take to get to Eugene from the Denver airport.

The reason I insist on making this Campaign for Caregivers visible is because of the leadership and guidance from the dean of the law school, Margie Paris, during my hire. Dean Paris asked me to present a research plan to justify an accelerated credit towards tenure. My research plan was wildly ambitious and completely unachievable. She cautioned me to think about childcare expenses and authorized using research funds to pay for those during my presentations at conferences and meetings as I tried to consolidate my professional career and reputation in my field. At no time did she position this as exceptional or illegitimate use of research funds.

I had never had a conversation in a university setting where anyone discussed childcare as an institutional concern. Previously I had worked in the field of reproductive rights and justice wherein “childcare” was viewed through a feminist, rights-based, lens. My employees, coworkers, and colleagues and I had babies and we raised them all with very little boundaries between creche and home. We other-mothered, recruited our elders in trans-generational networks of care and responsibility, and never thought that something was amiss in incorporating children, aunties, uncles, and grandfolks into a circle of caregiving.

I never found this in the academy. Children were channeled into day care, summer camps, after-school activities and parents paid over half their incomes for these costs. The university accepted this arrangement. Caregiving (like gender) was an unmentioned category of analysis.

Our campaign makes visible and legitimate costs and responsibilities of caregiving that are viewed as private and extrinsic to the academic mission of the University of Oregon. We cannot and should not make decisions about teaching, research, and service based on a model of a celibate, nonreproductive man sequestered in an ivory tower. We have to look at our colleagues in their labs, their classrooms, and their communities and distribute our responsibilities with equity and dignity. I invite all of you to look at these six strategies in the Campaign for Caregivers in that spirit. Make decisions in your departments based on the richness and entirety of our experiences as caregivers, educators, and researchers. My hope is that we emerge from this pandemic with a heightened commitment to racial justice. Our current situation demands change in the place where we work and live: a different calculus for work-life balance that demands a more complete accounting.

In solidarity,

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