Labor inequities for faculty and GE caregivers during COVID-19: A call to action

Editor’s note: See comments below for responses to this open letter. Click here for information and updates on the Caregiver Campaign.

Dear Colleagues:

We are writing with an urgent request to university leadership, the United Academics, and the UO Senate, deans, and department heads. COVID-19 has uncovered many aspects of our institutional practice that have historically rendered certain labor invisible and left others more vulnerable. Historically, the ivory tower was designed for monastic, solitary contemplation wherein great thoughts were debated and passed down to a few selected students who were fortunate to be admitted. As such, higher education’s research expectations have favored men who have wives or domestic partners to perform childcare. Of course, there have been changes, but the structure and expectations of research productivity overwhelmingly privilege those who can defer child and elder care.

We were encouraged by the administration’s response to pause the tenure clock as we scrambled to move our classes online. We need to build on such institutional flexibility with regard to student needs to account for the needs of instructional faculty and graduate students who are caring for children and elders. There is a first step in this direction through a recent statement by the Provost and the VP for Equity and Inclusion and their survey and call for a working group to understand what challenges faculty are facing. We write to you with some concrete ideas and urge you to ask questions about these ideas, discuss them, add to them, and bring them to light wherever you think it makes sense, but particularly to those who have the responsibility to plan and make policy at multiple levels.

Come fall, there is no expectation that children will be returning to a normal school schedule in our districts (4J, Bethel, and Springfield). Many parents may feel uncomfortable with their children’s vulnerabilities to send them to school. Following public health guidelines, day care centers are already warning parents that if children cough or exhibit signs of flu, they must stay home for the two-week incubation period to rule out COVID-19. Any parent knows that though this is sound public health advice, it strains credulity in the child-care context. If parents are paying for child-care, they are still responsible for those costs and need to make other arrangements in order to meet their teaching obligations. This alone demands reorienting and shifting our burdens and expectations until the pandemic is under control with a vaccine. In sum, we need different approaches and strategies for the foreseeable 12-24 months. Fortunately, we have time to make plans for the future. We suggest the following steps: 

1. Repurpose resources allotted for faculty research accounts (ASAs) and other funds to support caretakers. This includes revising the intended use of pools of money already available to faculty, such as start-up packages, or other funds for research and travel to pay for childcare. 

2. Waive all non-essential service until there is a COVID-19 vaccine (such as curriculum reform, peer teaching reviews, attendance at non-essential faculty meetings, reviewing core curriculum). 

3. Suspend “on track” standards for research productivity until a vaccine is available. This includes reevaluating metric indicators and timely progress standards for tenure and other merit reviews. 

4. Develop a research accommodation opt-in policy like the tenure clock extension granted to all those with caretaking responsibilities affected by COVID-19.

5. Instruct department heads and deans to evaluate teaching loads and student enrollments. Those with heavier caretaking needs should be granted teaching relief and GE assistance. Analyzing student credit hour metrics allows deans and department heads to see how the workload of educating our students is distributed across faculty.

6. Collectively identify essential strategies of caring. This includes support systems within departments but also across the university for parents, children, and volunteer or paid childcare workers. It could include a sick-day bank for faculty to donate sick days to other faculty who need them to stay home and care for children and elders.

The costs of continued expectations for service and research added to teaching demands on junior faculty and others who have to keep on doing child and elder care and schooling will be cumulative and have differential impact. This will be evident not just during the period before there is a vaccine but going forward in their academic careers. More funding for COVID-related research will not alleviate the compounding disadvantage experienced by caretakers. How can that be addressed in flexible standards and evaluation metrics into the future?

Many thanks for your creative vision and flexibility in these uncertain times,

Michelle McKinley
Director, Center for the Study of Women in Society
Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law

Lynn Stephen
Phillip H. Knight Chair
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology
Graduate Faculty, Indigenous Race, and Ethnic Studies

The Campaign for Caregivers:

  • Sign this petition asking UO leadership to create caregiver labor equity.
  • Take this short survey on how your child, elder, or other caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis have impacted your teaching, research, and/or work duties at UO.
  • See current research on labor inequities during the coronavirus pandemic, and add your own links.
  • Read testimonials from faculty who are caregivers.
  • Contribute a written testimonial about the impacts of caregiving on your work productivity during the pandemic. For a written testimonial, please upload your signed or anonymous .docx or .pdf file to For anonymous submissions, some indication of rank and school would be helpful to contextualize impact.

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