University faculty members plan to call for a meeting with AU’s dean of academic affairs and hope to create a task force to address employee childcare and gender discrimination, according to an email thread obtained by The Eagle.
Thirty faculty members said the University does not provide adequate support for nursing women in terms of sick leave, daily break time and designated private areas on campus in which to breast-feed or pump breast milk, according to the Sept. 14 draft of a letter to Provost Scott Bass obtained by The Eagle.
Co-signers on the letter include members of the anthropology department and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program as well as other faculty in the College of Arts and Studies, Kogod School of Business, School of Communication and School of International Service. The message had not been sent to Provost Scott Bass as of Sept. 18.
The letter is the latest response to controversy surrounding Professor Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences who breast-fed her sick child during her “Sex, Gender and Culture” course Aug. 28. The University then attracted national media attention after Pine published an online essay with her views on the breast-feeding and subsequent Eagle investigation.
The Sept. 14 letter draft said faculty are also “troubled by the use of the term ‘unprofessional’ regarding Pine’s behavior,” referring to bringing a sick child into the classroom. In the letter, the faculty ask for ways to give University employees flexibility in situations when canceling class is not feasible.
“While the university allows faculty to cancel class to attend to ill children, parents, or other emergencies, vulnerable untenured, term and adjunct faculty may feel they risk their job to take such leave,” the Sept. 14 draft of the letter said. “We must go beyond the fine print of the faculty manual and support ‘best practices’ for such cases.”
Using “best practices” means finding ways to help mothers work effectively without sacrificing the needs or well-being of their children or families, SIS Associate Professor Cathy Schneider, a co-signer of the letter, said in an email to The Eagle.
Other faculty that The Eagle contacted for comment did not respond in time for publication.
Faculty are eligible to receive up to 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave to care for themselves and an additional 16 weeks to care for family members under D.C. law, according to the University’s Family and Medical Leave Policy.
However, finding substitute professors or make-up times for classes is difficult, faculty said in emails obtained by The Eagle. It is also risky for professors to cancel class because both their chances of promotion and their merit pay are reliant on student evaluation scores, the emails said.
Co-signers on the letter also seek to expand childcare options for faculty and staff. Though AU’s Child Development Center enrolls children ages 2 ½ to 6 years old in its early childhood education program, AU does not provide emergency childcare or childcare for infants.
University spokeswoman Camille Lepre said the University responded accurately regarding the services it provides for nursing women. Break times and spaces required by law are not predetermined by AU and vary on a case-by-case basis. Lepre added that appropriate places for nursing are decided by the employee and a supervisor. Human Resources, department chairs and the Office of Academic Affairs may also help the employee find an adequate space.
Lepre said the space provided cannot be a bathroom and can include the faculty member’s office if they have one.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 states that employers are required to give “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to one year after the child’s birth” and “provide a place shielded from view and from intrusion by coworkers and the public, other than a restroom, where mothers can express milk.”
Faculty members may also hold a “nurse-in” on campus to “address the broader issues” of women in the workplace, emails from Sept. 12 obtained by The Eagle said. No specifics of the event were decided as of Sept. 12.
No formal action to be taken against Pine, email says
Dean of Academic Affairs Phyllis Peres and CAS Dean Peter Starr told Pine at a meeting Sept. 12 that the University was not currently considering taking disciplinary action against her, Pine said in an email obtained by The Eagle.
Pine added that Peres and Starr said she “would be treated fairly in the tenure process,” which formally begins in 2014.
However, Pine said in the email that neither Peres nor Starr have apologized for the University saying she should have used options other than bringing her child to class, or for the University’s statements describing her as “unprofessional.”
Peres made no such statement about disciplinary action regarding Pine, Lepre said. She added that the University will continue not to comment on individual personnel matters.
Pine did not respond to an email request for further comment.
In a Sept 14. email obtained by The Eagle, Pine said she plans to make a variety of media appearances, including with “CNN, Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric.” She said she would speak on the need for emergency childcare options in the workplace, as well as gender discrimination against women through pay inequalities and the labeling of breast-feeding as “offensive.”
Pine said in the email that she will not attack the University nor students in the media, mentioning that she had apologized to Eagle staff following her article published Sept. 5 in the online newsletter CounterPunch.
Lepre said the University declined to comment on Pine’s media appearances.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Schneider is an assistant professor in SIS. She is an associate professor.