Related Events and Discussions

Work- Family Forum (January 2008)


The Academic Women’s Caucus organized a lunch forum on work and family issues for its members on January 29, at the University Club. There was considerable interest in the subject, as 35 people attended, and a number more would have liked to attend, but had other commitments at that time. Several members who missed it asked if the forum could be reported on in Purple Prose, so here it is. This report is based on notes taken by Andrea Eidinger, supplemented by my memory and revisions by the speakers themselves.


1.  Dr. Kristin Semmens. Dr. Semmens is the mother of two very young children, including a baby born last spring. She holds a Ph.D in German History from University of Cambridge, which she attended on a Commonwealth scholarship. Her dissertation won the award for the best dissertation in European history in that year. She has also won a range of other fellowships, as well as holding a SSHRC postdoc at UBC and UVic from 2003 to 2005. Her book on Seeing Hitler’s Germany was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2005. Dr. Semmens is currently a sessional instructor in the History Department, as well as being the founding member and academic co-ordinator of the steering committee of University 101 (a free university course offered to for marginalized Victorians).

Dr. Semmens

I went back to work three months after having given birth to my first child. I did this in part because when you are a sessional it can be awkward to turn down work (as one can have a concern – whether realistic or not — that one should always be willing to take on courses, so that you will continue to be offered courses.) I would say that at this point in my life I have made the decision to be a sessional instructor, rather than to seek tenure-track positions, as this allows me to be a full-time mother. I teach two courses at a time, and my husband is the primary breadwinner. My schedule is so full that I usually only have uninterrupted time to keep up to date with developments in my field right before bedtime. Being a sessional and a full-time mother requires me to change hats frequently. As a result of my ever-changing teaching schedule, and my being home full time, we only employ limited child care. Some of the problems with this lifestyle include: missing out on research and writing, thinking without interruption, being part of an academic environment (with the friendship and collegiality that can be part of that), never knowing what you will be teaching from one term to the next (and since your schedule is constantly changing, it is hard to arrange childcare), the pressure to teach when unprepared (like in the event one of your kids gets sick). Some of the advantages: the flexibility, having some say in the courses that you teach, having no pressure to publish or work on long-term projects, which allows you to be more present with your kids instead of always having worries about research commitments hanging over your head, having no committee work, and all of this allowing me to have lots of time with the kids while they are small, which I very much enjoy (despite the inevitable frustrations of dealing with small children).

2. Dr. Amy Verdun has three children, a baby (1 year old), a 6 year old and a 16 year old. She received her PhD in Political and Social Science from the European University Institute, Florence Italy. Dr. Verdun has been at UVic since 1997 and is currently a Professor in the Political Science department and Graduate Advisor. She holds the Jean Monnet Chair in European Integration Studies and directs its “Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence” and is also the founding Director of Uvic’s European Studies Programme. She is the author or editor of nine books and has published in scholarly journals such as Journal of Common Market Studies, Journal of European Public Policy, the Journal of European Integration and Journal of Public Policy.

Dr. Verdun

I’m always procrastinating, because I don’t make time for myself. I will talk about how I do things, and what I would do differently if I had the opportunity. At 22 I got pregnant whilst doing my PhD at the European University Institute in Florence. My relationship was over, so I knowingly went into single-parenthood. My supervisors were very supportive. After completing my PhD I went on to do a post-doc. After living for five years as a single parent, I met my current partner, while I was doing the post-doc. At the same time, I went to live in Victoria. We did the long-distance relationship thing for three years (across continents) and eventually he came to teach here at UVic.

Being an academic is an intimate part of my identity. Early on, I identified a few things that were very important to me, that I would not compromise on and were within reach. For example, travel. To make this easier on my partner, where possible, I arrange childcare, housekeeping, meals, and making the trip as short as possible. Do the part of your work that you like first, so that the unpleasant things seem easier and shorter.

3. Ms. Jan Nolan has two daughters. One is a teenager and the other is student at UVic. She has worked in higher education for more than 20 years, She joined the University of Victoria in 2004 and is currently the Director, Faculty Renewal and Academic Leadership Initiatives. She has been involved in faculty renewal issues for more than a decade. In her previous role as Director, Faculty Renewal at the University of Toronto she was the founder of both the Faculty Relocation Service and the Family Care Office (the office at U of T that provides assistance to faculty, staff and students with work/study/family issues such as child care, elder care, maternity and parental leave, school issues, referrals for counselling and funding, etc.) At U. of T. she also served as one of the university’s equity officers for nine years. Jan is active in several networks that deal with faculty recruitment and work/life balance issues in higher education in the US and Canada and has presented to international conferences on the subject of work/life balance among academics. She spoke less about her personal experience and instead told us about what other academic institutions in the US and Canada have been doing around work/life balance, as well as talking a bit about the issue at UVic.

Ms. Nolan

I’m going to focus on some of the initiatives, best practices, questionable practices and theory from elsewhere. My experiences and links are more with American universities than Canadian on the work/life issue because more American universities have invested heavily in work/life programs and services.

Why are there differences between Canada and the US? We believe in equity and in government’s involvement to create that equity. We’ve had strong unions that have negotiated language in collective agreements supporting paid maternity and parental leave. At times, we’ve had a strong not-for-profit child care sector and many provinces have had high child care standards that preclude the development of inexpensive solutions but provide excellent care for our children. Unfortunately, we don’t always elect governments that support women and families and we don’t have as strong a tradition of employers filling these gaps. In the US, the private sector is where leadership for work/life balance has been generated. I have some reservations about this. While initiatives like care for ill dependents and lactation rooms are great, wouldn’t you prefer to work in a culture where it’s ok to stay home with a sick family member or to take maternity leave for longer? The corporate model works on the basis of ‘How can I provide services so that you’ll be dependent on me as an employer and so that you can spend more of your time at work?’




Some universities, both in the United States and Canada, provide work/life offices or family care programs that include services such as information and referrals regarding child care and elder care and offer workshops and advocacy on family/work issues. Some also provide lactation rooms, adoption funding, employee discount programs, etc. Faculty relocation needs (including spousal hiring) have strengthened these programs in some cases; in others, universities have created separate programs for this purpose. Developing faculty relocation services is one area in which central Canadian universities have invested heavily.

Until recently, this has not been the case at western Canadian universities, which have often referred new faculty to websites, rather than offering assistance in person. These services are funded with base budget money for the most part and operate from within the HR department or the office of the Vice President Academic.

Licensed child care – There is a huge demand for full time and part time care. Much of the construction of new childcare centres (MIT’s new centre and a few others) happens with endowment and other development funds; no universities seem to have sufficient child care or care at a sufficiently reasonable price; when fundraising designated specifically for new childcare spaces is unsuccessful (as happened at U of T), a university leader may decide to fund the centre from other sources because it is such an important project; most of the universities that have done this have much larger endowments than UVic.


Creative Ideas about Work/Life Balance


  • Child care subsidies (negotiated through collective agreements) at the University of Alberta and Queen’s; a part-time childcare centre at York which came about from negotiations between the university and the union of TAs and sessionals, (CUEW) .
  • Babysitting service – Women Faculty Forum at Yale
  • Support for community – based childcare providers (NYU, UofT, University of Michigan Campus Child Care Homes Network, Duke) – the university provides training, mentoring and oversight. This kind of program generally relies on a significant local population of under or unemployed people, generally women, often immigrants or refugees, who are willing to provide home care at fairly low wages.
  • Emergency child care – CIBC model; childcare for sick children.
  • Father’s Group – issues such as child care, elder care and various forms of dependent care leave tend to draw more administrative attention when it becomes clear that male faculty (esp. junior male faculty) are also affected
  • Grant to pay for dependent care while traveling – Stanford
  • Adoption grants or loans (NYU and many other American universities)

Other Areas Besides Dependents


One of the other major issues at this time is faculty spouse/partner employment. Several universities have established Dual Career Programs to assist the partners of new faculty members in finding employment. Some of these programs focus on non-academic positions while others handle academic positions as well. Academic positions often involve cost-sharing arrangements between the provost, the department hiring the original spouse/partner and the department hiring the accompanying spouse/partner. In the United States, several universities and colleges have collaborated on a regional basis to create higher education recruitment consortia (HERCs). These enable prospective faculty to go to a single website and view all academic positions in the geographic area. UVic has done relatively well at providing assistance to spouses and partners, given our size. Dual career academic couples present a particular challenge because there may not be a unit inclined or able to provide a position to the accompanying partner, even with a cost-sharing arrangement.

Faculty at UVic already have the items on the work/family “wish list” of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Sloan Foundation, such as paid maternity and parental leave, stoppage of the tenure clock for these and other serious circumstances, on-campus child care (even though there’s never enough to meet the demand), camps on campus, and part-time tenure stream and tenured positions. Faculty at many other institutions and employees outside of the academy have reported in surveys that although services and policies are available, there is a stigma attached to taking advantage of them. I’m really interested in hearing about ways in which some chairs/deans/colleagues have been more supportive and conscious of work/life balance issues so that we can find ways of encouraging other departments to follow suit.

Ways in which these programs are initiated:

  1. Faculty activism: collective bargaining position, faculty report (MIT), faculty women’s caucus (Yale), child care advocates (UT)
  2. Visionary leader (relocation service at Calgary and Carleton), who champions these issues and supports (including funding) the development and implementation of solutions
  3. ‘Solve my problem’ leaders who will support those who come to them with solutions to problems, e.g. administrators who decide to offer more childcare spaces to make the university more attractive for faculty recruitment

I believe in lobbying and in activism. I’ve only been here three and a half years so I don’t know the culture nearly as well as you do but since Lynne asked me to speak here, I have a few suggestions. In my experience, UVic prides itself more on collegial governance and faculty democracy than anywhere else I’ve been so these solutions are reliant on this and on using the power that you have as faculty members.

  1. Search committees for decanal or chair positions: Faculty are elected to these roles. Make a commitment to serve on committee. Yes it’s time consuming but you can ensure that each candidate can be made aware that work/life balance is important to faculty within the department and ask each candidate what they would do within the unit to foster a climate where this can occur.
  2. Faculty Association: The collective bargaining process is where many of these initiatives got their start. Bargaining on some issues now, others in 2010 – keep this high on the association’s agenda. This can be difficult because it’s those who see themselves as having the least time to participate in association work who want to raise these issues.
  3. CAUT: Cheryl Suzack (English) is on the CAUT Women’s Committee – lobby for CAUT research resources to be spent on this issue – AAUP made this a priority area in about 2004 and it made a significant difference in the US.

A broad-ranging and informative discussion followed the presentations. I’ve tried to summarize the major points raised in the discussion, but have probably missed some points. I would also like to note that much of the discussion relates to entitlements only available to tenured and tenure track faculty through the Framework Agreement. For example, sessional instructors at UVic have no entitlement to maternity/parental leave, beyond that mandated by EI, and can in fact lose entitlement to continuing sessional status if they take too much time off to care for young children.



It was noted that the AWC is presenting suggestions regarding improvements to certain work/family issues to the Faculty Association negotiating team for the Framework Agreement. We are also discussing possible improvements with regard to work/family issues in the CUPE 4163 collective agreement with the union.

Comments were made about the need to address the daycare problem, especially in order to provide daycare spaces for new faculty with children, since the wait for spaces at the UVic daycare is usually two years. Improving the availability of daycare spaces needs to be a priority, both for faculty now at UVic, and for recruiting new faculty.

With regard to the daycare issue, it was noted that the university recently looked into the possibility of buying a nearby elementary school, as a way of increasing the number of daycare spaces at UVic, but decided not to proceed on this matter. Our understanding was that this decision was based on financial concerns. However, the administration needs to make daycare a financial priority, given the major unmet need that is out there among faculty, staff and students.

Someone commented that even with regard to existing benefits, there is not always the kind of administrative support needed to make the benefits work equitably. For instance, when people go on maternity leave, there isn’t always money to hire someone to fill in. Instead, the other faculty have to pick up the slack, which is seen as unfair.

A number of participants raised the important issue of eldercare. We need to bring this to the attention of the university. This is a crucial family care responsibility. It is hard to figure out Victoria’s eldercare system, which is a complex mix of publicly and privately funded services. Academic staff at UVic need more information about this. We should also offer paid leaves for elder care, especially for people with parents outside of the community, or for those with parents needing more intensive care. The university could provide travel discounts to those academic staff travelling to assist elderly parents, as is sometimes done in the US. We need to have university initiatives on providing funding for eldercare, since private care is so expensive. There should be a family caregiver society network at UVic, to provide knowledge, with a focus on supporting the caregiver. Eldercare is a particularly important and difficult issue because the need for eldercare is more fluctuating and unpredictable than childcare and it is hard to get services. Also, unlike childcare, in dealing with elderly parents there are the big issues of grief and bereavement, and at present there is no mandated leave to deal with these issues. Most leaves regarding this issue are at the discretion of Chairs and Directors, which can lead to dramatic differences in practices. This is especially problematic for sessionals, who have a particularly difficult time taking leaves.

Participants agreed with Jan Nolan’s point that we need to make sure we are on search committees for senior administrators, as we need more action on family/life issues. We also need specific statements at the departmental level regarding family/work issues. For example, how might we adjust what is required for tenure for primary caregivers?

A participant suggested that we need to unionize, if we really want to make change on these work/family issues.

There was a discussion about spousal hiring, with suggestions that it should be standardized. Someone noted that the problem is that everyone needs to be on board. There is a problem of resentment over new hires. What other universities do is tripartite funding for the new position, from the Vice President, spouse’s department, and the other spouse’s department. But what about politics within the department? It was noted that people can believe that it isn’t fair to hire someone simply because their spouse is being employed. What about funnelling people into partner institutions in the area? Several universities have websites to find jobs within a certain geographic area. Unfortunately, there are no comparables in the Victoria area. This issue needs to be addressed, because of issues of recruitment and retention. It was suggested that if you are facing this issue, start negotiating six months to a year before you start your new job.

A participant pointed out that people are uncomfortable about wellness issues. We need to talk more about them. It was suggested that it is harder to raise wellness issues in Western Canada. There is the babyboomer ethic, that we should be grateful for our jobs and not complain, it is our fault if we can’t cope. Someone suggested that junior faculty are more willing to complain, as they expect more.

The issue was also raised that in some faculties/units there can be requirements or expectations that one teach or perform other duties on evenings or weekends. This can be very difficult for parents of young children, particularly single parents.

Participants commented that we need to communicate with the Faculty Association about retention. Senior administrators think that people will live in Victoria despite there not being good childcare services, there being no tuition waivers, etc. We need to provide more for new faculty. Better people will simply go elsewhere rather than put up with this. Millennials will be even more demanding. We need to acknowledge the upcoming boom in new hires. We should provide better salaries for junior faculty. People will not always sacrifice pay to live in Victoria. We have the lowest salaries in BC. SFU helps with mortgages. UVic does provide loans of up to $35,000 for help with mortgages within the first five years.

It was noted that librarians and their issues should be taken more seriously. There was concern expressed that at UVic they are not currently considered faculty, unlike at other BC universities.

Potential strategies to make the workplace more family friendly:

    li>Flex times, telecommuting, job sharing, compressed work weeks.

    1. In the case of tenure track faculty who are judged by research, this may not work
    2. There don’t seem to be formal cases of job sharing, although there may be some informal arrangements. The Framework Agreement allows tenured faculty to request reductions to a reduced appointment for one to three years at a time. However, while the reduction in pay is linked to reduction in teaching (ie if the regular teaching load is 7.5 units, reduction to 0.8 salary means teaching 6 units), it is not formally linked to reduction in service work and research expectations. So those taking reduced appointments need to be careful that they are not eceiving considerably less salary for almost the same amount of work. Also, while the Framework Agreement allows people to request the right to go down to reduced appointments, it does not guarantee that right. Chairs have sometimes refused such requests in the past.
  • Paid leave to care for dependents
    1. We don’t accumulate sick leave. If we did, this time could be used to take care of one’s parents or children.
    2. Special leave is available in the framework agreement, but it is leave without pay or a temporary reducing of hours, and it requires Chair’s/Director’s permission.
    3. What about gradual return to work for people who are coming back from leave? For example, people who have been on maternity leave may not be able to just jump back into things. This could take the form of reduced course load, or assistance for courses.
    4. The current Framework Agreement does not give caregivers’ complete control over the timing of parental leave, which must be determined in consultation with the Chair, with regard to the needs of the department/unit.

Participants discussed how to reach out to people dealing with work/family issues. One suggestion was to re-institute the lunches for parents with small children, that were formerly organized through the Faculty Association Equity Committee. The question was also raised as to how to reach out to those who don’t have time to attend lunches, due to work/family pressures. Suggestions were made to develop listservs for academic mothers, or more generally for caregivers, including caregivers of elderly parents.

To what extent can technology help us? We could teach from a distance, using video screens. This would help professors who have to miss class to take care of a sick child. However, this could work against us by raising expectations. We currently have the right to cancel classes if necessary, to meet urgent family obligations, and can make up the missed class material in any way that seem appropriate, in our professional judgement (which can include providing notes, information on course websites, or a rescheduled class). This policy was articulated to Chairs and Directors in a letter from the VP Academic in September of 2001, but not all Chairs may be currently aware of this.


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