GSWS Addresses the Care Crisis at University Council Open Forum

December 3, 2020

Below are comments made on behalf of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies at Penn at the University Council Open Forum on December 2, 2020

Thank you for your time. My name is Gwendolyn Beetham and I’m here with Pilar Gonalons-Pons to talk about the care work crisis facing the Penn community. We are following up on two letters with recommendations on the topic, developed by scholars in the GSWS Program and signed by hundreds of faculty, staff, and alumni, presented to the Provost’s Office in May and August of this year.

We have three minutes to speak, which is actually appropriate, since study recently reported in the Washington Post found that the average length of uninterrupted work time for parents working at home with children is “three minutes, 24 seconds.”

While we applaud Penn’s recently developed COVID Childcare Grant of $2000 and “Care Connections” program, we want to be clear that these efforts fall far short. Childcare costs in Pennsylvania average 12,000 per year, an amount that does not include the increases brought about by COVID, nor the higher average rates in Philadelphia. Additionally, due to COVID, many childcare centers have closed or are operating far below capacity (including the Penn Child Center).  Penn’s efforts to-date do not provide the substantial, long-term support needed to address this structural problem. We ask that Penn offer additional care subsidies immediately and for the foreseeable future, recommit to funding and expanding the Penn Child Center, and provide financial support and advocacy for early childhood education in the broader community.

We also ask that administrators discontinue the use of language like that in the message sent to all SAS staff on August 31st, 2020, stating that separation or furlough might be “beneficial to staff who may have concerns about balancing work and home life schedules in these uncertain times.” Such biased language does not reflect Penn’s commitment to diversity and equity.

The other pressing issue we believe requires additional action concerns faculty tenure and promotion. In 2019 women represented 35% and underrepresented minorities represented 8.6% of the faculty body, and both groups are overrepresented at the assistant and associate levels facing tenure and promotion evaluations in the coming years. We worry that if nothing is done to counter the disproportionate burden of the Pandemic on women and underrepresented minorities, we will see these percentages drop over the next few years. Studies have shown that women are publishing less during the pandemic, that scientists with young kids, particularly women, have had to reduce their time allocated to research, and that underrepresented minorities are more likely to be exposed to the toll of COVID infection and associated economic hardships.

While we welcome the one-year tenure extension implemented at the beginning of the Pandemic and research funding support, there is growing consensus that this temporary buffer will be insufficient to guarantee fair and equitable tenure and promotions in the coming years.

We want to propose two actions. First, requiring concrete adjustments to the tenure and promotion criteria, including reductions of research productivity marks to reflect the challenges of conducting and publishing research during the Pandemic. Second, implementing a system for teaching and service releases for faculty with caregiving responsibilities, particularly those up for tenure/promotion in the coming years. Both initiatives should include accountability mechanisms to guarantee equitable implementation.

In conclusion, we ask Penn to take action now, while it is still possible to prevent exacerbating existing inequalities. We also encourage that you take advantage of the expertise on these issues available among the faculty and staff so that we can continue to evaluate the situation and recommend actionable steps moving forward. Thank you.